By Charlie Wilson
When former Democrat Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg made this comment at COP26, he was actually referring to the US’ deplorable level of paid parental leave (it doesn’t have any). However, given the US record on climate breakdown, the comment was apposite to the venue and occasion. Buttigieg went on to say “I’ve been really encouraged by the warmth of the reception here, the sense of relief that America is back, and back in a leadership role.” The relief that the world’s biggest historic emitter, with a per capita carbon footprint bigger than everyone except Australia and Saudi Arabia, is engaging enough to do something, is universally shared; but should probably be put in the “gratitude for small mercies” category. At least Buttigieg had the grace to say “a” leading role, not “the” leading role.
Attempts by the US to claim that mantle have fallen foul of facts.
The country-by-country league table from the latest Carbon Change Performance Index, which covers 64 countries responsible for 92% of global greenhouse gas emissions, shows that, under Biden, the US has moved up 6 places. Under Trump, they were 3rd from bottom. This merits a small cheer, but still leaves them at 55 (or 9th worst). A long way from “a leadership role”, let alone “the” leadership role.
Their attempt to point fingers at large industrialising countries in the developing world (primarily China and India) to divert attention from their own culpability is shown to be absurd on the same table.
In overall scores for Greenhouse gas emissions (40%) Renewable energy (20%) Energy use (20%) and Climate Policy (20%) the US ranks 55, China 37, India 10.
The detailed report groups countries into categories for overall performance.
The US is in the “Very low” group, along with Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and Poland.
China is in the “Low” group, along with New Zealand, Japan, Belgium, Vietnam and Ireland (none of which have been set up as the villains of the piece by the Western media in the same way that China has).
India is in the “High” group along with the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Chile and Finland (largely because the mass of its population remains extremely poor).
On specific categories, the US ranks:
very low (i.e. poor) for greenhouse gas emissions: China is also rated very low but India is rated high.
very low for renewable energy; China and India are rated medium.
very low (i.e. poor) for energy use: China is also very low. India is high.
medium for policy: China and India are rated high.
The policy is what points to the future. China has a record of meeting or exceeding its targets and the IEA view its plan is viable and can be accelerated. The pledge in the Joint Statement with the US that coal use will come down during the 15th five-year plan (2026-31) indicates that that is already starting.
Tragically for all of us, many of the Green New Deal components of the US infrastructure bill have already been removed by Republican and Blue Dog Democrat opposition in Congress, and the possible Second Coming of Donald Trump in 2024 (or someone like him) will throw any semblance of global cooperation out of the window and put us all in imminent peril.
In the meantime, China is due to invest £3.4 trillion to reduce carbon emissions in the next decade, which is more than the US and EU combined. In 2020 the International Renewable Energy Agency notes that out of the 260GW of renewable energy capacity added globally last year, China added more than half (136 GW, i.e. 52%), which means more than all other countries in the world, combined. Time for the High Ambition Group to have similar high ambitions.