Negotiating the new global climate policy

Source: The Hindu


Relevance: issues with the current global climate change dialogue

Synopsis: Global climate change policy negotiations require a new framework that is based on cumulative emissions by taking into account the legacy emissions of the developed world, esp North America and European countries. This is necessary as developing countries still need to pull out a considerable chunk of their population from the clutches of poverty.


The recent report of the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) clearly states that reaching net-zero alone is not enough.

It is the cumulative emissions up to net-zero which determine the temperature that is reached. A global policy that considers only current emissions will not limit global warming and its adverse effects.

Hence, suitable changes need to be made to the current climate change framework.

Important stats

Per capita GHG emissions (tonnes of CO2)

Per capita here means the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the country as a consequence of all relevant human (production and consumption) activities, divided by the population of the country.

  • World = 6.55 tonnes of CO2 per person
  • USA, Canada, and Australia = more than two-a-half times of the world
  • China = 6.4 tonnes (just below the global average)
  • India = 1.96 (less than 1/3rd)

Global carbon budget

The total amount of carbon the world can emit to limit global warming to 1.5° C, is referred to as the carbon budget.

  • Remaining carbon budget = 400 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide
Must Read: Origin of current emissions-based approach

The present framework has created an imbalance between countries sharing global carbon space and suffers from the following issues:

  • Unfair to developing countries: Merely achieving net-zero of current emissions by 2050 — the proposal of the G7 — restricts well-being. Varying levels of per-capita emissions leading to a common point of net-zero is unfair to the developing countries. It allows those who have already used more than their fair share of the carbon space a larger share of the remaining space, too.
  • Ignores cumulative emissions: By contributing over 60% of global cumulative emissions, with just one-fourth of the global population, North America and Europe are responsible for nearly 970 billion tonnes of carbon emissions. Whereas the world’s remaining carbon budget is only 400 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, and the U.S. alone has contributed this amount for its high standard of living. The current approach of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations ignores the fact that developing countries will need some flexibility here.
  • Doesn’t account for different civilizational values: With different civilizational values, consumption of the middle class in developing countries is less wasteful than in the first phase of urbanization.

Pressure on developing countries: Development has depleted carbon space, causing the climate change problem, and developing countries are now being pressured to limit their use of the remaining space as the solution.

Accepting ‘net-zero’ emissions by 2050, based on current emissions, effectively prevents India’s urbanization and shift of the rural population into the middle class.

Suggestions/Changes needed
  • Bring emissions to global average: At the G20 Climate and Energy Ministerial meeting in July 2021, India proposed that major economies bring down their own per capita emissions to the global average by 2030. This ensures that they do not use up more than their fair share of the remaining carbon budget.
  • Flexibility for essential emissions: Developing countries should be allowed flexibility for ‘essential emissions’. Infrastructure, or construction, essential for urbanization and quality of living is responsible for two-fifths of global carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion and 25% of emissions overall. These emissions arise from energy-intensive cement production and half of the steel produced which is used in construction, both having no substitutes
  • Sharing prosperity should be the objective of new intergovernmental mechanisms, with the involvement of the private sector, for example, supporting solar energy, joint research in new crop varieties, and exchanging experiences on infrastructure viability.
Print Friendly and PDF