CAT net zero target evaluations

Urgent need for nuanced and transparent assessments of national net zero targets

Last updated 14.12.2023

As of November 2023, around 145 countries had announced or are considering net zero targets, covering close to 90% of global emissions (Figure 1). Among these are China, the EU, the USA, and India, who jointly represent more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 1: Share of global GHG emissions covered by national net zero emission targets (agreed in law, as part of an initiative, or under discussion). Compilation based on data from the Net Zero Tracker (2023) and Climate Watch (2023) as of 5 October 2023 and complemented by CAT analysis. The compilation includes countries that have joined the Climate Ambition Alliance announced at COP25 (Climate Ambition Alliance, 2019). Emissions data excluding LULUCF for 2019 taken from PRIMAP emissions database (Gütschow, Günther and Pflüger, 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.

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 November 2023

Our net zero evaluations for G20 countries and selected other countries as of November 2023 show 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 2023

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 75% of global emissions remains insufficient (Figure 3). Only five of the 41 countries covered by the CAT, responsible for 7% 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 nine countries, responsible for 21% 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 2023. Emissions data excluding LULUCF for 2019 taken from PRIMAP emissions database (Gütschow et al., 2021).

Residual emissions in net-zero target years up to a fifth of current emissions

Emission scenarios compatible with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement temperature limit are clear: in addition to achieving deep cuts in emissions across all sectors of the global economy, global emissions need to become net negative as soon as possible. This mandates the accelerated scale-up of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) globally (Geden et al., 2023; Smith et al., 2023). The reliance on CDR to limit global warming to 1.5°C, however, must be kept as low as possible, acknowledging the tremendous uncertainties around reliability, costs, and permanence.

The latest research defines CDR as “capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it away for decades to millennia” (Smith et al., 2023, p. 11). Removal options at this stage are either reversible (e.g., forestry sinks) or expensive and technologically unmature (e.g., direct air capture and storage). While strong policy support will be required to accelerate CDR deployment overtime, governments might opt to prioritise an overreliance on potentially available CDR instead of effectively reducing their own emissions.

Detailed information on governments’ plans to rely on CDR remains scarce. Among the 34 countries assessed by the Climate Action Tracker that have pledged net zero, only 13 countries provide more detailed information on LULUCF sinks and/or engineered CDR and storage in their net zero target year.

Most governments plan to heavily rely on carbon dioxide removal or leave out a share of their emissions from the target. We conservatively estimate this to be almost a fifth of their current emissions. For this estimation, we have taken a closer look at 28 of the 34 governments with net-zero targets1 which jointly cover 81% of global 2019 emissions.

Based on the latest available information, we estimate the remaining emissions in the respective net-zero target years to amount to a minimum of 16–20% compared to 2019 emissions (see Figure 4, conservative estimate). Countries like Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Russia, Saudia Arabia and Viet Nam would still emit more than 30% of their 2019 emissions even after meeting their “net zero target”.

Figure 4: Conservative estimates of total remaining emissions in respective net-zero target years by 28 countries that cover 81% of 2019 global emissions. Estimates based on information and data tracked by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) as of December 2023.

Governments are relying on forestry sinks (referred to as land us, land-use change and forestry, LULUCF) in particular to balance remaining emissions. As of 1 December 2023, we estimate that the same 28 governments mentioned above jointly assume LULUCF sinks of 4.7–5.7 GtCO2e, representing 12–15% of their 2019 emissions. Forestry sinks face issues of both permanence and scarcity. On permanence, climate change and direct human interferences lead to uncertainty on the performance of stored carbon in forests and other ecosystems (Geden et al., 2023). On scarcity, the Land Gap Report found that countries’ climate pledges, including NDCs and LTSs, would require around 1 billion hectares of land prioritised for CDR (Self et al., 2023), more than the more than the combined areas of South Africa, India, Türkiye and the European Union. These plans critically exceed the potential for global sustainable potential for nature-based CDR.

Only eight governments2 currently communicate some information on engineered CDR underpinning their net-zero targets. Their plans jointly amount to 0.7–1.3 GtCO2e, representing 5–10% of their 2019 emissions.  These results for LULUCF sinks and engineered CDR are in line with other recently published literature in the field for different country samples (Smith, Vaughan and Forster, 2022; Buck et al., 2023; NewClimate Institute & CEEW, 2023).

