Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2016
Robert Lyman is an energy economist and formerly a public servant for 27 years and a diplomat for a decade.
In December 2015, at the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Changes in Paris (COP21), the parties reached agreement on the desirability of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous global warming. Subject to ratification by the parties, it will be legally binding. However, it will not legally bind the signatories to specific emission reduction limits either at the global or national levels. It will bind them instead to respect an aspirational goal of holding the increase in the average global temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It also will bind them to submit “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDC) to emissions reduction and to update these plans every five years.
The world media has devoted very little attention to the remarkable difference in the commitments outlined in the agreement between the developed and developing countries. Article 2(2) of the agreement provides that:
“This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”
This statement is based on the principle that has emerged from 21 years of climate change discussions that responsibility, both for historical emissions and for reducing emissions now, should be placed on the developed countries as a matter of “climate justice”. Article 4(7) of the Agreement adds a proviso that makes clear the benefit intended for developing countries:
“The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention …will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”
The major industrializing developing countries, such as China and India, are classed as developing countries and thus exempted from the costs of emissions reductions placed on developed countries like Canada.
This differentiation is reflected in the INDCs that were submitted by China and India before COP21 and in bilateral agreements that they subsequently signed with the Obama Administration in the United States.
China is already the largest emitter of GHGs in the world. In its INDC, it made no commitment to reduce emissions. Rather, it promised to aim at a target of peaking its GHG emissions by 2030 at the latest, and to lower the carbon intensity of its GDP by 60 to 65% below 2005 levels by 2030. It also agreed to increase the share of non-fossil primary energy supply (i.e. nuclear, hydro and other renewables) to around 20% by that time. Different estimates have been published as to the levels of Chinese emissions by 2030. Climate Action Tracker, a private source, projects that China’s emissions will be between 13.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) and 16.9 GtCO2e by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2030 China’s emissions will be two and a half times those of the United States. Those emissions will continue to grow after 2030.
India is now the third largest GHG emitter, after China and the U.S. In its INDC, India also made no commitment to reduce emissions. Instead, like China, it cast its commitments in terms of lowering the emissions intensity of GDP, in this case by 33% to 35% below 2005 levels by 2030. India also promised to increase its share of non-fossil based power generation to 40% of capacity by 2030. Climate Action Tracker projects that the policies India is adopting will increase emissions to 3.6 GtCO2e in 2020 and 5.4 to 5.5 GtCO2e by 2030. This would mean a doubling of GHG emissions from 2010 levels by 2030. By then, India’s emissions would match or exceed those of the United States.
The countries of Southeast Asia are not far behind, according to a recent Special Report by the International Energy Agency. Russia also indicated that its emissions will continue to grow for at least the next 15 years.
In fact, it is far from clear that even these commitments will be met. Representatives of developing countries, and especially India, have said that their ability and willingness to reduce emissions intensity will depend heavily on the developed countries honouring their promises to build up a Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund, established initially at a level of $100 billion per year, is supposed to rise with time and come from contributions over and above existing foreign aid levels. The citizens of developed countries, already coping with the additional costs of carbon taxes will be asked to pay increased income taxes to pay for the Green Climate Fund.
In the name of “climate justice”, China, India, and other developing countries will increase GHG emissions to 2030 and beyond, increasing the global level, while citizens in developed countries like Canada incur the financial burden. The environmental benefit, if any, which will result from this is unclear.
For how long will the people in the developed countries see justice in that?