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New Law Library Report Lists Countries with Legislation Establishing a “Net Zero” Emissions Target

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Cover page of Law Library of Congress report on net zero emissions legislation
Title page of the Law Library’s report “Net Zero Emissions Legislation Around the World”

The United Nations Climate Change Conference got underway this week in Glasgow in the United Kingdom (UK), opening on October 31 and running until November 12. The conference is commonly referred to as “COP26,” as it is the 26th session of the “Conference of the Parties” to the 1994 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC has “near-universal membership,” having been ratified by 197 parties (196 states and the European Union). As explained on the conference website, “[t]he run up to this year’s summit in Glasgow is the moment (delayed by a year due to the pandemic) when countries update their plans for reducing emissions.” In particular, as stated in an introductory document published by the conference hosts, “[c]ountries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets (NDCs) that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.” “NDCs” are Nationally Determined Contributions, which all parties agreed to communicate or update every five years as part of the Paris Agreement signed at COP21 in December 2015. Therefore, 2020 marked the first of these five-year cycles. The document further states that

[t]o keep the temperature of the planet under control – limiting its increase to 1.5 degrees – the science dictates that by the second half of the century, we should be producing less carbon than we take out of the atmosphere. This is what reaching ‘net zero’ means.

According to the document, the UK was “the first major economy to put into law that we will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

Ahead of COP26, the Law Library’s foreign law specialists and analysts reviewed the laws of jurisdictions around the world to determine which parties had enacted legislation putting a “net zero” target into law, and which additional countries had formally proposed such legislation (particularly through the introduction of a bill in the relevant parliament). The findings of this work are available in a table published on the Law Library’s website, which identifies 39 jurisdictions around the world as having a net-zero emissions or “climate neutrality” goal enshrined in legislation:

This includes the European Union and its 27 member states, where a June 2021 regulation sets 2050 as the target date for climate neutrality. Eight EU member states have passed their own legislation in addition to the directly applicable regulation, including two that have set an earlier target date. To date, 11 countries outside the EU have passed legislation containing a net zero emissions goal, with two setting a target date earlier than 2050. At least three other countries have introduced or are expressly developing legislation that includes the goal.

We have provided links for primary source materials and included a brief note as to the relevant targets established in the legislation.

Various other countries (as well as cities and companies) have made net-zero pledges through policy documents or other official statements; these are not reflected in the table. A recent report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that “[n]et-zero pledges – and their effective execution – could make a big difference,” but “current plans are vague and not reflected in NDCs.” The executive director of UNEP stated:

Nations need to put in place the policies to meet their new commitments, and start implementing them within months. They need to make their net-zero pledges more concrete, ensuring these commitments are included in NDCs, and action brought forward. They then need to get the policies in place to back this raised ambition and, again, start implementing them urgently.

It is also essential to deliver financial and technological support to developing nations – so that they can both adapt to the impacts of climate change already here and set out on a low-emissions growth path.

The Law Library has published various articles related to climate change and the law in the Global Legal Monitor, including some specifically related to net-zero targets. We will continue to monitor legal developments in this area, so please subscribe to receive updates.

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