Kalluk, a 13 year-old male polar bear, rolls around in the 28 tons of snow at the San Diego Zoo. Photo courtesy San Diego Zoo

The United States lags behind other major economic powers in terms of credibility regarding climate change, a report by UC San Diego researchers revealed Thursday.

The study is the first to provide scientific evidence assessing how effective governments will be at meeting their commitments to the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement intended to reduce CO2 emissions causing climate change.

The research reveals that the countries with the boldest pledges are also the most likely to achieve their goals. The European Union takes the lead with the strongest commitments that are also the most credible; however, findings suggest the U.S., despite having a less ambitious commitment under Paris, is not expected to meet its pledges.

“The pledges outlined in the accords are legally non-binding, thus the success of the agreement centers around confidence in the system that when governments make promises, they are going to live up those promises,” said the study’s lead author David Victor, professor of industrial innovation at UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and co-director of the Deep Decarbonization Initiative. “Our results indicate that the framework of the agreement is working pretty well.

“The Paris Agreement is getting countries to make ambitious pledges; last year nearly all countries updated those pledges and made them even more ambitious,” he said. “What’s needed next is better systems for checking to see whether countries are actually delivering what they promise.”

The study is based on a sample of registrants of the Conference of Parties — consisting of more than 800 diplomatic and scientific experts who, for decades, have participated in climate policy debates. This expert group was important to survey, the researchers said, because they are the people “in the room” when key policy decisions are made and therefore in a position to evaluate what their countries and other countries are likely to achieve.

These experts were asked to rate member nations — their own country included — to gauge pledge ambition, which is how much each country has pledged to do to mitigate global warming, in comparison to what they feasibly could do, given their economic strength, to avert a climate crisis. They also were asked to evaluate the degree to which nations have pledges that are credible.

According to the study, a subset of survey responses from eight countries plus the EU were selected for being most relevant to climate mitigation policy. They rate Europe’s goals as the most ambitious and credible. Europe is followed by China, Australia, South Africa and India. The U.S. and Brazil come in last place in the credibility category and only ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of ambition.

In the analysis, experts from North American countries were the most pessimistic about their pledges, both in their drive and ability to achieve climate goals in the agreement.

“From all the responses, it’s clear the U.S. is clearly in trouble — even with the recent Inflation Reduction Act being signed into law, which happened after our study ended,” Victor said. “While the legislation is a big step in the right direction, it doesn’t deliver the same investment many other counties have already committed.

“I think the major questions our study raises are `How does the U.S. boost its credibility?’ and `Why is credibility a problem?”‘

The researchers did a statistical analysis of the data set and found nations with more stable governments are more likely to have bold pledges that are highly credible.

However, the authors found China and other non-democracies are expected to comply with their pledges not simply because many of them have less ambitious pledges, but because they also have administrative and political systems that make it easier to implement complex national policies from the top down.

–City News Service



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Ellen Bullock