What is net zero target? How fair and realistic these targets are?

Climate Ambition Summit, co-hosted by the UK, France, and the UN, on the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris Agreement has brought back the debate on the fairness issues regarding the Net Zero targets and the pathways regarding greenhouse gas emission reduction.

Status of emission reduction

Countries were expected to submit their upgraded national target before December 2020, but due to COVID disruption, only 13 countries, covering 2.4 percent of global emissions, have submitted such targets. 

Although COVID lockdowns resulted in a temporary 4.2–7.5 percent reduction in GHGs, the achievement of 1.5 degrees Celsius target would require global carbon dioxide emissions to fall by 45 percent from the 2010 levels by 2030.

According to Emissions Gap Report 2020, Despite a dip in 2020 carbon dioxide emissions due to Covid-19, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3 degrees C, by the end of this century.

According to the latest State of the Global Climate provisional report, 2020 is set to be among the three warmest years on record, and the decade 2011-2020 would be the warmest ever.

However, several states have announced their “net zero” targets in the recent past including all G-7 states (except the US) and 11 G20 members, with mid-century (2050 or 2060) net-zero targets. The US is also expected to join this league very soon.

Also Read Progress on Paris Climate Change Agreement: In India and world

What is Net Zero Target?

A “net-zero” target refers to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by a selected date under which any emission (carbon dioxide or other GHGs) from any source is balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount of emission from the atmosphere. It differs from zero-carbon, which requires no carbon to be emitted.

How fair are these net-zero targets?

Before applauding the Paris Agreement and resulting efforts by the countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the net-zero targets and following issues must be taken care of to make the mitigation efforts of countries more effective, accountable, and realistic.  

  • Firstly, such long-term commitment, ending in mid-century rely on promises of future carbon removal – instead of reducing emissions now and are not coupled with short-term actions. There is a mismatch between short-term actions and long-term commitments. 
    • Negative emissions (such as carbon dioxide removal) technologies, required for zero-emission targets are largely unavailable. If the technologies anticipated to remove huge quantities of carbon in the 2040s and 2050s fail to work as expected it might have a devastating impact on the climate.
  • Secondly, there is no mechanism to ensure accountability for long-term net-zero goals and short-term national contributions.  States are not obliged to achieve their self-selected targets. Other than the requirement to provide justifications for the fairness and ambition of the state’s targets, there is no mechanism to review the adequacy of their contributions.
    • The compliance committee under this agreement is facilitative to help countries falling behind on their commitments get back on track. There are no penalties for noncompliance.
  • Third, the issue of equity and a fair share of states in emission mitigation has not been included in the Paris agreement, Unlike 1997 Kyoto Protocol that differentiated countries for emission reduction targets based on their past history of emissions. It is resulting in litigations and disputes between the countries over their commitments.  
    • They do not seem to address the issue of fairness between the present and coming generations. On this issue, a case was filed recently by six Portuguese youngsters, including two children in the European Court of Human Rights against 33 European states.

Though the pathways to net-zero target are plagued by certain loopholes on the fairness and compliance front, yet it must be appreciated that countries are taking initiatives in pledging their support to mitigate climate change. Thus, a more liberal pathway seems to need an hour. However, a proper mechanism for monitoring and accountability of these long term commitment needs to be put in place.

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