Tensions between rich and poor countries have long been among the key fault lines preventing any significant global agreement on climate change. At the heart of the issue is the perception of relative responsibility and, especially for poorer countries, a strong desire at the national level to find a balance between development and climate goals. Representatives of poorer countries readily point out that more wealthy countries are to blame for nearly all historical emissions. Relatively undeveloped economies have low historic emissions and their current per capita emissions intensities have yet to catch up with those in rich countries. In addition, poverty levels in developing countries are much higher and economic development is therefore a priority. Thus, developing countries claim that richer countries should make the first substantial cuts, as well as pay significant compensation (financial and through technology transfer) to support emissions cuts in developing countries.
Most developing countries assert their right to grow their economies using fossil fuels, a path already taken by most developed countries. Due to its low cost and widespread geographical distribution, the energy source of choice for developing countries is often coal. If developing countries’ emissions are to be curbed, wealthier countries would be required to provide financial support, so that adopting low-emission technologies would not stall much-needed
The argument from developing countries is not unfounded. A recent study in theEnvironmental Research Letters journal1 showed that, based on per capita calculations, the UK is most responsible on a historic basis for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, followed closely by the U.S., Canada, Russia, and Germany (see Figure 1). China, currently the world’s largest emitter, lies in 19th position for cumulative emissions.
Juxtaposed to this position is the trend, often highlighted by richer countries, of rapid industrialization and rising emissions in the developing world. They accurately point out that unless action is taken by all, the international goal of limiting a global temperature increase to 2˚C will be unachievable.
A major hurdle is the concern from some richer nations that burdening their economies with heavy environmental regulations might disadvantage them when competing with deregulated markets. Thus, an approach to maintain transparency between Parties, a challenge in and of itself, is a vital component of international collaboration on climate change mitigation. This may be particularly challenging as China, for example, has fought against emissions monitoring as part of the United Nations process.2
India’s position can also provide key insight into the challenge. The country has about 300 million people without any access to electricity. Prime Minister Modi has committed to eliminating energy poverty as quickly as possible and is therefore developing the country’s vast solar and coal resources. While the country’s emissions will certainly grow in the near term, India is looking for help to pay for increased renewables and high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants. In fact, the Indian Environment Minister recently said that a global deal on climate in 2015 will depend on commitments to finance from developed countries.3
The allocation or transfer of public funds from richer countries must compete with other domestic, shorter term demands. Some corporations—particularly in the U.S. and recently in Japan—have discouraged their governments from signing on to any commitments for fear of damaging established interests and investments. Finding the right political balance at the national level to support international negotiations could be a major concern.
A paramount challenge for the Paris negotiations is that any deal must be adopted by all Parties. The agreement from the last round of climate talks, COP20 at Lima in 2014, highlighted the divide by economic development status. The 2014 talks simply reflected the positions of the two camps, with statements that included calls by developing nations that industrialized nations should take the lead in reducing emissions as well as those from industrialized nations that all parties have a responsibility to reduce emissions. The deal lists a number of policy options reflecting current disputes, on which negotiators will have to compromise to reach a final agreement at COP21. Such an agreement would include specifying national contributions and commitments needed to achieve the global target.
While a divide remains between countries of different development status, the gap may be lessening. It is particularly notable that the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest emitters, held separate talks in the run-up to COP21. Perhaps the U.S.-China commitments can lay the groundwork for a larger agreement in Paris. Although the challenge is daunting, and many critical details remain to be worked out, Parties of different development statuses are taking steps toward the global agreement on climate that has been elusive for so long.
UNDERSTANDING EMISSIONS TRENDS
Some progress is being made in curbing emissions in developed countries already. For example, up to 2013 the U.S. decreased emissions for five consecutive years, before an increase of 2.5% that year. Other OECD countries also mainly show decreases or minor increases below 2%. The EU’s CO2 emissions, which started to decrease in 2006, continued to decrease by 1.4% in 2013, at a faster rate than what was observed in 2012. CO2 emissions in emerging economies mainly increased in 2013. For example, increases were observed in India (4.4%), Brazil (6.2%), and Indonesia (2.3%). Based on commitments made to date, emissions from India and China combined are predicted to account for nearly three times that of the EU and U.S. combined by 2030—well over one third of the world’s total emissions, according to a recent report from the Economic & Social Research Council Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.4
However, looking at net emissions and general trends does not tell the entire story. It is also important to consider per capita emissions, which are generally significantly lower in emerging economies. Even in China, the world’s manufacturing center (some of whose emissions could be considered exported as companies have shifted their manufacturing work to the country), in 2013 the emissions per capita level of 7.4 tonnes per person exceeded the mean EU level of 7.3 tonnes for the first time, but still remained under half the U.S. level of 16.6 tonnes. Notably, China has been successfully decreasing the emissions intensity of its economy—by 3.1% in 2013.
