Which countries have a net zero carbon goal?

A growing number of governments are setting targets to end their contribution to global warming. Bookmark this page to stay up to date

Zero, nil, nada: the ultimate emissions goal (Photo: Pixabay)

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To end dangerous overheating of the planet, humans need to stop putting more greenhouse gases into the air than we take out.

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a global goal (couched in legalese) to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century.

An increasing number of governments are translating that into national strategy, setting out visions of a carbon-free future. Is it enough? Of course not. But it is becoming the benchmark for leadership on the world stage.

Here is a handy guide to who is promising what.

This article will be updated as new commitments come in. If we have missed something, let us know by emailing [email protected]


Bhutan

Target date: Currently carbon negative and aiming for carbon neutrality as it develops

Status: Pledged towards the Paris Agreement

Notes: With a population of less than a million, on low incomes, surrounded by forests and hydropower resources, Bhutan has an easier task balancing the carbon accounts than most. It has some green policies, but economic growth and rising demand for cars is putting upward pressure on emissions.

A temple on one of Bhutan’s many mountainsides (Photo: Sanath Adiga)


California

Target date: 2045

Status: Executive order

Notes: Okay so it’s not a country, but if it were, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world – worth paying attention to. Former governor Jerry Brown signed the carbon neutral order in September 2018, catching a lot of people by surprise. While the state passed a law around the same time to make electricity 100% renewable by 2045, policies to green other sectors are less mature. Vox had a decent explainer at the time.


Chile

Target date: 2050

Status: Under discussion

Notes: The host of the 2019 UN climate talks intends to release a full decarbonisation plan ahead of Cop25, president Sebastian Piñera announced in June. For starters, the country will close eight of its 28 coal power plants by 2024 and phase out the fuel by 2040.


Costa Rica

Target date: 2050

Status: Policy position

Notes: Previous administrations said Costa Rica would be carbon neutral by 2021, which is… not happening. In February 2019, president Carlos Alvarado Quesada set out a climate policy package. It has a 2050 goal in the original Spanish version but not the English-language summary, suggesting it is more aspiration than target. The country is routinely celebrated for getting nearly all its electricity from renewables – primarily hydropower – but citizens still rely on petrol and diesel to get around. An e-mobility decree adopted in 2018 aims to change that.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada on the campaign trail for the Costa Rican presidency (Photo: Facebook/Carlos Alvarado Quesada)


Denmark

Target date: 2050

Status: Policy position

Notes: The government set out plans in 2018 to build a “climate-neutral society” by 2050. Its package included a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 and support for electric vehicles. Climate change was a major theme in June 2019 parliamentary elections and the victorious “red bloc” parties agreed to set tougher emissions targets in law.


European Union

Target date: 2050

Status: Under consideration

Notes: The European Commission is pushing for a bloc-wide 2050 net zero emissions target, with incoming president Ursula von der Leyen promising to set it in law. That would represent a tightening of ambition from the current goal to reduce emissions 80-95% from 1990 levels. At a European Council meeting in June, 24 member states agreed, with four hold-outs: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland. Leaders are expected to resume talks on the issue at their next summit in October, in parallel with discussions on the bloc’s long-term budget, which may be used to address certain countries’ economic concerns.


Fiji

Target date: 2050

Status: Pledged towards the Paris Agreement

Notes: As president of Cop23, the UN climate summit in 2017, Fiji made an extra effort to show leadership. In 2018, the Pacific island state submitted a plan to the UN with the goal of net zero carbon emissions across all sectors of the economy. Its “very high ambition” scenario even goes carbon negative, but this is contingent on new technologies and international support.

A Fijian welcome ceremony at the 2017 UN climate talks (Photo: UNFCCC)


Finland

Target date: 2035

Status: Coalition agreement

Notes: Five political parties agreed in June 2019 to strengthen the country’s climate law, as part of negotiations to form a government. The target is expected to require curbs on industrial logging and a phaseout of peat burning for power generation.


France

Target date: 2050

Status: In law

Notes: French lawmakers voted a net zero target into law on 27 June 2019, the same day as the UK. Other parts of the government’s proposed climate and energy package remained to be agreed. Controversially, it proposes postponing nuclear power plant closures. In its first report in June, the newly established High Council for the Climate advised France must triple the pace of emissions reductions to meet the carbon neutrality goal.


