IN-DEPTH: High Ambition Coalition countries need to walk the talk

The Republic of the Marshall Islands was the first country to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in February. The move by the small island state did not come as a big surprise, especially considering the active role it played within the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) to secure the agreement.

The HAC formed at COP21 in Paris and included more than 100 long-time separated developing and developed countries. It has been credited for its contribution in raising the ambition of the Paris Agreement, advocating inter alia for a ratchet-up mechanism and a firm recognition of the 1.5°C goal. Nevertheless, are the active members of the HAC as “highly ambitious” as their name would suggest?

To answer this question, we review the intended nationally-determined contributions (INDC) of nine representative members of the HAC: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, the EU, The Gambia, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Norway and the U.S (see the INDC portal of the UNFCCC or the INDCs table on CPO for the individual contributions).

As for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the question can be answered affirmatively. Its INDC is far more ambitious than what would be required of a small island developing state (see Table).

Comparison of the INDCs of nine HAC member countries


The same applies to a Least Developed Country (LDC) such as The Gambia, which seems to be willing to completely skip the dirty phase of development. However, both countries have very low shares of global emissions and are highly dependent on international aid. In addition, it is not clear if The Gambia’s new president Barrow will continue the progressive climate policy after the turmoil characterizing the transition of power.

Just as The Gambia, Bangladesh is a LDC faced with many developmental challenges and characterized by an extraordinarily high vulnerability to climate change.  Nevertheless, the government plans to considerably expand the use of coal to meet future energy demand. In its INDC, Bangladesh even seeks support for these projects and other fossil fuel infrastructure, sharply contrasting the pledge to strive for 100 percent renewable energy as part of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF).

Colombia, also part of the CVF, has already a relatively clean energy electricity sector due to the vast utilization of hydro power. This characteristic is shared by its neighbor Brazil. Both countries have quite well-formulated and transparent INDCs and Brazil is one of the few developing countries to have a base year (2005) against which action can be assessed. However, the Brazilian target looks much more ambitious than it actually is as the base year was marked by particularly high emissions from deforestation. Currently, deforestation rates are again on the rise in Brazil and a political and economic crisis is paralyzing the country and its climate efforts. In Colombia, deforestation is on the rise too, after reaching a historic peace agreement. Additionally, the country – which has not yet ratified the Paris Agreement –, is highly dependent on the export of coal and oil.

In a similar way, Mexico plans to expand hydrocarbon production in the Gulf of Mexico, contradicting its aspiration of being a leader in climate policy as represented by its climate change law. Moreover, its INDC represents a step backwards compared to the 2020 pledge, as the latter would have required much earlier peaking. In addition, it is not very transparent, builds upon the questionable inclusion of black carbon, and has been assessed to be not in line with the below 2°C target.

The latter also applies to the EU, indicating the tarnishing leadership of the Union, and to Norway, as it intends to fulfill its INDC collectively with the EU. This is partly due to the ineffectiveness of the EU Emission Trading Scheme – of which Norway is part – and the slowdown in the development of renewables in the continent. Moreover, the EU is in the middle of its greatest crisis in history after Brexit and vast disagreement on climate policy persists. In contrast, Norway has a leading role in the electrification of the transport sector and aims to become climate neutral by 2030 despite its dependence on the revenues from oil exploration.

As for the U.S., getting a clear picture of what climate policy will look like in the Trump era is no easy task. The INDC drafted by the Obama administration represented a step forward compared to earlier contributions. Yet, Trump’s statements and the first official acts under his administration cast doubts on the fact that the targets will be pursued.

With the new administration in the U.S. it is unclear to what extent the HAC will continue to exist in its current form. At the same time, many of its members need to increase the ambition of their climate policy if they want to keep faith to the funding principles of the coalition they are part of. The INDCs of most are not in line with the well below 2°C target, let alone 1.5°C, making the need for more tangible efforts more pressing than ever.


This article was first published on ICCG’s International Climate Policy Magazine n. 45.


(Image: COP21. Photo credit: BMUB/Sascha Hilgers, flickr)