Emission trends give yet another example of how the divide is clear. There are many Parties that will not be able to commit to major reductions in emissions in the near term and reducing emissions versus business as usual will require financial support. This is due not to a lack of will or concern about climate change, but rather to a greater concern to eradicate poverty.
INDCS: RAISING THE STAKES
In advance of COP21, countries are indicating publically their intended post-2020 climate action commitments in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). According to the agreement reached in Lima, INDCs must be “fair and ambitious” in light of a country’s historical responsibility, current level of emissions, emissions trajectory, per capita emissions intensity, and financial capability. However, exactly how the INDCs should be worked out remains in dispute. In 2014, calculators aimed at evaluating what level of cuts various countries should make were released by researchers, but have not gained widespread support. Other suggestions to assess how much countries should cut emissions include a concept spearheaded by Brazil, which puts each one in a series of three “concentric circles”, with the poorest on the outside contributing the least in terms of cuts, while at the center are the richest and longest term emitters, which should contribute the most.5 While this approach attempts to blur the lines between Parties’ economic development status, the fundamental barriers remain.
Another fault line revolves around INDC scope. The EU and the U.S. have been unable to agree on what year to compare their emissions reductions against (1990 for the EU and 2005 for the U.S.), but both want the INDCs to be largely focused on tackling their own emissions. However, developing countries are pushing for pledges to include aid for adaptation and mitigation, without which they would have insufficient means to finance low-emission development. In fact, INDCs from poor countries often include two commitments: what could be done with financial support and what they could afford to do without it.
There has been movement to provide support to poorer countries. A Green Climate Fund has been set up providing US$10 billion per year, along with other conduits, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialized countries to invest in climate-friendly projects in poor countries and earn carbon credits in exchange to help meet their targets. Overall the financial transfer from all sources in the rich world to developing countries is pencilled in to rise to US$100 billion a year by 2020, although such commitments may not be fully backed in the INDCs for COP21. There is also the matter of from where the $100 billion in low-carbon financing will come. National leaders have stressed that contributions from the public sector (i.e., taxpayers) will be minimal, but the question remains as to whether the private sector can and will provide this level of funding and under what mechanisms.
Although their relative magnitude may be difficult to decipher, the INDCs are being submitted—29 submissions representing 57 Parties had been filed at the time this publication went to press. The world’s three largest emitters have all submitted commitments. The EU’s INDC puts forward a legally binding commitment to reduce its overall emissions at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The INDCs of the U.S. and China largely reflect their previous talks—with the U.S. committed to reducing emissions 26–28% by 2025 and China reducing carbon intensity of GDP by 60–65%, both compared to 2005 levels. Other large emitters that had submitted INDCs at the time of publication include Russia, Mexico, and Canada.
THE ROLE OF LOW-EMISSION TECHNOLOGIES
Regardless of their relative economic development status, all Parties will need increased deployment of low-emission technologies to meet commitments made at COP21. The International Energy Agency has outlined six tranches required to limit climate change to 2˚C at the lowest costs. These include renewables, carbon capture and storage (CCS) (including utilization), improved demand and supply side efficiency, end-use fuel switching, and increased nuclear power. While all tranches are important, according to the IPCC, if CCS is not included in the low-emission energy mix, the costs will increase more than if any other tranche is limited—to the tune of a 138% increase in costs (median estimate).6 HELE technologies may also be an important step toward deployment of CCS.
The move to deploy low-emission technologies has already begun and, in some cases, emerging economies are leading the way. For example, China is already the world’s largest investor in renewables, with plenty of space to increase renewable utilization. In addition, the country is replacing smaller, inefficient coal-fired power plants with larger, high-efficiency units. The country also looks to transition its economy toward more growth in the less energy-intensive service sector. However, even if China’s coal use is capped by 2020 as has been suggested, it is likely to be capped at an amount over 3.5 billion tonnes per year, highlighting the need to utilize clean coal technologies to meet any climate commitments. China is already working to improve the efficiency of its coal fleet, and has recently increased its involvement in carbon capture, utilization, and storage research.
TOUCH AND GO
COP21 may not deliver the deep, universal commitments hoped for by some. However, if it can provide a framework under which the world can work together to deploy low-emission technologies, reduce emissions over time, and help the poorest countries to grow their economies, then it could be considered a monumental success.
