COVID-19 pandemic adds uncertainty on future emissions – jury still out on whether they'll rise or fall

The Climate Action Tracker today published updated assessments for 12 of the 36 countries it assesses, and has included projections of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on 2020 emissions.

The CAT team has updated Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Germany, Ethiopia, Morocco, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA (see below for details).

“While the overall picture of these countries is mixed, it’s clear that COVID-19 adds more uncertainty about emission levels,” said Niklas Höhne, founding partner of NewClimate Institute.

"Economic downturn temporarily reduces emissions, so it is a question of how long it will last, given we are still in the middle of the pandemic. The real long-term difference can come from post-pandemic economic recovery packages and how they integrate low carbon futures. It’s too early to predict their effect, but there does appear to be a worrying trend where countries are protecting their fossil fuel industries,” he said.

For the US, the Trump Administration continues to systematically walk back climate policy now even more using the pandemic as justification. If the new rule rolling back the Obama-era vehicle emissions standards withstands legal challenges, a 12% share of electric vehicle sales in 2025, projected by the last CAT assessment, will drop to 7%.

The USD 2 trillion recovery package goes without support for climate. But renewables continue to dominate in terms of new investment. The CAT’s US emissions projections for 2030 are 5%–10% lower compared to our previous projections in December 2019, mainly due to the impact of the pandemic on emissions and the greening of the electricity sector due to market forces.

Chile’s rating has been upgraded from “Highly Insufficient” to “Insufficient” based on its updated Paris Agreement target submitted to the UNFCCC. Chile was one of the first countries to officially submit an updated target.

“Chile is one of the few countries that followed the specific request of the Paris Agreement to submit an updated target that is more ambitious than the first. More countries have to follow suit,” said Deborah Ramalope, head of climate policy analysis at Climate Analytics.

The CAT grades government’s Paris Agreement 2030 targets with one of five possible ratings, based on its “fair share” methodology: 1.5˚C Paris Agreement compatible, 2˚C compatible, Insufficient, Highly Insufficient and Critically Insufficient.

Summaries of the country assessments

Critically insufficient

On 10 December 2019, Alberto Fernández was sworn in as the President of Argentina, replacing Mauricio Macri. The new government has mainly focused its policy efforts on addressing the economic crisis that pre-dates the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it, putting further climate policy developments into jeopardy.

The recovery measures taken by the government as of June 2020 aim to protect the oil and gas industry from collapsing prices and demand, while ‘green’ recovery measures remain largely absent in current proposals. The CAT rates Argentina as “Critically Insufficient”, downgraded from its previous “Highly Insufficient”.

Turkey is at a crossroads with regards to its energy future: current government plans foresee decreasing its dependency on gas imports through increased renewable energy capacity, but also with the use of domestic lignite coal, with 32GW currently still in the pipeline. In Turkey, the only G20 country that has not ratified the Paris Agreement, emissions will increase significantly under current policies, but the country is expected to still overachieve its “Critically Insufficient” proposed Paris Agreement target (INDC), which is so weak that it allows GHG emissions to double compared to current levels, even taking the impact of COVID-19 into consideration.

The CAT projections show that COVID-19 will have only a limited impact on future emissions, which we expect will increase between 40% and 70% by 2030. Turkey’s government has not initiated a green recovery: the country’s economic stimulus efforts focus on ensuring employment – especially for those under 25 year olds – and reviving export and production-oriented growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted Ukraine, currently leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating the country’s energy crisis that had slowly been building for years due to a lack of long-term energy policy planning. Ukraine could reach its “Critically Insufficient” commitment under the Paris Agreement based on current policy trends outlined in their own 2050 Low Emission Development Strategy.

If all policies in the strategy were to be fully implemented, Ukraine’s emissions would be significantly lower than its Paris target emission levels - even more so when taking into account the impact of COVID-19. Therefore, Ukraine has ample room to ratchet up its 2030 ambition in the near future. At this moment Ukraine falls into the group of countries whose Paris Agreement targets are so weak that it would take little to no effort to achieve.

US emissions in 2020 will be lower as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Trump Administration’s continuous rollback of climate policy and its response to the pandemic will counteract some of the drop in emissions. The government has not initiated a green recovery but has instead used the pandemic as justification to continue relaxing environmental regulations, allowing polluting industries to emit more greenhouse gases during the crisis and exempting them from penalties for violating these rules. The CAT continues to rate the US as “Critically Insufficient”.

