Climate politicsDeveloped countries are only paying lip service to the poor
Every year the United Nations convenes a summit on climate change. So far, 21 such summits have been organised, out of which two summits—Kyoto and Paris—are considered very crucial. The first summit was important as it produced a deal popularly known as ‘Kyoto Protocol’, which paved the way for states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the second one was expected to produce a legally binding agreement on controlling the rise in global temperature and cutting down emissions.
Every summit so far has come up with an agreement, which is of course positive, but whether these agreements were implemented to address the set goals and targets has always been under scrutiny. This year round, yet another agreement has been signed during the Paris summit. The delegates from almost 200 countries agreed on this accord. The core debate centered on whether the world’s temperature should remain at 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The deal, a consensus outcome of the summit, agreed to ‘hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.’ However, this is not something new, as an agreement to this effect was already signed during the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Global temperature has increased by about 1.8 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial period.
Against this background, in order to achieve the targeted goal, all man-made activities promoting heat-traping greenhouse gas emissions have to be stopped without any further delay. The document envisions that around five to six decades from now, forests and oceans will absorb the man-made emissions if the commitments are met. This is what the summit has set as a long-term goal: carbon neutrality. However, the international community and the poor countries achieved far less than what they hoped for.
The countries have also agreed to set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years to reach the long-term goal. More than 180 countries before and during the Paris summit submitted such targets. Earlier, only industrialised countries, particularly the member countries of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, were required to submit their emissions targets. From now on, developing countries are also expected to submit their emissions targets. Previously they were expected only to restrict the growth of emissions. As per the new agreement, these targets will be subjected to review in the next four years. It is argued that the targets in the beginning will not be enough to keep the world on the path to meet the long-term goal of reducing temperature. In order to keep the promises of the nations, it was agreed that the issue of transparency will be addressed properly. It is not clear what would happen if a country misses its emissions targets. The targets are declared voluntarily and no penalty will be imposed for missing them. It means countries are expected to do what they say they will do. But it is not a legally binding commitment.
The countries have played good tricks with their timings of a cut-down on greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, Russia has promised to cut down its emissions by 25 percent of its 1990 emission level by 2030. However, when the Russian economy plummeted during the 1990s, its emission level stood at much more than what it is today. The promise of cutting down emissions by 25 percent of the 1990 level is in fact already in practice. Yet another example can be cited with regard to the European Union’s promises to cut down their emission by 40 percent compared to 1990. In practice, they are going to cut down emissions only by 20 percent, as emissions are already 20 percent less than what they had promised in 1990. Other industrialised countries have also played
Poor and vulnerable
The next issue that was hotly debated during the summit that has remained unresolved for a long time is the funding for the poor countries to reduce their emissions and to cope with the impact of climate change. Without any new commitment, wealthy nations pledged the same amount as in the Copenhagen Summit. Developing countries were demanding $100 billion a year, but wealthy nations refused to yield to this demand.
This situation made the poor and vulnerable countries more worried as they are facing the direct impact of climate change. Scientists have proved and warned that the problems of climate change will have more serious impact on future generations. But frequent floods, droughts, shortage of water, among other impacts of climate change, are visible in our own time as well.
If we follow the pledges made by the world leaders during environment summits held so far, it seems that they have made commitments but have not fulfilled them. In each summit, they have pledged that they would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. But if facts are any indication, emissions have increased sharply over the years. Developed countries phrase things in such a way as to suit their interests. They are doing nothing more than paying lip service to the poor. The crux of the matter is that until fossil fuel is easily available in the market as the cheapest product, nothing is going to stop it from getting burned.
In conclusion, the developed countries shifted their burden of cutting down the greenhouse gas emissions onto the developing and poor countries by ignoring the ‘principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability’. They are just passing the buck!
Dangal is a member of the National Planning Commission