In Glasgow, all eyes on 2030: On COP 26

Synopsis: COP26 must focus sharply on reducing emissions till 2030, rather than on net zero 2050, which is too distant a goal.

Introduction

The stage is set for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, starting October 31. Major preparatory conferences and bilateral meetings have been held to persuade countries to raise their emission reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement. Some positive outcomes have been achieved. Yet, many high-emitter countries are woefully short of the emissions reductions required by 2030 to restrict global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” or even 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The loudest noise, however, is around net zero emissions by 2050 i.e., greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions equalling absorption by sinks such as forests.

What is a much better target than net zero?

Recently released AR6 report by IPCC, emphasised that to keep temperature rise within 1.5°C, global emissions should be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, on the way to net zero 2050.

What are the issues with the net zero target?

Net zero ignores CBDR: Net zero ignores the foundational principle of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) i.e. common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).

CBDR entails that the developed countries are responsible for over 75% of accumulated atmospheric GHGs causing climate change. So, they should bear most of the burden for reducing emissions, while developing countries should do what they can, with technological and financial assistance from the former. Hence, if the goal is global net zero emissions by 2050, all countries cannot be obliged to reach that goal by the same year.

Net zero, therefore, deliberately diverts attention away from the urgent 2030 target that COP26 should focus on.

Why, the 2030 emission reduction target is more significant than net zero?

As per the UN NDC report that even after accounting for updated NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions) targets, global emissions in 2030 are expected to be 16.3% above the 2010 level.

This is worrisome as the IPCC has called for 2030 emissions to be 45% less from 2010 levels for the 1.5°C goal.

Hence, 2030 emission reduction target is much more significant than net zero by 2050.

What is the carbon budget approach?

The gravity of the entire situation may be better appreciated through the more scientific metric of carbon budgets, as highlighted in IPCC AR6 and AR5 reports.

Carbon budgets represent the quantum of CO2 the atmosphere can hold for a given global temperature, best assessed through cumulative emissions and not annual flows.

Estimates based on carbon budgets should be used at Glasgow. As per the NDC report, reaching net zero is necessary to stabilise global temperature rise at a particular level, but limiting global temperature increase to a specific level would entail limiting cumulative CO2 emissions to within a carbon budget.

What is the way forward?

World

COP26 must focus sharply on achieving the 45% emission cuts from 2010 levels required by 2030 for limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.

India

India can raise its NDC pledge of reducing Emissions Intensity (ratio of emissions to GDP) by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030 to 38-40%. This is quite achievable since India has been averaging around 2% p.a. reduction in EI as per its own NDC.

India could also offer to achieve net zero by 2070-75, invoking CBDR.

If pressed on a peaking year, a 2040-45 guesstimate may not be far off the mark, especially if increasing forest and tree cover are stepped up.

Source: This post is based on the article “In Glasgow, all eyes on 2030” published in The Hindu on 25th Oct 2021.

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