Science & Environment

UK 'scores well' on climate, for now

solar panels on a roof Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Growth in renewables helped the UK score well this year, but the report's authors are less confident about the future

Denmark, the UK and Sweden have topped the international rankings in an index of countries combating climate change.

The annual table is compiled by green groups Germanwatch and Climate Action Network.

They analysed progress in the 58 countries producing more than 90% of energy-related CO2 emissions.

The organisers congratulated the UK for its performance to date, but say the government lacks a coherent vision for the future.

The index takes into account emission levels, trends in emissions, energy efficiency, progress towards renewable energy and climate policy.

It ranked the UK fifth in the world, after Denmark. The first three places were left empty because the organisers say no major nation is doing enough to cut emissions.

Wendel Trio, one of the principal authors, told BBC News the UK had earned its slot because of overall low emissions, climate policy over several years, a fast-growing renewables sector from a low base, and a commitment to phase out coal.

But he said the UK was in danger of losing its grade.

'On track'

"While advocating for strong greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in international climate negotiations, the UK government seems to be unable to face the fact that in order to phase out fossil fuels some important steps need to be made," Mr Trio said.

"These include a rapid phase out of fossil fuel subsidies which are still increasing in the UK, as well as the creation of a more supportive policy for investments in renewable energy.

"It is good that the UK supports the phase out of coal. (But) if the UK government refuses to opt for clean solutions, then it risks putting its good ranking in danger."

The government has previously rejected allegations that it is subsidising fossil fuels by supporting exploration in the North Sea. It says the index organisers are using the wrong definition of subsidy.

A spokesman said: "The UK is playing its part in driving action on climate change and transitioning to a global low-carbon economy - leading the world on taking coal off the grid and providing international climate finance aid.

"We are on track to meet our renewable targets for 2020 and we have recently pledged to double our clean energy research and development investment over the next five years. We remain committed to meeting our target of an 80% emissions reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

Kit Vaughan from the charity Care International pointed out that the review had been done two months ago - before the government's recent "reset" which downgraded renewable energy.

He said: "It is clearly out of date. Both Denmark and the UK have recently gone backwards at high speed, slipping from climate champions to carbon culprits.

"It shows how quickly this government is able to take a wrecking ball to previously progressive climate action and just how quickly enlightened climate policy can be ripped up and systematically dismantled."

The survey organisers said the results reflected action on climate by other players in society, like businesses, not solely government.

They said the EU had previously been clear leaders on climate but other nations were catching up.

"The coming two years, when the EU will shape its future climate and energy policies, will define the speed of its transition to a fossil fuel free economy," Mr Wendel said.

The clear laggards on climate, he added, were Canada, Australia and Japan (although Canada's new government appeared this week to signal far greater ambition).

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