With each successive report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), matters seem to be getting worse. The latest is the Synthesis report (March 2023), which reveals that the global surface temperature was about 1.09 degrees centigrade higher in 2011-2020 than 1850-1900. This, incidentally, is the mean temperature, which is higher over land (1.59 degrees) than over ocean (0.88 degrees).
The report also states that historical net emissions from 1850 to 2019 was about 2,400 (+/- 240) gigatons (GT) CO2. About 58 per cent of this happened between 1850 and 1989 and the remaining from 1990 to 2019.
When dealing with carbon emissions, a key issue is inequity — that is, how the developed world is getting away with very high per capita carbon emissions and depriving the developing world even a subsistence amount of energy consumption. The UNFCCC report (1992) mentioned that climate should be protected on the basis of equity and in accordance with their ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) and respective capabilities. Consequently, in the Kyoto Protocol (1997), a bigger responsibility was thrust on the developed world that were assigned legally binding targets while the targets for the developing countries were voluntary. The Kyoto Protocol was not ratified by the US, because developing countries like China and India who were big emitters (even though their per capita emissions was much lower than the world average) did not have binding targets. Canada, too, pulled out in 2012. So did Japan and Russia at a later stage. By 2012, the Kyoto Protocol had weakened to the extent that it covered only 11.8 per cent of the global GHG emissions (WRI).
Today, what we have in place as an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol is the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are self-prepared by each country.
The insistence of the developed world that all countries should become net zero by 2050 is yet another case of inequity. How can countries at different levels of economic development reach net zero at the same time? In the developing world, large populations do not have access to basic electricity. Before turning net zero, a country has to reach its peak carbon emission and it is estimated that, on an average, there will be a time gap of about 30 years between the two events. Several countries in the developed world reached their peak emissions many years ago — the UK (1971), France (1973), Germany (1975), Russia (1990), the US (2005), and Japan (2013). Countries whose carbon emissions peaked in the previous century should have reached net zero already and should not have the luxury of stretching it till 2050.
This is not to say that the developing world has no responsibility in addressing climate change. The efforts of the developing world, however, hinges on availability of cheap finance because energy transition is a capital-intensive process. The commitment by the developed world to provide $100 billion on an annual basis to the developing countries has not been met. Again, the $100 billion is a gross underestimate since it was fixed more than 12 years ago; the actual requirement is seven times this.
There is reluctance on the part of developed countries to extend financial support and what is hurting is their attempt to pass off normal developmental aid as a part of the $100 billion commitment. Further, whatever is being provided is more for mitigation rather than adaptation, since mitigation projects can be operated on commercial terms.
Climate justice is going to elude the developing world and to think that there will be any turnaround on part of the developed world would be foolhardy. The tone and tenor of future IPCC reports are bound to become shriller as the remaining carbon budget to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees gets exhausted, which could be as early as 2030.
The writer is Senior Visiting Fellow, ICRIER, and former Member (Economic & Commercial), CEA. Views are personal