The CAT’s US emissions projections for 2030 are 5%–10% lower compared to our previous projections in December 2019, mainly due to the impact of the pandemic on emissions and the greening of the electricity sector due to market forces.

Highly Insufficient

The German government’s Climate Action Programme 2030, adopted in December 2019, does not contain enough policy measures to meet its own 2020 or 2030 emissions reduction targets, which themselves are outdated and insufficient. The targets might be met only with the impact of COVID-19 under a worst-case scenario. The CAT rates Germany’s 55% emissions reduction target for 2030 (agreed in 2010) as “Highly Insufficient”, it needs to be strengthened to be compatible with the Paris Agreement.

Singapore’s initial reaction to the COVID-19 crisis was swift, announcing funds to cope with the health crisis and reboot the economy in February 2020, with four stimulus packages announced as of June 2020 to support the economy, worth 19% of GDP.

If appropriately directed, the financial stimulus funds could provide an opportunity for economic recovery while accelerating plans for a low emissions strategy and a low carbon future. However, there is no sign that Singapore intends to use the funds in this manner and, given the nation has a very weak climate target, rated “Highly insufficient”, it could do well to do so.

South Korea
South Korea’s “Green New Deal” announced on 14 July 2020 by President Moon Jae-In did not include what his ruling party promised during the general election campaign: no net zero emissions target by 2050, no carbon tax, and no commitment to end financing coal power plants overseas.

It remains to be seen whether these targets will be adopted by the government in the coming months. Of even more concern is that the government continues to support new coal power constructions both domestically and internationally, and recently bailed out a major coal plant manufacturer.


In early 2020, Chile was one of the first countries to officially submit an updated Paris Agreement target to the UNFCCC. The updated Nationally Determined Contribution (2020 NDC) is more ambitious than the first, and even slightly more ambitious than the draft published in 2019.

The 2020 NDC also includes a new conditional target and links the 2030 targets to the 2050 carbon neutrality goal. The submission of these new targets resulted in an upgrade of its current rating, from “Highly Insufficient” to “Insufficient.” While the 2020 NDC shows the Chilean Government has increased its climate ambition, it is not enough to be considered compatible with efforts to limit global warming to either 2°C or 1.5° C.

The Norwegian government is taking some big steps on climate, but it still has a way to go. Norway is one of the few countries that has submitted its updated NDC well in advance of the deadline given by the Paris Agreement and included a stronger emission reduction target for 2030 than the first NDC (at least 50-55% below 1990 levels, compared to a reduction of at least 40%). The new NDC does not include a reference to the carbon neutrality target for 2030, that was approved by the Norwegian parliament in 2016.

If the European Union’s enhanced NDC were to set a less ambitious target than Norway, the government intends to achieve the difference between its own target and that of the EU through voluntary cooperation under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The CAT rates this target as “Insufficient”.

2˚C Compatible

Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s economy has slowed down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic which, in turn, has driven projected greenhouse emissions downwards. The lower range of our current policy projections leads to emissions below the National Decarbonisation plan 2018-2050 estimates, which is very close to our “1.5 Paris Agreement compatible” range. Costa Rica’s NDC is still rated as “2°C compatible” as it has not submitted a formal NDC update.

Ethiopia’s mitigation efforts are rooted in its “Climate Resilient Green Economy” (CRGE) strategy, published in 2011. This strategy, along with its Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), is currently under revision. In June 2020, Ethiopia unveiled its first-ever ten-year economic development plan, themed “Ethiopia: An African Beacon of Prosperity.”

According to the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the new plan aims to increase economic prosperity, while also building a climate-resilient green economy, though details of the plan are scarce. The CAT rates Ethiopia’s Paris Agreement target as “2˚C compatible,” one of the few countries to earn this rating.

1.5˚C Paris Agreement compatible


Morocco is further advancing its climate policies and may as one of the few developing countries be able to curb its emissions by 2030. Expansion of renewables is continuing as planned, but the construction of new coal fired power plants may lock the country into higher emissions.

New policies planned may lead to levelling emissions, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still unclear. Inconsistent historical data reporting also adds uncertainty to both historical and current policy projections. However, emissions trends indicate that Morocco is likely to achieve its climate pledge, which the CAT rates as “1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible.”

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