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National legislations

This section provides an overview of global legislations on climate change and carbon reduction.
international flags seen from below

We have just seen what an international climate agreement looks like. Now we are going to see what individual countries can and are doing to reduce global carbon emissions.

Why countries need to act

Whilst it is brilliant to have a global climate agreement in the form of the Paris Climate Agreement, without individual countries putting in the work, no change will be achieved.

To make sure this isn’t the case, countries who have signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement (as a reminder, this is ‘keeping global warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C’) are required to prepare and communicate a ‘nationally determined contribution (NDC)’ every five years. NDCs include things like targets, measures and policies and should be the basis for national climate action plans. NDCs also ensure that countries are transparent and accountable (World Resource Institute).

Climate Watch have a helpful NDC tracker, which provides updated information on the climate commitments different countries are setting.

The Climate Action Carbon Tracker is another helpful resource. They provide an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the Paris Agreement. To do this, the Tracker evaluates national climate change mitigation targets, as well as policies and action. It also evaluates these targets and policies against what is considered a ‘fair share’ contribution to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This ‘fair share’ is assessed by a number of variables, such as the level of historic contribution to the problem, or those with greater capacity to act.

Below we explore a few different examples of how countries are setting targets and driving through policies and actions.

United Kingdom

A photo of a row of traditional victorian terraced houses in the UK

In 2019, the UK was the world’s first major economy to legislate for ‘net zero’ (we will find out more about this term next week) greenhouse gas emissions, with a target date of 2050. This had a positive impact, with emissions falling 40% from 1990 to 2018 whilst the economy grew by 75% over the same period (The CCC, 2019). Climate Action Tracker (2019) states that ‘if all countries were to follow the UK’s approach, warming could be held below—but not well below—2°C. If, however, the UK remains on its currently projected emissions trajectory, by 2035, it would instead be in line with warming of 3°C’. It advises that improvements need to, at least partially, come in the form of additional financial support for emissions reductions achieved in developing countries. (Climate Action Tracker, 2022).

Costa Rica

Photo of a view in Costa Rica with many plants and a mountain

Costa Rica surprised the world when it abolished its military in the 1960’s and diverted much of the funds into nature restoration. As a result, Costa Rica’s land use and forestry is now considered a ‘global carbon sink’. Costa Rica has set a net zero target for 2050 within its national decarbonisation plan. The current projections include new policies that support the electrification of its transport sector, the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The new National Plan for Electric Transportation (2019) also contains a set of strategic actions and a plan for the increased implementation of electric transportation. Find out more on the Climate Action Tracker Site here.

The Gambia

Birdseye view of Banjul, The Gambia

Historically one of the lowest global contributors to global climate emissions (see the graph below), the Gambia is taking impressive steps to keep its emissions low. One of the principle pathways for this is through the use of renewables, ‘in the form of a program that will increase the country’s electricity capacity by one-fifth partly through construction of one of the largest photovoltaic plants in West Africa’ (National Geographic). Find out more about this project here. The country has projects in place to restore forests. plants trees, and improve the sustainability of rice cultivation techniques (World Economic Forum 2021)

Emissions of different countries shown as different sized squares. The Gambia is the smallest. Australia is the largest

Have you heard of any other countries setting interesting targets? Pop a link in the comments section to inspire other learners!

We hope that has given you some food for thought. In the next step, we will zoom in even further, to see what role cities can play in reducing global carbon emissions.

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An Introduction to Climate Change and Carbon Reduction in the Built Environment

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