The international community is facing a crucial race against time to limit global warming as the countdown continues to the Cop28 environment summit in Dubai in November.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate and the UAE's special envoy on climate change, has said the world is “playing catch up” in its efforts to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The key goal was set out in the landmark Paris Agreement at Cop21 in 2015 and successes and failures in the intervening years will be put under the microscope at a global stocktake at the Dubai gathering.
In order to achieve this, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be curbed 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and by 2050 for the world to reach net zero, according to scientific consensus.
This means cutting emissions close to zero with the remainder reabsorbed by the atmosphere, such as by oceans and forests.
More than 70 countries, including the UAE, have set a net-zero target, but eight nations, rich in natural resources and with small populations, claim to have already reached that goal, according to research collated by Energy Monitor.
These “carbon sinks” absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year than they emit.
The National takes a closer look at the forward-thinking countries leading the way.
Bhutan, a Buddhist nation east of the Himalayas that measures its success by its Gross National Happiness, was the first carbon-negative country, thanks to the government’s commitment to preserving its environment.
More than 70 per cent of its land is covered in trees and it has in its constitution a mandate to preserve 60 per cent of its territory as forest, but Bhutan also exports renewable hydroelectric power it generates from rivers.
In 1999, the country introduced “biological corridors” that allow wildlife to go between areas of protected land, preventing biodiversity loss, as well as letting species adapt to climate change.
Its latest targets and policies also include low emission development strategies in food security, human settlements, industries and surface transport.
This volcanic archipelago off Africa’s east coast is a densely populated country, one of the world’s poorest, with about 800,000 inhabitants.
But what Comoros may lack in economic prowess it makes up for in environmental contribution, with carbon emissions in the negative since at least 2015, according to its government's reports.
Agriculture, fishing and livestock rearing account for about half its economy, all of which produce low emissions, and it has strict environmental protection policies in place.
This includes an emissions reduction target of 23 per cent and an increase of CO2 absorption by 47 per cent by 2030.
The UN has previously referred to Gabon as a “model of environmental conservation”.
It is in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest carbon sink after the Amazon, and almost 90 per cent of the Central African country’s surface is covered by forests.
Its government is strongly committed to preserving its untouched areas, with policies for non-deforestation and sustainable management of natural resources.
The government of this English-speaking South American nation claimed to have reached its net-zero ambitions in 2021, and has said they plan to reduce emissions by 70 per cent come 2030.
This is thanks to Guyana's dense rainforest and despite it beginning to pump crude oil at the end of 2019.
“Though we recently became an oil producer, we support the removal of subsidies from fossil fuel production and advocate a strong global carbon price,” President Irfaan Ali said in 2021 at Cop26 in Glasgow.
Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo reiterated this sentiment last year, saying they believe they can continue to maintain their net-zero credentials while producing oil “because of the nature of our forest and the carbon sink”.
While this island in the Indian Ocean, whose economy relies on agriculture and fishing, is currently at net zero, it is thought by experts it may lose its status come 2030 if rampant deforestation continues.
The country has seen a quarter of the country’s forest cover disappear since 2000, according to Global Forest Watch.
Madagascar has one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, with thousands of species of flora and fauna, but this deforestation, recent droughts and high poverty are among the reasons it is fast changing.
This tiny volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, which has a population of about 2,000, sits between the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa.
The government has reported its emissions are negligible, at less than 0.0001 per cent, and that the country is a “net sink given the growth of our forest”.
Some of its plans include to produce 80 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2025 and increase marine protection.
Despite its contribution, however, it’s highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and in 2004 the capital of Alofi was decimated by a category 5 cyclone.
Panama was one of the first three countries to achieve net-zero emissions and joined an alliance of carbon-negative nations with Bhutan and Suriname at Cop26 that called for trade and carbon-pricing support.
About 65 per cent of the Central American country’s land, 33 per cent of which is protected, is covered in rainforests and it’s home to 4.5 million, as well as more than 10,000 species of plants.
The government has promised to reforest 50,000 hectares of land and reduce emissions by 24 per cent from the energy sector, both by 2050.
They also aim to focus on the marine-coastal system, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, livestock, aquaculture and the circular economy.
A total 93 per cent of Suriname’s land mass is covered in forest canopy, which absorbs billions of tonnes of CO2.
The Amazon nation has a population of 600,000, with 2.9 citizens per square kilometre, and describes itself as a “carbon sink of global significance”.
The government aims to protect at least 17 per cent of its terrestrial area by 2030, as well as integrate more renewable energy, with a strategy for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.