As carbon removals face uncertainties on permanence, sustainability and availability at this stage and may not happen at the pace, scale and costs as currently planned for, governments should focus their attention on reducing their own emission to real zero while at the same time accelerating CDR to achieve net negative emissions in the second half of this century.

Several governments transparently communicate their plans to rely on LULUCF sinks and/or engineered CDR underpinning their net-zero targets, among them are Chile, Costa Rica, and South Korea. Alongside the need for transparency, countries should aim for a minimum reliance on LULUCF sinks and engineered CDR to meet their net-zero targets and underpin their targets with deep cuts in emissions across all sectors of the global economy.

1 Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, Germany (analysed separately but not aggregated as included in EU), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Türkiye, UAE, UK, US, and Viet Nam.

2 Australia, Canada, EU, Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, UK, and the US.

The CAT net zero assessments have been featured in the following recent publications (listed chronological order).

Scientific and research reports

UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2023 – Chapter 3 on ‘Nationally determined contributions and long-term pledges: The global landscape and G20 member progress’

Rogelj, J., Fransen, T., den Elzen, M., Lamboll, R., Schumer, C., Kuramochi, T., Hans, F., Mooldijk, S., Portugal-Pereira, J. (2023). Credibility gap in net-zero targets leaves world on high-risk climate track. Science Policy Forum. Vol 380, Issue 6649. DOI:

UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2022 – Chapter 3 on ‘Nationally determined contributions and long-term pledges: The global landscape and G20 member progress’

UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2021 – Chapter 3 on ‘Net zero emissions targets’

Höhne, N., Gidden, M.J., den Elzen, M. et al. (2021) Wave of net zero emission targets opens window to meeting the Paris Agreement. Nature Climate Change. 11, 820–822.

Media & other coverage

El Pais (05.03.2023) Tres de los seis países con mejores compromisos climáticos a 2050 son latinos

World Economic Forum (07.09.2021) What makes a good net zero target?

Comment in Climate Home News (22.06.2021) on What makes a good net zero target? by Silke Mooldijk, Frederic Hans and Claire Fyson

Virtual event - 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.


Buck, H.J. et al. (2023) ‘Why residual emissions matter right now’, Nature Climate Change [Preprint], (April). Available at:

Climate Action Tracker (2021) ‘Evaluation methodology for national net zero targets’. Climate Action Tracker (CAT); NewClimaite Institute; Climate Analytics. Available at:

Climate Ambition Alliance (2019) Climate Ambition Alliance. Annex I: Enhanced ambition in national climate plans & Annex II: Net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. UNFCCC. Available at:

Climate Watch (2023) ‘Net-Zero Tracker [5 October 2023]’. World Resources Institute. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2023).

Geden, O. et al. (2023) ‘The role of carbon dioxide removal in achieving the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal’, in Emissions Gap Report 2023: Broken Record - Temperatures hit new highs, yet world fails to cut emissions (again. Nairobi, Kenya: UN Environment Programme (UNEP); CONCITO. Available at: (Accessed: 5 December 2023).

Gütschow, J., Günther, A. and Pflüger, M. (2021) ‘The PRIMAP-hist national historical emissions time series v2.3 (1750-2019)’. 2021. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.5175154.

Net Zero Tracker (2023) ‘Net zero targets database [5 October 2023]’. NewClimate Institute, Oxford Net Zero, Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit; Data-Driven EnviroLab. Available at: (Accessed: 5 October 2023).

NewClimate Institute & CEEW (2023) Assessment of the G20 members’ long-term strategies: commonalities, gaps and areas for cooperation. Cologne and Berlin, Germany: NewClimate Institute; Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). Available at: (Accessed: 5 December 2023).

Self, A. et al. (2023) Land Gap Report Briefing Note: 2023 Update. Climate Resource; Pivot Point; University of Melbourne. Available at: 5 December 2023).

Smith, H.B., Vaughan, N.E. and Forster, J. (2022) ‘Long-term national climate strategies bet on forests and soils to reach net-zero’, Communications Earth and Environment, 3(305). Available at:

Smith, S.M. et al. (2023) The State of Carbon Dioxide Removal - 1st Edition, The State of Carbon Dioxide Removal. Available at:

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