- Matthews, D., Graham, T.L., Keverian, S., Lamontagne, C., Seto, D., & Smith, T.J. (2014). National contributions to observed global warming. Environmental Research Letters, 9, iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/9/1/014010/pdf/1748-9326_9_1_014010.pdf
- Adams, M. (2014, 15 December). China’s double-edged pact. New York Times,www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/opinion/chinas-double-edged-pact.html
- McGregor, I. (2014, 5 November). Global climate change policy: Will Paris succeed where Copenhagen failed?, www.e-ir.info/2014/11/05/global-climate-change-policy-will-paris-succeed-where-copenhagen-failed/
- Boyd, R., Stern, N., & Ward, B. (2015). What will global annual emissions of greenhouse gases be in 2030, and will they be consistent with avoiding global warming of more than 2°C?, www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Boyd_et_al_policy_paper_May_2015.pdf
- Responding to Climate Change. (2015, 6 March). UN climate body needs “automatic” system to split right and poor, www.rtcc.org/2015/03/06/un-climate-body-needs-automatic-system-to-decide-whos-rich-and-poor/
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Working Group III, Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change, report.mitigation2014.org/drafts/final-draft-postplenary/ipcc_wg3_ar5_final-draft_postplenary_technical-summary.pdf
Version before editing and discussion with WCA:
Tensions between rich and poor among key obstacles to successful COP21
Tensions between rich and poor countries have long been among the key fault-lines preventing any significant global climate change deal. At the heart of the issue is the fact that poor countries blame rich ones for the rise in carbon dioxide to date. Their relatively undeveloped economies have low historic emissions, while their current per capita rates have yet to catch up with those in rich countries. This, claim developing countries, puts a moral obligation on developed ones to make substantial cuts well before they need to take any action, as well as to pay significant compensation (financial and through technology transfer) for both the damage done as a result of climate change from emissions to date, and the adjustment process required to put them on a sustainable development path – as opposed to the route of most rapid development.
Some developing countries claim the right to grow their economies using cheap fossil fuels (normally coal), as developed countries have done already, along with the ability to develop agriculture with the aid of deforestation, which has also already been achieved in rich countries. If they cannot do this they want the wealthier countries to provide financial support to ensure adopting low carbon technology will not stall economic growth. Developing countries also claim that richer ones are more able to cope with the global warming issue using their advanced technology and plentiful financial and skilled human resources, and that these should be applied worldwide.
Richer countries on the other hand, point to rapid industrialisation and rising emissions levels on a massive scale in the developing world, and claim that unless action is taken by all involved, it will be too little and too late to reduce emissions sufficiently to keep the global temperature from rising by more than 2C. Some point out that while developed countries are already seeing emissions begin to fall, the bulk of the current and future predicted rises are from a rapid expansion in the use of coal for power in developing countries, followed by an expansion in their use of oil for transportation and industry.
Some richer nations also fear that burdening their economies with heavy environmental regulation might put them at a disadvantage when competing in deregulated markets. This is particularly true in the case of the U.S. and China, which have held separate talks in the run up to this year’s COP21 meeting that should help lay the ground work for agreement in Paris. On top of that, the allocation or transfer of public funds from richer countries must compete with other domestic, shorter term demands, while some corporations have discouraged their governments – particularly in the U.S., and now Japan – from signing up to any commitments for fear of damaging their established interests. “The energy industry has a lot of assets in the fossil fuel sector. And it’s logical they want to maintain their position,” noted France’s leading COP21 negotiator, Paul Watkinson in a recent article.1
One of the big challenges of Paris is that any deal must be adopted by everyone. There are no voting rules, and there must be a consensus. The agreement from the last round of climate talks, COP20 at Lima in 2014, simply reflected the positions of the two camps, with statements that included both the calls by developing nations demanding that industrialized nations should take the lead in reducing emissions, and those from industrialized nations that all nations have a responsibility to reduce their carbon emissions. The deal lists a number of policy options reflecting current disputes, which negotiators will have to compromise on in order to reach a final agreement at COP21, specifying the national contributions and commitments needed to achieve the global 2C target.
Among those developed nations pushing for universal action, the U.S. has said that without widespread support a global pact will not work, with its lead negotiator, Todd Stern, stating that every country must take action under the new deal. On the developing side, the Indian delegation has stressed that the idea of universal applicability “cannot be stretched to imply uniformity of application”, and that historical responsibility for climate change should continue to define the nature and level of commitments in any new international agreement.
