How have governments’ climate policies evolved in the last decade?

by Daniel Nachtigall, OECD Environment Directorate

We have seen a growing number of countries strengthen their emission reduction pledges by updating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) or by pledging carbon neutrality targets towards mid-century. But with the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, what are countries actually doing to implement these targets and how has the climate policy landscape evolved over the last decade or so?

The OECD’s recently released Climate Actions and Policies Measurement Framework (CAPMF) provides answers to this question. The CAPMF is the most comprehensive harmonised international climate policy database to date with 128 policy instruments and climate actions (grouped into 56 policies), spanning the period 2000-2020 and covering 51 countries (OECD, G20 and OECD accession candidate countries) and the EU 27. This Framework was developed by the OECD International Programme for Action on Climate (IPAC) as part of a broader effort to develop indicators to support country progress towards net-zero GHG emissions.

Countries strengthened their climate action in the last decade, though at different paces

The analysis indicates that countries, on average, strengthened their climate action between 2010-2020 (Figure 1) – increasing not only the number of policies adopted, but also the stringency of already existing policies. The increase in policy adoption was particularly driven by support for renewable electricity, carbon pricing as well as bans and phase out of fossil fuel infrastructure such as coal power plants.

Figure 1. Countries strengthened climate action between 2010 and 2020

Policy adoption and policy stringency: IPAC average 2010, 2015, 2020

This increase in the overall average however masks important differences in policy development across countries. While most countries increased the number of adopted policies between 2015 and 2020, not all adopted the same amount. For example, Canada implemented 10 of the total 56 additional policies covered in the analysis between 2015 and 2020 (representing almost 18% of new policies). Some countries did not adopt any and others even backtracked on climate policies.

Policy mixes vary significantly across time and across countries

Over the last 10 years, countries have changed the types and mix of policies they use. In particular, market-based policy instruments such as carbon pricing or financial support for renewable energy have increasingly been adopted by countries. The rise in carbon pricing was particularly driven by the implementation of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme in 2005, after which countries increasingly used carbon pricing schemes. However, global carbon price levels and emissions coverage are still too low to be in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Countries use very diverse policy mixes to reduce emissions (Figure 2). While some countries such as Portugal primarily rely on market-based policies, others like Costa Rica emphasise non-market based instruments, such as minimum energy performance standards and bans or phase outs of fossil fuel infrastructure. These differences reflect the complex interactions of multiple factors, including legal traditions, political constraints, and social preferences.

Figure 2. Climate policy mixes differ substantially across countries

Policy mix of selected countries in 2020

More needs to be done to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement

While countries by and large strengthened their climate action in the last decade, emissions are not on track to meet countries’ NDCs and are not compatible with reaching net-zero GHG emissions by mid-century according to the IPAC Climate Action Monitor 2022. In fact, after COVID-19 dented global GHG emissions in 2020 and 2021, emissions strongly rebounded in 2022, reaching the largest annual level ever recorded.

The analysis based on the CAPMF suggests that there are still opportunities for countries to strengthen their climate action to accelerate further emissions reductions. In fact, no country has adopted all policies covered in the database. Policy makers could use the CAPMF to identify areas where new policies could be adopted or existing ones strengthened.

Descriptive results of the CAPMF suggest that countries with stronger climate action are associated with steeper emissions reductions. In fact, countries with an above-average number of adopted policies and above-average policy stringency were most successful in reducing their emissions. However, more work needs to be done to explore which policy mixes work best under which circumstances to reach countries’ NDCs and the goals of the Paris Agreement. The newly launched Inclusive Forum on Carbon Mitigation Approaches (IFCMA) is expected to shed more light on this.

Further reading

Read the Working Paper: Nachtigall, D., et al. (2022), “The climate actions and policies measurement framework: A structured and harmonised climate policy database to monitor countries’ mitigation action”, OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 203, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Watch the replay of the launch event at COP27 here.

Explore data from the Climate Actions and Policies Measurement Framework (CAPMF) here.

Visit the website and dashboard for the International Programme for Action on Climate (IPAC) here.

Photo credit: Shutterstock / oxinoxi

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