COP28 Is Over. But Climate Pledges Are Still Emerging in the Final Days of 2023

On the day before the United Nations’ flagship climate summit was scheduled to end, a top official for the global body that runs the annual conference urged nations to stay focused and bring their “highest ambition” to the table.

“In this final quarter, it’s all eyes on the prize,” Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told the room of delegates gathered in Dubai. “That means highest ambition outcomes must stay front and center.”

But when a deal finally emerged two days later, as COP28 ran into overtime amid heated disagreement over whether to “phase out” fossil fuels, many climate advocates were disappointed with the outcome, saying this year’s agreement fell short of the aspirations called for in Stiell’s speech. Others saw the deal, which compelled nations for the first time to “transition away” from fossil fuels, as a pivotal moment in history, signaling to the global market that the era of fossil fuels was coming to an end.

“COP28 shows that the Paris Agreement is gaining momentum and that there is a great willingness to change among countries, companies and all other stakeholders,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and climate minister, said in a statement. “Now is the time to seize this moment and realize the great opportunities for transformation.”

And indeed, that momentum appears to be playing out in the final days of 2023. This week, several high-emitting nations announced new and more ambitious climate pledges that seem to go beyond the agreements made during the climate talks earlier this month. The announcements, though clearly not enough to get the world on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets, may offer some solace to wary climate advocates going into the new year:

Canada Will Require All New Car Sales to Be Zero Emissions by 2035

Canada officials announced Tuesday that, starting in 2035, all new cars sold in the country must be zero-emissions vehicles, meaning they can’t emit carbon dioxide.

The new regulations, called the Electric Vehicle Availability Standard, will shorten the lengthy wait times for EVs that have been dampening consumer demand, the Toronto Star reports. They’re also meant to encourage automakers to build more charging stations for electric vehicles, POLITICO Pro reports, addressing one of the key barriers to consumer adoption of EVs: that chargers are too sparsely located.

The rule could make a major dent in Canada’s carbon emissions. The transportation sector is the country’s second biggest contributor to climate change, accounting for 22 percent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And passenger vehicles make up more than half those emissions. It’s also notable for being a nationwide rule, unlike in the United States, where some 11 individual states have passed similar emissions standards. 

Canada must also hit mandatory benchmarks before 2035: At least 20 percent of new car sales must be zero emissions by 2026 and 60 percent of them by 2030.

Seven European Countries Pledge to Make Power Plants Carbon-Free by 2035

Some of Europe’s biggest carbon-emitting countries pledged on Monday that, starting in 2035, the electricity generated by their power plants would emit absolutely no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The ambitious goal, set by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland, is even more notable considering that Germany and France are Europe’s two biggest power producers, Reuters reports. Six of the nations also account for nearly half of the European Union’s power production. Switzerland isn’t part of the EU.

Power generation has long been the world’s biggest contributor to climate change by sector, making up nearly double the total emissions of transportation globally in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. Many of the nations are also major historical contributors to global warming, and advocates have long said that rich Western countries need to take the lead on cutting emissions for any multilateral global pact—like the Paris Agreement—to work.

United Kingdom to Launch Carbon Tariff, Mirroring European Union

Starting in 2027, any imports of aluminum, iron, steel or cement that don’t meet the environmental standards of the United Kingdom will be subject to an extra fee.

The British government announced the plans Monday, saying the new tax will level the playing field, helping greener domestic producers compete against higher carbon, but cheaper, foreign rivals, the Associated Press reports. The tariff would also incentivize other nations to slash their own emissions in an attempt to avoid the extra carbon fee.

“This levy will make sure carbon-intensive products from overseas—like steel and ceramics—face a comparable carbon price to those produced in the U.K., so that our decarbonization efforts translate into reductions in global emissions,” Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt said.

The U.K. joins the European Union, which launched the world’s first carbon tariff back in October. That means the EU and its former member will show a united front on the effort, making it more difficult for nations outside the region to circumvent the tax.

Hong Kong Eyes Clean Energy Expansion to Hit Net Zero Before 2050

Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China that enjoys limited autonomy, including running a separate, free-market economy, is exploring ways to boost its clean energy capacity in hopes of reaching net zero emissions before 2050 and becoming a global hub for green technology.

While no official announcement has been made yet, Hong Kong’s secretary for environment and ecology told the Asia News Network at COP28 that the special region “is actively exploring” options to partner with clean energy electricity providers outside its borders, as well as pursuing plans to build new clean energy infrastructure. Hong Kong hopes to generate 60-70 percent of its electricity from clean sources like solar and wind by 2035, he said.

Hong Kong is also making major progress on reducing tailpipe emissions, the official said, with electric vehicles making up more than 60 percent of the newly registered private cars in the region.

Overall, the move by Hong Kong, Canada and several European countries could bode well for national efforts to address climate change in 2024. And the success of the Paris Agreement hinges on the actions taken by nations.

More Top Climate News

More Than 3 Million Americans Are Already Climate Migrants, Researchers Say: New research shows that climate migration—when people leave their homes to escape climate change threats—is already taking place within the United States, Leslie Kaufman reports for Bloomberg. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Communications, found that 3.2 million Americans moved away from high-flood-risk areas between 2000 and 2020, creating “climate abandonment” zones. The full extent of the migration has been hidden, however, since most people didn’t move far.

Democrats Revolt Against Biden Plan for Expanded Gas Exports: Despite the boom in renewables, the Biden administration has more than doubled the nation’s exports of natural gas, sustaining a longstanding industry argument that gas pushes out dirtier fuels like oil and coal. But the situation is causing a revolt within the Democratic Party, with some lawmakers pointing out that the methane in natural gas is itself a major contributor to global warming, Saul Elbein reports for The Hill. Some 60 congressional Democrats recently signed a letter questioning Biden’s support of gas exports.

Fewer Electric Vehicles Will Qualify for Federal Tax Credits in 2024: Starting Jan. 1, new rules under the Inflation Reduction Act will kick in and reduce the number of electric cars that quality for the federal tax credit of up to $7,500, Jack Ewing reports for the New York Times. That’s because the Biden administration intended for the law to encourage automakers to manufacture vehicles and parts in North America, while bypassing China. But most automakers are still years away from breaking their dependence on China for batteries and essential materials like refined lithium.

Today’s Indicator

4.5 million

That’s how many U.S. households—out of a total of roughly 131 million—now have a rooftop solar system installed, according to government data reported by the Associated Press. Many homeowners see the systems as a major financial saver when paired with electric vehicles.

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                <h4 class="profile-subtitle">Reporter, New York City</h4>

                Kristoffer Tigue is a New York City-based reporter for Inside Climate News, where he covers environmental justice issues, writes the Today’s Climate newsletter and manages ICN’s social media. His work has been published in Reuters, Scientific American, Public Radio International and CNBC. Tigue holds a Master’s degree in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism, where his feature writing won several Missouri Press Association awards.

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