A recent study in the Environmental Research Letters journal2 showed that based on per-capita calculations, the UK is most responsible on a historic basis for causing global warming, followed closely by the USA, Canada, Russia and Germany. China, currently the world’s biggest emitter, lies in 19th position.
Caption: Developing countries claim historic emissions should determine how much a country should now contribute to combat climate change.
Globalisation of emissions
While historic emissions are far higher in developed countries, current emissions are rising much faster in the developing world. Since 2000 China’s emissions have almost trebled, rising at an average of over 10% per year, although the most recent years have seen a sharp reduction, with levels up only 4.2% in 2013, compared to 2012. The latest figures3 for 2013 show the top three emitting regions were China (with 10.3 billion tonnes CO2 or 29% of the total), the U.S. (5.3 billion tonnes CO2 or 15%) and the E.U. (EU28; 3.7 billion tonnes CO2 or 11%).
Figure 2: National emissions
In 2013, the U.S. increased its CO2 emissions for the first time in five years by 2.5%, compared to 2012. The E.U.’s CO2 emissions, which started to decrease in 2006, continued to decrease by 1.4% in 2013, which was a faster rate than in 2012. Other OECD countries also mainly show decreases or minor increases below 2%. In contrast, CO2 emissions in emerging economies mainly increased in 2013, compared to 2012. For example, they were up in India by 4.4%, in Brazil by 6.2% and in Indonesia by 2.3% – putting these countries into the world’s top 10. Indeed the ‘Global South’ is already responsible for around 60% of total contributions. Emissions from India and China alone are predicted to account for 40% of the global share by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.
In terms of per capita emissions, in 2013, the Chinese level of 7.4 tonnes per person exceeded the mean E.U. level of 7.3 tonnes for the first time, but remained still under half the US level of 16.6 tonnes. Evaluating the emitted CO2 per Gross Domestic Product (corrected for purchasing power parity), China is still scoring high with 650 kg CO2/$1000 of GDP, which is more than Russia (530 kg CO2/$1000), almost double that of the U.S. (330 kg CO2/$1000), and almost triple that of the EU (220 kg CO2/$1000). This is due to a relative high energy intensity of the sector contributing to GDP growth in China – currently the world’s manufacturing centre. However, the intensity continued to decline – by 3.1% in 2013, compared to 3.6% in 2012, and China intends to drive that intensity down further by cutting coal use to meet its 12th Five Year Plan target of a cumulative 17% reduction in its energy intensity relative to GDP.
Figure 3: Per capita emissions
Coming off coal?
A country’s degree of dependence on coal is a major determinant of its ability to cut emissions. China – by far the world’s biggest coal consumer – has pledged to reduce its reliance on coal, and is also already the world’s largest investor in renewables – with air quality issues, as well as concern over global warming, spurring action. This means it could make significant commitments at COP21, at least from 2030. However, it is unlikely to accept anything compulsory, and so far has indicated that it even sees any monitoring as an infringement of national sovereignty. Nevertheless centrally planned reductions are in the pipeline, and more recently the China National Renewable Energy Centre has come out with a roadmap showing how China can achieve 85% renewable electricity by 2050.
In the U.S., cheap shale gas, combined with growth of renewables, has reduced its reliance on coal and enabled a sharp cut in CO2 emissions – an option that many developing countries do not currently have. Australia on the other hand has chosen to export much of its gas, located in massive offshore fields, as LNG, and currently remains committed to cheap coal – an industry that also brings in considerable export earnings. Coal is much less important throughout most of Europe – with a few exceptions, such as Poland – and the rise in usage since Germany shut its’ nuclear fleet is expected to be quickly reversed there over the next few years.
For countries like India and South Africa, the need for rapid growth, combined with their heavy dependence on coal is expected to limit any future cuts they are prepared to volunteer. Domestic coal is not only the cheapest option in these countries, it also ensures energy security. Apart from shale gas potential, which is expensive and technically complex, neither has alternative fossil fuels available, nor the vast amounts of easily available funds, technology and skills for sufficient renewables.
