Avoiding doom and gloom
Is there an equitable balance between the efforts of developed and developing countries in averting worst case scenario as highlighted in the 2021 IPCC report?
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 2021 climate change report, as well as a summary for policy leaders. The report addresses what we currently know about the climate and climate change, as well as what might happen in the future. While the report's conclusions are not surprising, they are expressed candidly and leave little doubt that we are unmistakably in a decade of now or never endeavours. Its unanimous approval by member states (particularly in the lead up to the COP26 climate summit) readily suggests further regulatory changes both at national and international levels are likely to be on the horizon.
Human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans, and land, and changes to the climate system on an unprecedented scale have occurred in every part of the world. These changes, according to the report, include a sustained rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, a rise in human-caused surface temperature of 0.8°C to 1.3°C, with a best estimate of 1.07°C. Unquestionably, the need for economic recovery given the effect of the pandemic will be on the front burner of Governments across the world. Accordingly, an enduring question is if the progress made in 2020 will be sacrificed on the altar of the economy.
Inequity between Major Contributors and Developing Countries
Although the world's most developed countries are mainly to fault for global climate change, they will not bear the brunt of the consequences. The poorest countries face the devastating effect of a change in climate. The unfairness of this gruesome fact is self-evident, but so is the truth of it. For more than a century, the largest emitters of GHG, in total as well as per capita, have been the developed nations.
Parties' implementation of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) toward the Paris Agreement's goals is critical to stemming the tide. Most developing nations condition their mitigation and adaptation commitments on securing foreign support (money, technology transfer, and capacity building) in these NDCs. The provision of support for NDC implementation could enhance equity among countries, however, the feasibility of their implementation might be undermined by the number of conditional NDCs.
The UNFCCC addressed these discrepancies by recognizing countries' "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" (CBDR-RC). Absolute emission reduction targets are assumed to be the most stringent type of target, in accordance with Article 4.4 of the Paris Agreement, which provides that developed countries should take the lead by undertaking economy-wide reduction targets, and developing countries are ‘encouraged to move over time' towards targets. Developed cGHountries have demonstrated that a stringent type of target does not automatically translate into ambitious reduction target. Australia’s absolute emission reduction target is ‘highly insufficient’, and if countries followed the level of ambition, it will lead to a warming of 4°C degrees globally, while The Gambia’s target is ‘sufficient’ as it is compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C . Moreover, provisions of ‘support’ in the NDCs of developed countries are not consistent with the Paris Agreement. None of the Annex I countries describe the provision of financial support in their NDCs, while some ‘developing countries like Brazil and Chile make this provision as provided in Article 9.2. Furthermore, no Annex I country mentions providing capacity-building assistance. These NDCs indicate a disparity between expectations and reality. Overall, industrialized countries' net shift toward 2030 represents a significant increase in gas emissions. This indicates that developed countries do not intend on a fair and equitable distribution of the carbon pie for developing countries. Further exacerbating this imbalance is the fact that there is no single, agreed framework on what a fair contribution to global efforts means. Assessing what is fair depends on the interests of governments. Notably, the EU has taken major steps in climate mitigation, ahead of COP26. Nonetheless, the EU’s climate action still leaves a lot to be desired, especially the acceleration of the coal phase-out, increasing finance for climate action abroad and exceeding the current 55% by 2030 as contained in the 2020 NDC.
Steps Taken by Developing Countries
Equity requires developed countries to take the lead in reducing emissions. Annex I parties are not required to meet all of their targets, but they must demonstrate actual cuts, particularly domestic cuts. Addressing climate change in developing countries presents a completely different set of challenges. With income levels far below those of developed countries and per capita emissions that are one-sixth of those of the developed world, developing countries will continue to increase their emissions as they strive for economic growth. The physical workings of our planet nonetheless require developing countries to limit and, eventually, reduce their emissions over time. The existing inequitable commitments notwithstanding, developing countries have taken steps in complying with their end of the deal.
South Africa has one of the highest per capita emissions in the developing world, owing to its domestic economy's reliance on coal resources. The country’s NDC proposes emission reductions below usual business levels, including land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), by 42 percent in 2025. In Ghana, the government captures its mitigation policies in the Coordinated Programme of Economic and Social Development Policies as required by Article 36(5) of the National Constitution. The current CPESDP (2017-2024) affirms Ghana’s commitment to achieving the 45% emission reduction goal by 2030 set out in its NDC. Malaysia, likewise, has made an ambitious commitment to reduce the intensity of its carbon emissions by 45 percent in 2030. The Master Plan sets an ambitious goal of having all newly registered cars be hybrid or electric vehicles.
The impact of climate change in developing countries absolutely outweighs that of developed countries and this has led to global indifference toward the urgency that should be given to climate change action across the world. To avert the worst effects of global climate change, far stronger efforts to reduce emissions in both developed and developing countries will be required in the coming decades. These efforts must include stronger national policies as well as an evolving international regime that ensures adequate efforts by all major and minor emitting countries. As a matter of fairness and equity, countries with higher responsibility for cumulative emissions should unequivocally enshrine their agreed obligations in their NDCs. The governments of developing countries must also accelerate efforts to increase awareness of the vulnerable victims of the actions of the developed few to enhance the prospects of stronger international cooperation towards the common goal of climate protection.