Dubious decisions: The Indian government's proposal to environmental regulation spurred nationwide protests despite COVID-19 lockdown restrictions | Photo: Twitter/@LetIndiaBreathe

The 2020 Climate Policy news round up

While 2020 brought an upswing in political momentum for climate action, immediate plans still lack teeth

Controversy erupts over draft EIA 2020 notification

Just as the lockdown was enforced this year, the Indian government introduced a controversial draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, which was vehemently opposed by environmentalists. Chief among their concerns was the setting aside of provisions such as public consultations and the implementation of ex-post facto clearance for several projects. Since then, the government had extended the deadline for stakeholders to give their suggestions or objections until August of this year. The draft has still not been implemented because the Karnataka high court has restrained the central government from publishing the final notification.   

Several countries announce carbon neutrality deadlines

In a major win for the environment, by January of next year, countries emitting more than 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions and representing more than 70% of the world economy would have pledged to become carbon neutral by the middle of this century. The EU led the way this year. But what was most encouraging was super polluter China’s announcement of achieving net zero emissions by 2060. Several other countries such as Japan, South Korea, the UK and 110 other countries have made similar announcements. 

Significantly, Europe’s largest economy, Germany, has commenced its planned coal exit, while the continent’s largest coal consumer, Poland, has also announced a coal phase out.

Covid stimulus packages still prefer fossil fuels over green recovery 

The EU, once again, led the way as far as green initiatives in recovery packages are concerned. It has set aside 30% of its $830 billion recovery package on initiatives that aim to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. It is followed by Germany and France, who announced their own individual packages as well. The EU, US, Japan and Germany have together announced stimulus spending of more than $1 trillion. But in terms of green recovery, the US and Japan have failed to make sustainability a priority, according to a new paper by the World Economic Forum.

In fact, the latest Climate Transparency Report found COVID-19 economic recovery packages from the world’s largest economies rely heavily on support and subsidies to fossil fuels and could set back gains made through progressive efforts pre-pandemic.   

India’s own $260 billion recovery package was ranked the fifth-worst performer on the ‘Green Stimulus Index’. The study found that even though there were some green incentives in the package – such as setting aside funds to create green jobs for tribal communities –  it also offered substantial support to carbon-intensive industries.

Legal recourse gains popularity as activists push for greater climate action

Over the past decade, the courts have become an important battleground in the climate change arena. Despite disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, this year yet again saw an uptick in climate accountability litigation around the world. Notably, in Europe, six Portuguese youth recently garnered attention for taking all 33 EU nations in a landmark human rights case for not doing enough on climate action. In January, youth in Germany filed a constitutional lawsuit against the German government for failing to protect the rights of young citizens in the face of the climate crisis. Youth groups in South Korea, Mexico, UK, Australia and the US have also sought legal action to target their respective governments on inadequate action on climate change.

Big Oil also found itself in legal crosshairs as a spate of lawsuits across the US targeted the industry, and notably oil major Exxon Mobil, for alleged deception and disinformation campaigns that have worsened the climate change problem.

In terms of outcomes, the year was a mixed bag for activists with some setbacks in the courts of the US and Canada. Supreme Courts in France and Ireland though have moved to hold their national governments accountable for inadequate plans and measures to tackle climate change. 

UN’s Climate Ambition Summit: Intent clear, action unclear

Hosted on the five-year anniversary of the historic Paris Agreement, the UN Climate Ambition Summit did indicate a change in tide, but there was very little announced in terms of concrete action. 

The summit saw the submission of eight new long-term strategies, showing the path to achieve net zero emissions by 2050: among them South Korea, Ethiopia. More confirmed they will submit their strategies by the end of 2020 – Argentina confirmed they will institutionalise a net zero by 2050 goal into their long-term strategy, expected mid-next year. China also remained non-committal on how it plans to achieve its net-zero by 2060 target.

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