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Sweden leads climate action ranking while Hungary and Slovenia lag

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By Alice Tidey
A wind energy park near Jacobsdorf, Germany.
A wind energy park near Jacobsdorf, Germany.   -   Copyright  Patrick Pleul/dpa via AP

Scandinavian countries power the European Union's climate action but coal-reliant eastern member states lag behind, a new report has found.

The annual Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) released on Monday ranked the EU 16th — an improvement from last year's 22nd position.

The index, compiled by environmental NGOs Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (CAN) International as well as think tank NewClimate Institute, evaluates the climate performance of 57 countries and the EU.

Performance is measured by greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy use, overall energy use and climate policy.

The ranking's top three places have been kept "empty due to the fact that no country at this moment is on track to contribute to a 1.5°C pathway," the report states.

The EU

The EU's six-spot jump from last year is largely attributed to its climate policy and the Green Deal adopted last year to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 as well as the subsequent decision to substantially increase its emissions reduction target efforts in the next decade.

However, the report notes that the "absence of clear safeguards against investments in fossil fuels and other polluting industries during the COVID-19-induced economic risks endangering the EU's achievement of net zero."

The bloc's greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and energy use were all ranked as medium.

That's because the EU's per capita emissions remain higher than the global average and its 2030 renewable energy targets "are not sufficiently ambitious given the EU's resources and capacities," the report states.

"Experts also view the poor implementation of energy efficiency and renewable energy investment schemes as a cause for concern, along with the non-binding nature of the somewhat stringent governance regulations for post-2020 renewable energy targets (and plans) at the level of EU member states," it adds.

The good...

Sweden is, for the fourth year in a row, the highest-ranking member state at 4 — the top spot given that the first three positions are kept empty. Its "progressive role at the EU's level" where it champions more ambitious emissions reduction targets and its commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2045, are credited for the pole position.

Denmark is the only other EU country in the top 10 at 6, a one-spot drop from last year. Finland, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Croatia and Germany, meanwhile, feature in the top 20. Other top-ranking European countries include the UK (5), Norway (8), Switzerland (14), and Ukraine (20).

the bad...

The bloc's worst-ranking member states are Poland (48), Cyprus (49), Hungary (50), and Slovenia (51).

The latter two leapfrogged over Poland "due to their increase in greenhouse gas emissions, low level of investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency and lack of national climate policy," the three organisations said in a statement.

Slovenia dropped 6 places year-on-year to be in the bottom 10. The country's proposed coal phase-out is deemed "not sufficient" while policies on renewable energy and energy use are described as "going in the wrong direction".

Wendel Trio, director of CAN Europe said in a statement that "to increase the EU's ranking and for the bloc to regain its leadership role, the EU must substantially increase its 2030 climate target at this week's European Council."

"It must also ensure no EU country is left behind in the transition. For this the EU budget and recovery will provide unprecedented financial support for scaling up the green transition across Europe. And particularly to Europe's coal most-reliant countries, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe," he added.

and the ugly.

Apart from Slovenia, the bottom 10 of the index is made up of Russia, South Korea, Australia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei, Canada, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The US is the worst ranking country for the second consecutive year due to its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the lack of targets at the national level to either reduce greenhouse emissions or increase renewable energy deployment.

"Moreover, experts note the need for a complete reversal of the international climate policy stance the United States has adopted over the past 4 years.

"It is important to note, however, that during the campaign, President- and Vice President-Elect Biden and Harris pledged emissions reduction targets and action in climate change. These, if fulfilled, would lead the United States to almost certainly climb in next year's ranking," it notes.