How emission reduction targets made by world leaders at international climate summit stack up

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When the world’s leaders sat down (virtually) at this year’s climate summit, some came armed with new emissions targets for the next nine to 29 years, others chose to rest on their laurels.

New Zealand’s time in the spotlight was rather underwhelming. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced no new commitments – the country’s emissions target set out by the National Government in 2016 remains the pillar for the country’s climate action.

Of the 40 world leaders who joined the White House virtual summit, US President Joe Biden was among the few to detail ambitious new goals. Other countries, including Canada and Japan, announced plans to boost their targets, but many danced around providing improved figures.

For many, the goal is 2030. As French President Emmanuel Macron said: “Basically, 2030 is the new 2050.”

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel participating in the virtual international climate summit with US President Joe Biden.

Kay Nietfeld/Getty Images Pool

German Chancellor Angela Merkel participating in the virtual international climate summit with US President Joe Biden.

New Zealand

Ardern, who was invited to speak at the virtual summit, said: “We will lift our ambition because we must”.

But New Zealand’s ambition, specifically, was not lifted and has remained unchanged since National was in power in 2016. No new goals were announced at the summit.

The existing target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 still stands – this is the country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC). If all goes well, based on data from Global Carbon Budget 2020, the country’s 2030 emissions will total 25.6 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2).

The Government also plans, as set out in the Zero Carbon Bill, to reduce emissions to 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 – which calculates to be 12.824 MtCO2.

United States

The US, which is the second-largest emitter in the world, was the most ambitious of the bunch – a stark contrast to the country’s approach to climate action under the leadership of former US President Donald Trump.

“The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting,” Biden said.

Speaking at the two-day summit, Biden said this is the decade decisions must be made to “avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis”.

He announced plans to slash the country’s emissions by between 50 per cent and 52 per cent of its 2005 levels taking it to 3,066.77 MtCO2.

Emissions from 2005 have been deemed the country’s peak, and over the last 15 years it has slowly reduced. In 2019, the country’s emissions were 13.8 per cent lower than the peak. The new goal will be 41.9 per cent lower than 2019.


Australia, like New Zealand, didn’t budge much at this year’s summit.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison did, however, explain that Australia is one of the few countries that is transparent with its yearly emissions.

“Many countries make commitments but none of them can claim the same record of achievement that Australia consistently has, whether it’s across Kyoto and where we’re tracking in terms of our commitments to Paris.”

“[Australia is] one of the few countries in the world … [to] report our emissions every single year”

Morrison made no new announcements, instead, he stuck to the country’s existing goal of a 26 per cent to 28 per cent reduction on its 2005 levels by the year 2030. This will see emissions drop to 284.69MtCO2 – 30 per cent lower than emissions recorded in 2019.

United Kingdom

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the global platform to rally the troops, in a way. He urged his fellow world leaders to do more to help improve the dire environmental outlook.

“It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive politically correct green act of ‘bunny hugging’ or however you want to put it.

“Nothing wrong with ‘bunny hugging’ but you know what I’m driving at.”

Johnson, who praised the US’ goal as “game changing”, promoted his government’s target of a 78 per cent reduction on its 1990 levels by 2035. This would see a drop to 132.19MtCO2 – 64 per cent less than the 2019 emissions recorded.

The target, announced on April 20, will limit the volume of greenhouse gases emitted between 2033 to 2037, aiding the UK’s efforts to be net-zero by 2050.

To align with the baseline under the Paris Climate Agreement, the UK is also working to a 68 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030 – that’s a jump from its previous 2030 target of a 57 per cent cut.


China is the biggest emitter in the world, accounting for 29 per cent of global emissions in 2019, based on data from the Global Carbon Budget 2020.

President Xi Jinping made no big announcements at the summit. He did, however, say coal use will be reduced between 2025 and 2030.

“We will strictly control the coal-fired power generation projects.

“We will strictly limit the increase in coal consumption over the 14th five-year plan period and phase it down in the 15th five-year plan period.”

While no figure has been placed on the country’s targets, China is planning to have net-zero emissions by 2060, a decade after New Zealand.

The country’s emissions are expected to peak before the year 2030.


Japan is one of the few countries to announce it is stepping up its targets. Prime Minister Yoshide Suga​ told the summit his country is “ready to demonstrate its leadership” with its “top-level” target.

Suga announced plans to reduce emissions by 46 per cent in 2030 compared to its 2013 levels, which is up from its previous pledge of a 26 per cent reduction.

“A goal of 46 per cent in reductions would mean that Japan will raise our current target by more than 70 per cent, and it will certainly not be an easy task,” Suga said.

If this new target is met, emissions would reach 710.3 MtCO2 in 2030.

Japan announced last year it is working towards carbon neutrality by 2050.


Germany has already reduced its emissions by 40 per cent compared to 1990, and plans to slash it even more by the year 2030.

As part of the European Union’s targets, Germany will join other parts of the EU to cut emissions by 55 per cent – taking them down to 473.2 MtCO2.

The EU introduced its legally binding target before the summit commenced, settling on 55 per cent, instead of the 60 per cent target initially pushed for.

Europe is hoping to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world.

“Our political commitment to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is now also a legal one,” said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen​.

“The Climate Law sets the EU on a green path for a generation.”


Like its southern neighbour the US, Canada also upped the ante with its emissions target.

“Only bold climate policies lead to bold results,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau​ told the summit.

“We will continually strengthen our plan and take even more action.”

Trudeau pledged a cut between 40 per cent and 45 per cent of its 2005 levels by 2030. He said the country is “now on track to blow past our old target”, which was set at a 36 per cent cut in the same timeframe.

The new target will see emissions reach 345.1 MtCO2.


Russia is one of the biggest emitters in the world and has a plan in place to change this.

President Vladimir Putin​ told the summit: “Russia is genuinely interested in galvanising international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges.”

A plan released in March explained how Russia aims to see a 75 per cent reduction of its 1990 levels by the year 2030.

Putin said the country is planning to “significantly cut the accumulated volume of net emissions” by 2050, but failed to put an exact figure on this goal.

South Korea

South Korea is working towards a 24.4 per cent reduction of its 2017 emissions by 2030, as part of its Paris Agreement commitment. But President Moon Jae-in announced at the summit more is being done.

South Korea plans to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, is working to replace coal power generation with renewable energy, aims to end funding to overseas coal plants, and will introduce a carbon tax.

“To become carbon neutral, it is imperative for the world to scale down coal-fired power plants,” Moon said.

Moon didn’t set out an increase in the country’s targets. If they follow through, emissions will drop to 371.17 MtCO2 in nine years.

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