Trump Policies Sent U.S. Tumbling in a Climate Ranking

For four years, under President Donald J. Trump, the United States stopped fighting climate change at the federal level. Mr Trump is no longer in office, but his presidency left the country well behind in an already hard-to-win race.

A new report from researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities shows that the United States’ environmental performance has declined compared to other countries — a reflection of the fact that while the United States has wasted nearly half a decade, many of its colleagues deliberately have moved.

But the major obstacles to reducing greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change underlined the major obstacles, even that move was insufficient. The report’s sobering conclusion is that, while nearly every country has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 (the point at which their operations no longer add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere), almost no country is on track to do so.

The report, called the Environmental Performance Index or EPI, found that, based on their trajectories from 2010 to 2019, only Denmark and Britain were on a sustainable path to eliminating emissions by the middle of the century.

Namibia and Botswana appeared to be on track with caveats: They had stronger records than their peers in sub-Saharan Africa, but their emissions were minimal to begin with, and the researchers did not characterize their progress as sustainable because it was not clear that current policies would suffice as their economies develop.

The other 176 countries in the report were on the brink of falling short of the net-zero targets, some by wide margins. China, India, the United States and Russia were on track to account for more than half of global emissions by 2050. But even countries like Germany that have adopted more comprehensive climate policies are not doing enough.

“We think this report will be a wake-up call for a lot of countries, some of whom might have imagined they were doing what they were supposed to do and many of whom aren’t real,” said Daniel C. esty. , the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, which prepares the EPI every two years.

A United Nations report this year shows that there is still time, but not much, for countries to change course and meet their targets. The case of the United States shows how severely inaction for a few years can throw a country off course, further steepening the slope of the emissions cuts needed to get back on track.

The 2022 edition of the index, which was provided to The New York Times ahead of publication on Wednesday, scored 180 countries on 40 indicators related to climate, environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The individual stats were broad, including tree cover loss, wastewater treatment, particulate matter pollution, and lead exposure.

The United States ranks 43rd overall, with a score of 51.1 out of 100, compared to 24th and a score of 69.3 in the 2020 edition† The decline is largely due to bottoming out of its climate policy: it plummeted to 101st on climate statistics from 15th and followed every rich western democracy except Canada, which was 142nd.

The climate analysis is based on data through 2019 and the previous report was based on data through 2017, meaning the change stems from Trump-era policies and not President Biden’s reinstatement or regulatory expansion. reflects.

US emissions declined significantly over the entire 10-year period studied, which included most of the Obama administration and its efforts to regulate emissions, and the country continues to outperform other major polluters.

But the pace of reduction has been insufficient given the extremely high starting point of the United States. The US is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. If current trajectories continue, it would be the third largest by 2050, after China and India, the lowest ranked country in the overall index.

At the other end of the spectrum is Denmark, the number 1 in climate and general, whose parliament has made a binding commitment to cut emissions by 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. about two-thirds of its electricity comes from clean sources, and the largest city, Copenhagen, aims to become carbon neutral within the next three years.

Denmark has expanded wind energy enormously, set a date stop oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, taxed carbon dioxide emissions and negotiated agreements with leaders in transportation, agriculture and other sectors. The economy has grown as emissions have fallen.

“This is such an extensive transformation of our entire society that there is not one tool you can use, one policy you can use in general, and that will only solve the problem,” said Dan Jorgensen, the Danish minister of climate. Denmark showed that “it is possible to make this transformation in a way that does not harm your societies,” he said.

“It’s not something that makes you less competitive,” said Mr. Jorgensen. “Actually, it’s the opposite.”

The report’s methodology distinguishes between countries such as Denmark that are deliberately switching to renewable energy and countries such as Venezuela, whose emissions are only falling as a side effect of economic collapse.

One good news it found was that many countries, including the United States, have begun to “decouple” emissions from economic growth, meaning their economies are no longer directly dependent on the amount of fossil fuels they burn.

In general, richer countries still emit much more than poorer ones. But two countries with similar GDPs can have very different emission levels.

“The most important thing right now is that policies do matter, and that there are specific pathways to a more carbon-neutral and climate-friendly future,” said one of the report’s co-authors, Alexander de Sherbinin, associate director and senior researcher. . scientist at Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network. “But it really does require a high-level policy agreement.”

The report is the first edition of the Environmental Performance Index to estimate future emissions, and its methodology has limitations. Obviously, it doesn’t take into account more recent actions, as it relies on data up to 2019. Nor does it take into account the possibility of removing already emitted carbon from the air; such technology is limited now, but can make a significant difference over time. And it only reflects what would happen if countries continued to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at the same pace, rather than adopt more vigorous policies or, conversely, lose steam.

That explains a striking difference of opinion between the EPI researchers, who found Britain on the right track, and the British independent Climate Change Committee, which advises the British government and said current policy is insufficient. (There is also a technical distinction: in addition to domestic emissions, the committee considers what other countries emit from the production of goods that Britain imports, and the EPI does not.)

Britain’s recent cuts have been largely the result of switching from coal to natural gas, and the Climate Change Committee is “somewhat pessimistic that the trend will continue as the low-hanging fruit has been picked,” said EPI project director Martin Wolf. . “I see the rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity in the UK as a sign that the country is still on track.”

Tanja Srebotnjak, the director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives at Williams College and an expert on environmental statistics, said she viewed the projection method as “a reasonable first attempt” that could be refined later.

How best to extrapolate current trends is a matter of debate, said Dr. Srebotnjak, who has worked on previous EPI editions but was not involved in this year’s report or developing the new metric. But she added, “I think it will help policymakers to have one more tool in their toolbox to keep track of how they’re doing and compare themselves to peers, maybe learn from each other.”


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