CAT net zero target evaluations

The urgent need for nuanced and transparent assessments of national net zero targets

As of November 2022, around 140 countries had announced or are considering net zero targets, covering close to 90% of global emissions (Figure 1), compared to the 130 countries, covering about 70% emissions, in May 2021.

India is the most recent major emitter to announce a net zero goal in November 2021. Together with China, the EU, and USA, these four countries represent more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even countries with a poor track record in fighting climate change, such as Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE, have felt obliged to also commit to net zero emissions.

Figure 1: Share of GHG emissions covered by countries that have adopted or announced net zero emission targets (agreed in law, as part of an initiative, or under discussion). Compilation based on Net Zero Tracker (2022) and WRI (2022) as of 8 September 2022 complemented by CAT analysis. The compilation includes countries that have joined the Climate Ambition Alliance announced at COP25. Emissions data excluding LULUCF for 2019 taken from PRIMAP emissions database (Gütschow et al., 2021).

At their best, well-designed and ambitious net zero targets are key for reducing global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to net zero around 2050 and 2070, respectively. This is necessary to keep to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. Ambitious net zero targets can also guide the implementation of Paris-aligned actions in the short and medium term, in particular 2030 emission reduction goals.

At their worst, net zero targets are unclear or not backed up by real-world action. Net zero targets can distract from the urgent need for deep emissions reductions if 2030 targets and short-term action are inconsistent with their achievement, allowing governments to “hide” behind aspirational net zero targets. Unless governments start acting now, their chances of achieving net zero will be slim.

There is a clear need for a nuanced assessment of incoming national net zero targets to understand their scope, architecture, and transparency. Without such scrutiny, there is a risk that poorly backed up net zero claims could render these targets meaningless.

Our CAT's ten-step net zero target evaluation methodology

The CAT has identified ten key elements of each country’s net zero target to assess whether the scope, architecture, and transparency meet what we define as good practice (see Figure 2). Our evaluation method remains exclusively applicable to net zero targets by national governments and cannot be directly applied to other subnational or non-state actors (especially corporations).

Figure 2: Identified good practice for all ten key elements in the Climate Action Tracker’s evaluation methodology for countries’ net zero targets.

Country evaluations as of September 2022

Our net zero evaluations for G20 countries and selected other countries as of November 2022 shows that most net zero targets are formulated vaguely and do not yet conform with good practice across different design elements. Robust short-term targets and pathways towards achieving them will be required to fully realise their ambition.

These evaluations aim to provide a nuanced assessment of national net zero targets to understand their scope, architecture, and transparency. Without such scrutiny, there is a risk that poorly backed up net zero claims could render these targets meaningless.

Table 1: Overview of Climate Action Tracker’s net zero target evaluations for G20 member countries (excluding France and Italy as both not separately analysed by the CAT) and selected other countries per key elements as of November 2022

Governments need to improve their net zero target design. In total, according to the CAT’s “good practice” net zero analysis, the design of net zero targets covering a total of 74% of global emissions remains insufficient (Figure 3). Only six of the 41 countries covered by the CAT, responsible for 8% of global GHG emissions, have defined their net zero targets in a manner the CAT rates as ‘acceptable’ in terms of scope, architecture, and transparency. Another seven countries, responsible for 20% of global emissions, fall into the ‘average’ category. We are a long way from converting net zero targets into policies and actions that will result in real-world emissions reductions.

Figure 3: Share of global GHG emissions by Climate Action Tracker’s headline evaluation for announced net zero targets as of November 2022. Emissions data excluding LULUCF for 2019 taken from PRIMAP emissions database (Gütschow et al., 2021).

Climate Week NYC 2022

The Climate Action Tracker held a virtual side event at Climate Week NYC 2022 on Wednesday, September 21 entitled: “What is good target design and how do countries compare?”

The recording and presentation are available here.

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