The nations are reducing their CO2 levels to help combat climate change and ensure global warming remains within 1.5C by 2050
The UK and France are two of five countries to have set legally-binding targets on achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Both nations are reducing CO2 levels to help combat climate change and ensure global warming remains within 1.5C by 2050, as laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Bhutan in South Asia and Suriname in South America are the only countries that already absorb more greenhouse gases than they emit.
In October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), claimed that to have a 50% chance of keeping global warming in check, global emissions need to reach net zero by 2050.
In February 2020, analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a London-based think tank, showed that more than $39tn — about 49% of the world’s annual GDP — is generated by nations, regions and cities with an actual or intended net-zero target.
On releasing the data, ECIU director Richard Black said it was “extraordinary that just 18 months on from the IPCC report that nations, regions and cities representing virtually half of global GDP have set compatible goals”.
“The majority of these targets are just targets — but still, it shows how quickly policymakers are grasping the science and, in the case of cities and regions, deciding to act themselves when their national governments will not,” he added.
Which countries have a net-zero target in place by law?
In June 2017, Sweden pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2045 – making it the first country to put into law a timeline to ensure it was ahead of the Paris Agreement’s target.
It plans to reduce its absolute emissions by 85% compared to 1990 levels, with the remaining 15% to be eradicated through investments in projects that contribute to reducing pollution in Sweden and elsewhere across the world.
The country has spent several years decarbonising its energy sector, by increasing its nuclear fleet and investing in hydroelectric power sources, while a carbon tax was imposed in the 1990s to support a shift from fossil fuels.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has gained international recognition over the past couple of years after delivering many high-profile speeches and leading demonstrations calling for increased action to combat climate change.
Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May set into law a target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 in June 2019.
In doing so, Britain became the first G7 country moving towards curbing climate change at such a scale, building on its previous target of cutting emissions by 80% over the next three decades.
As part of its efforts, the UK’s carbon emissions have fallen by 29% to 354 million tonnes over the past 10 years.
However, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent adviser to the UK Parliament, believes it will not meet its next two climate targets as progress in cutting emissions is expected to slow over the coming years.
Shortly after the UK announced its climate change ambitions, June 2019 also saw France announce legislation to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The law also increased its 2030 target to reduce consumption of fossil fuels by 30% to 40%
France, a nation that relies heavily on nuclear power, is looking to ramp up its development of low-carbon sources and renewable hydrogen, while aiming to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2022.
Measures are being taken to improve about 7.2 million poorly insulated households in the country, as the housing sector makes up about 45% of its power consumption and 25% of the carbon emissions produced.
Having previously proposed a net-zero target, the Danish government committed by law to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 in June 2019.
The government pledged to introduce binding decarbonisation goals and strengthened its 2030 ambition to reduce emissions from 40% below 1990 levels to 70%.
Figures released by Danish state-run utility company Energinet showed that 47% of the country’s energy was generated from wind power alone in 2019.
This renewable energy is a key component of the country’s decarbonisation plans as it aims to ensure its electricity sector is fossil fuel-free by 2030.
New Zealand passed a law in November 2019 to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
It claims to be in a good position to hit the target, with 80% of the country’s electricity being sourced from renewables and a phase-out of oil and gas planned for 2035.
But there is a big loophole in the government’s climate proposal, as it does not include reaching net zero on methane emissions – which are believed to trap about 30 times as much heat in the atmosphere as CO2.
Agriculture accounts for almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, while methane emissions from ruminant animals make up about a third of its total emissions.
The country has proposed to reduce these emissions by 10% below 2017 levels by 2030, and then by between 24% and 47% by 2050.