COP26: Rich Nations Have Not Shown Leadership in Their Fair Share of Emission Cuts

Climate Change is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 13), but t’s becoming increasingly clear that climate change plays a role in many, if not all of the SDGs, and that achieving the 2030 Agenda will be impossible without making serious inroads into tackling the problem. Credit: United Nations

By Meena Raman
PENANG, Malaysia, Oct 28 2021 – It is well-known that all the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) added together, even those that have been updated, will not help to place the world on a 1.5 degree C pathway.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the ‘Physical Science’ shows that for a 50% probability of limiting temperature rise to a 1.5 degree pathway, taking into account the historical and cumulative emissions, there is a remaining carbon budget of 500 gigatons of CO2 left and the world emits about 42 gigatons of CO2 per year.

Which means that within a decade, this budget would be exhausted, leading to difficulty in limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degree C.

Hence, it is important to recognise and acknowledge that the developed countries in particular, have not shown their leadership in taking on their fair share of the emission cuts needed.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and COP 16 in 2010 in Cancun, acknowledged that the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in developed countries and that, owing to this historical responsibility, developed country Parties must take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

We do need to understand that under the UNFCC and the Paris Agreement, the principles of equity and ‘common-but-differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (CBDRRC) are fundamental in understanding the differentiated obligations between developed and developing countries.

Moreover, developed countries have failed to reduce their emissions despite the decisions taken.

Failure by developed countries to deliver on promised emissions reductions

First commitment period (1CP) under the Kyoto Protocol from 2008 to 2012 only saw aggregate emissions of Annex 1 countries to be cut by 5% compared to 1990 levels. Despite this very low ambition, the United States (US) left the Protocol.

Promise in 2012 by developed countries in the 2nd commitment period to revisit their emission reduction targets by 2014 from 18 per cent by 2020 to at least 25-40 per cent was never realized.

The goal post shifted by developed countries calling all countries to plug the emissions gap –which turns the CBDR-RC principle on its head to ‘common and shared responsibilities’, with no reference to historical responsibility or equity between the North and South.

In fact, between 1990 and 2018, developed countries on aggregate achieved only 13% emissions reductions between 1990 and 2018.

Countries in Western Europe, United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have not managed to reduce their aggregate emissions between 1990 and 2020. Instead, their aggregate emissions slightly increased from 13,227.97 MTCO2eq in 1990 to 13,331.23 MTCO2eq in 2020.

So, instead of undertaking real deep emissions cuts to real zero by now, developed countries are announcing distant net-zero targets with 2050 as the target year, which again reflect reductions which are too little too late and that will exhaust the remaining carbon budget very soon.

Hence, we must demand real and rapid zero from developed countries, not distant targets. Moreover, net zero targets mean that there will be reliance on carbon-offsets, where developed countries will pay developing countries to do the emission removals, which will then go to the credit of developed countries.

This will mean that developing countries will have to do even more emissions cuts in their countries, as the offset credits sold to developed countries cannot be counted as part of their NDCs, as there cannot be double-counting and double-claiming of carbon credits.

There is no more room for offsetting, and what needs to happen urgently in the rich world is for very deep and rapid de-carbonisation.

Then, there is the much-needed finance and technology transfer that has to be delivered to developing countries to enable their transition to low-carbon pathways as soon as possible.

The USD 100 billion per year by 2020 which was promised by developed countries has fallen short and Glasgow has to see actual delivery and timelines for this goal to be realised.

Even this USD 100 billion per year target is a far cry from what is needed by developing countries, who have indicated the need for USD 5.8-5.9 trillion to implement their NDCs up to 2030.

As has been pointed out earlier, the G20 as a group is not recognised under the UNFCCC and the PA but what is recognised is developed and developing countries. It is not the leadership of the G20 that is needed but the leadership of the G7 — as per the Convention and the PA.

The developed and developing countries in the G20 cannot be viewed as having the same responsibility, leadership ability and capabilities. That will be contrary to the equity and CBDRRC principles of the UNFCCC and PA.

Actually, it is the decisions taken in Paris that have to be honoured and respected, and not a shifting of the goal posts by the developed world as pointed out above. It is true that developed countries in particular have to do their fair share of the emission cuts and also provide the finance and technology needed as payment of their climate debt.

Also, we have to remember that it is not only emissions reductions or mitigation that are important. Also critical is adaptation and addressing loss and damage (which goes beyond adaptation, as in for e.g. an extreme weather event that wipes out an economy of a country).

These are critical issues for developing countries, where real action on adaptation and loss and damage are enabled on the ground, including in scaling up finance in this regard.

China has announced a carbon-neutrality target of 2060. India is expected to announce an updated NDC. We cannot put China and India on the same footing as the developed world. China’s and India’s emissions are large due to their population. On a per capita basis, they are still much less than the developed countries.

We do not know about Australia and Russia. It is quite clear that these countries are not going to phase out from their dependence on fossil fuels anytime soon.

In fact, instead of the rich developed countries phasing out fossil fuels, what we see is the continued production and expansion of fossil fuels, as made clear by the UNEP Production Gap report.

This is indeed worrying, as the developed world has no excuse to delay action. It is their delayed action mainly that is responsible for the current global warming, as made clear by their historical overuse of the carbon budget, as shown by the AR 6 of the IPCC.

Meena Raman is Head of Programmes at Third World Network – headquartered in Penang, Malaysia.


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