Climate and us | On climate and net-zero, the hypocrisy of the developed world
Ahead of the Glasgow climate change conference (COP 26), the buzzword is “net-zero emissions by mid-century”.
Achieving net zero emissions essentially means that any greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are neutralised by absorbing or removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that to even attempt keeping global warming under 1.5 degree C, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will have to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.
While technically possible, it’s a very tall order even for developed countries. Apart from immediately halting new coal power plants, coal mining, oil fields etc, global clean energy investment needs to more than triple by 2030, with a surge in annual investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure to nearly USD 4 trillion by 2030 according to the International Energy Agency’s latest report.
For emerging economies such as India, this will perhaps mean diverting funds from development, infrastructure, and welfare measures and a massive disruption in the energy sector. It will also mean operating within a very tiny share of the carbon budget pie (a finite amount of CO2 that can be emitted to prevent global warming of 1.5 degrees) because a larger share has been exhausted by developed countries in past years.
Many developed countries have positioned themselves to be climate heroes this year by announcing net zero targets and advocating at multiple forums the urgency of keeping global warming under 1.5-degree C. This includes the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and several others. China and Russia have announced that they will achieve net zero emissions by 2060. China’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) doesn’t reflect the policies required to become carbon neutral in the long run. Russia hasn’t yet submitted its updated NDC. India hasn’t made any announcements on net zero emissions yet.
Even before considering what India’s views should be on carbon neutrality, its imperative to understand how globally we came to a point where global warming of 1.5 degree C is imminent in a decade or so.
This has happened because of the inaction of the biggest emitters on mitigation of GHG emissions and failure to deliver climate finance to support mitigation in developing countries. “The same countries which are preaching the gospel of 1.5 degree C unfortunately did not act in time since 1992 (when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC was formed).” said a senior UN official during a informal briefing to climate reporters last week. “There is a large gap in ambition as of today. We are hopeful that new NDCs will be presented ahead of COP 26. The UN will pursue the 1.5 degree C target following COP 26 also and push countries to make amends to their NDCs as required. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) will be respected in the process,” he said.
There are numerous instances of large emitters responsible for high historical GHG emissions, because of large per capita emissions, trying to evade responsibility for it during climate negotiations.
Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, former climate negotiator who represented India at the Rio Earth Summit and formation of UNFCCC thereafter, writes in India in a Warming World that while developing countries pressed for an agreement based on equity, reflecting that the climate crisis is mainly result of cumulative GHG emissions originating in developed countries, the US refused to recognise the link altogether. It tried to ignore the question of responsibility during 1992 negotiations and instead pushed the case for all countries taking cuts depending on the means at their disposal.
The Paris Agreement of 2015, a result of years of negotiations however is guided by the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.
Now, again, several developed countries have started pushing emerging economies such as India to take on net zero emissions targets. Is if fair? I have had several conversations on this with diplomats, former negotiators, civil society groups who view this push towards net zero as nothing but an attempt to evade historical responsibility.
If equity and CBDR were really to be guiding the negotiations, then shouldn’t historical emitters take on advanced deadlines for transitioning to net zero emissions leaving carbon space to grow for emerging economies? Or will they not mobilise adequate funds for a fair transition? These will be important issues to consider at COP 26.
Along with this, carbon markets will also be a sore point at Glasgow. How will trading in carbon credits evolve, and what is at stake for India? More on this next week.