Figure 4: Relative importance of coal in power generation, key countries (WCA, IEA 2012).
|Coal in Electricity Generation|
|South Africa 93%||Poland 87%||PR China 79%|
|Australia 78%||Kazakhstan 75%||India 68%|
|Israel 58%||Czech Rep 51%||Morocco 51%|
|Greece 54%||U.S. 45%||Germany 41%|
INDCs: Raising the stakes
The vast bulk of emissions reduction commitments this year are, indeed, expected to come from developed countries. To this end, and in advance of COP21, countries are indicating publically their intended post-2020 climate action commitments in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
INDCs must be “fair and ambitious” in light of a country’s historical responsibility, current level of emissions, emission trajectory, per capita shares and financial capability, according to the last agreement in Lima. However, exactly how they should be worked out remains in dispute. Last year two online calculators aimed at evaluating what level of cuts various countries should make were released by researchers, but neither has widespread support. Other suggestions include Brazil’s idea that countries should be classed in a series of three ‘concentric circles’, with the poorest on the outside the richest in the centre and emerging economies in the middle.3
Even if it is unclear who should cut most, almost all developed emitters are expected to submit an INDC climate pledge, albeit with a diverging level of ambition, according to the Insitut Francais des Relations International.4 They are likely to form the basis for any firm deal, with the targets effectively being self-proposed as a matter of conscience, rather than dictated.
Another fault-line revolves around a dispute over INDC scope. The E.U. and the U.S. want the INDCs to be largely about tackling their own emissions, but developing countries want the pledges to include aid for them to adapt to and mitigate climate change, so they have a committed means of financing their own sustainable low carbon development.
A Green Climate Fund has already been set up providing $10 billion per year, along with other conduits such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialized countries to invest in climate-friendly projects in poor countries and earn carbon credits in exchange, to help meet their targets. Overall the financial transfer from all sources in the rich world to developing countries is pencilled in to rise to $100 billion a year by 2020, although this may not be fully backed by firm commitments in INDCs at Paris.
In April the E.U. submitted its ambitious INDC – in terms of reductions at least – paving the way for other countries to make their pledges. The E.U.’s INDC puts forward a legally binding commitment to reduce its overall emissions at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Other countries to have submitted INDCs at the time of writing include Russia, the U.S., Mexico and Gabon. The U.S. is committing to a 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, which, as the world’s largest emitter, is a significant contribution – in stark contrast to Copenhagen in 2009.
The E.U. is keen to get all the commitments in as quickly as possible: “There needs to be time [after INDCs are issued] well in advance of Paris in order to have a meaningful conversation,” said Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action led negotiations. “Developing countries need to see that developed countries are serious.”
But some richer countries, such as Canada, Japan and Australia, and especially newly developed ones like Saudi Arabia and Singapore, are likely to resist compulsory targets, or propose unambitious ones – although the Saudis may have some scope to cut as they turn to solar for domestic power. Canada has its high emitting tar sands and Australia its coal industry to think of, while Japan has turned to coal in a big way since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with plans to build forty new coal power plants, while investing heavily in coal mining projects across the world.
Touch and go
While almost all countries support a deal in principle, there remains a question over how much some developed and partially developed countries, especially those who have a lot of oil, gas and coal, are really prepared to do to cut emissions. Poorer nations, on the other hand, especially those threatened by the worst effects of climate change – such as low-lying Pacific Island states – may demand greater action than the rich are prepared to take. Other developing nations, led by India, may resist a deal if they believe the amount of financial aid offered is insufficient – which is what India and China blamed failure on in 2009. The Indian Environment Minister has recently highlighted that success in reaching a global deal in 2015 depends on developed countries’ commitments on finance.6
COP21, with its emphasis on broad top-down internationally agreed targets, may not deliver the deep, universal commitments hoped for by some. But the U.S. and Europe are pushing ahead, and some experts are optimistic that most developing countries will compromise: “China, Brazil, Indonesia and other rapidly developing countries no longer need convincing of the need to make big emissions cuts. It is their experience of the costs of climate events that have already occurred which has helped to break down the divisions between developing and developed nations. They all see the benefits in a globally agreed deal that they can contribute to through adopting a low-carbon growth path,” wrote Professor Nick Rowley of the University of Sydney in March this year.7 Many countries also see an effective climate agreement as a vital means of addressing other global challenges, such as societal, economic and security risks.
If a deal is not reached, tensions over climate change could rise to the surface, particularly in regions such as the South Pacific, where small island states, such as low-lying Kiribati and Tuvalu, are directly threatened by rising sea levels and intensifying storms related to climate change. Fiji has already accused Australia and New Zealand of being in a “coalition of the selfish” due to their high per capita emissions. It has called for an end to their “undue influence” at the 16-member Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), saying they had failed the region on climate change, with Australia in particular “dragging its feet” and failing to meet its international obligations.
Any new agreement will have to tread a fine line between universal applicability and targets that are uniquely adapted to the individual circumstance of every country. If commitments are too low, or financial support is voluntary and unlikely to lead to increased funding in the short-term, some developing countries may be unhappy. But a positive U.S. attitude, combined with its bilateral agreements with China and India, and strong support from Europe, should make progress possible, at least among the biggest emitters.