Germany

Target date: 2050

Status: Under discussion

Notes: Environment minister Svenja Schulze proposed a net zero target in a draft law circulated in February 2019, but several of her colleagues opposed it. Chancellor Angela Merkel has set up a “climate cabinet” with instructions to figure out how to break the impasse.


Iceland

Target date: 2040

Status: Policy position

Notes: The strategy unveiled in 2018 focuses on phasing fossil fuels out of the transport sector, tree-planting and restoring wetlands. Iceland already has virtually carbon-free electricity and heating from geothermal and hydroelectric sources.

Krafla geothermal power plant in Iceland (Photo: Ásgeir Eggertsson)


Ireland

Target date: 2050

Status: Policy position

Notes: The government unveiled a climate strategy in June 2019, indicating its intention to set a 2050 net zero emissions target in law. Ireland is off track to meet its 2020 and 2030 climate targets, according to Environmental Protection Agency projections published the same month. The policy paper set out a governance framework and roadmap for different sectors to cut emissions, but deferred tough decisions on the future of beef farming.


Japan

Target date: “The earliest possible time in the latter half of this century”

Status: Policy position

Notes: Japan’s cabinet approved a climate strategy in June 2019, ahead of hosting the G20 leaders’ summit. It majored on carbon capture, utilization and storage, and the development of hydrogen as a clean fuel source. Notably absent was a phaseout plan for coal, which is still expected to supply a quarter of the country’s electricity in 2030.


Marshall Islands

Target date: 2050

Status: Pledged towards the Paris Agreement

Notes: The low-lying island nation is acutely vulnerable to sea level rise and keen to set an example on decarbonisation. Its updated submission to the UN in September 2018 set out an aspiration to reach net zero emissions by 2050, albeit without concrete policies to get all the way. Depending on the availability of international support, the plan identified measures to cut emissions 56-87% from 2010 levels.


New Zealand

Target date: 2050

Status: Draft law

Notes: Unusually for a developed country, New Zealand’s biggest source of emissions is farming. A bill put to parliament in May 2019 sets a net zero goal for all greenhouse gases except biogenic methane (mostly from sheep and cattle), which is to be cut 24-47% from 2017 levels by 2050. It remains contentious with the meat lobby, which argues New Zealand will lose market share to countries with less stringent sustainability standards.


Norway

Target date: 2030

Status: In law

Notes: On paper, this target – enshrined in law in 2016 – is one of the most ambitious in the world. The caveat is Norway plans to meet a substantial portion of the goal through international carbon credits: funding carbon-cutting projects in other countries. At home, the government has aggressive policies to electrify road transport but continues to back controversial Arctic oil drilling.


Portugal

Target date: 2050

Status: Policy position

Notes: Portugal launched a roadmap in December 2018 for getting to net zero, outlining strategies for energy, transport, waste, farming and forests. It is one of the member states calling for the EU to adopt a 2050 net zero target.


Sweden

Target date: 2045

Status: In law

Notes: Sweden legislated its net zero target in 2017, bringing forward its timeline for carbon neutrality by five years in response to the Paris Agreement. It got extra attention in contrast with Donald Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the pact. At least 85% of the emissions cuts are to be achieved through domestic policies, leaving the door open for international credits to make up the rest.

Sweden’s deputy prime minister Isabella Lovin referring the climate law to parliament in February 2017 (Photo: Facebook/Isabella Lovin)


United Kingdom

Target date: 2050

Status: In law

Notes: The UK already passed a framework law for cutting emissions in 2008, so setting a net zero target is as simple as replacing 80% with 100%. Parliament passed the amendment on 27 June 2019. Meeting the goal is tougher and the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has emphasised more policies will be needed across sectors to give it life.

Scotland’s devolved parliament is working on a bill to reach net zero in 2045, based on its strong renewable energy resources and capacity to store CO2 in depleted North Sea oilfields. It is expected to pass into law by autumn 2019.

The CCC advised Wales would have a harder job and 95% emissions cuts by 2050 was feasible. The Welsh government accepted the recommendation and expressed an ambition to go further to net zero.


Uruguay

Target date: 2030

Status: Contribution to the Paris Agreement

Notes: This is more of a forecast than a commitment, based on Uruguay’s anomalous trend of increasing forest cover. Combined with policies to reduce emissions from beef farming, waste and energy, this is expected to make the country a net carbon sink by 2030, according to its national submission to the UN pact.

Read more on: Climate Politics | Paris Agreement