Struggling with global climate change

The developing countries must take the lead just as they have done in the transformation to sustainable development


Mukul Sanwal[1]


The United Nations process has been jolted with developing countries unanimously rejecting the text that was to be the basis for negotiations. Even more unprecedented is the lack of confidence in the co-chairs nominated to develop options for the final political trade-offs. At Paris developing countries should take the lead.


The political problem is that the Lima Call for Action, in 2014, developed a consensus around a 'fair and ambitious' global climate agreement and as no guidelines were given on how to make such assessment all countries claim their pledge is ‘fair and ambitious.’ The U.S. and EU define fairness in terms of emissions reductions based on their current shares, without accounting for their relatively small share of the world’s population and without taking into account historical emissions. Their push for successive rounds of targets virtually defines international cooperation in terms of a long term emission goal, characterized as ‘environmental integrity’.


As against this progression of commitments despite the bottom-up arrangement, Prime Minister Modi has argued that “we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices”, and he called “for a change in lifestyle, because the emission reduction that we seek will be a natural outcome of how we live”. Modifying longer term trends in consumption patterns responds to the evidence that three-quarters of emissions come from cities. 


Three initiatives by developing countries to promote international cooperation can break the deadlock.


Transparency for fairness


For developing countries clarity on how national actions will be assessed is an essential element of transparency. The United Nations estimates that 75 percent of the world’s carbon budget will be finish by 2030.Therefore, fairness will be transparently assessed by showing how the carbon budget is being shared between countries.


Any future assessment which only considers ‘environmental integrity’ will not be fair to those countries whose emissions will need to grow beyond 2030, or the late developers. For example, India’s emissions are expected to double by 2030, putting them ahead of emissions of the US and the EU, but at half the levels of China, while India’s per capita emissions will be one-fourth those of the US and China, two-thirds of the EU and half the global average in 2030.


That is why the indicators to assess national actions should include historical emissions, current emissions, per capita emissions as well as percentage reductions and absolute reductions along with GDP and GDP per capita without making a choice of one over the other. The next round of target-setting should take place after reviewing and drawing lessons from the INDCs in 2030, as ambition is not ratcheting up emission targets to meet a long term emission goal but a pathway to a long term transformation.


Modifying trends for ambition


So far, 152 countries representing over 85 percent of global emissions have submitted commitments to the United Nations establishing that in the case of electricity generation emissions are expected to level out by 2030. Nearly half the INDCs target an increase in renewable energy and, if the goals are met, a mere one-third carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere till 2030 compared with the increase between 2000 and 2014. The analysis also shows that developing countries’ efforts surpass those of developed counties.


This modification of thekey longer term trend focuses attention on the transport sector, which is responsible for 23 percent of energy related Co2 emissions. It is the largest energy consuming sector in 40 percent of countries and the second largest in the remaining countries, and is the fastest growing sector in energy consumption. For example, in the EU while greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors decreased 15% between 1990 and 2007 emissions from transport increased 36% during the same period, more than half in urban areas, and two-third of the emissions in the United States come from buildings and transport. The IPCC assesses that 15-40 percent reduction in transport emissions is plausible by 2050.


Just as the first tranche of INDCs have stabilized emissions from electricity generation, the second tranche of INDCs, to be prepared by 2020, should aim to stabilize emissions from transportation. 


Pledges on technology


A greater focus on technology development and transfer will meet the gap in climate policies to keep within the global carbon budget, or temperature limits. India has already taken the leadfor joint development and sharing of technologies in the G20 and an Energy Access Action Plan is to be discussed at the next meeting on 15-16 November, 2015. As in the case of emissions, a small number of countries are responsible for innovative technology in electricity generation, buildings, transport and new seed varieties. Pledges by the US, EU, China, India and others for joint R&D efforts and subsequent technology transfer will be a transformative contribution, which will also move international cooperation out of the 50 year old North-South divide.


Technology transfer is important because finance is used to solve a political problem rather than the problem itself.The OECD has just prepared the first official survey of what the developed countries are actually doing. For all the OECD’s talk of transparency it did not publish a list of how much each country has given. Less than half came from governments and creative accounting will reach the pledged $100bn in 2020.Defining the elements of financial assistance has remained controversial since the issue first came on the global agenda with the formation of the G7 in 1975 and will not be resolved in Paris.


Rather than be labelled obstructionists,developing countries should take the lead in setting out a new co-operative framework to implement the Climate Treaty. The focus should be on pledges to ensure fairness in assessing national actions, modifying longer term trends and technologydevelopment and transfer to support the needed global transformation.


[1]Director United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat 1995-2008.


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