Climate adaption activities in Peru.
Paris, in our minds is currently associated with dastardly acts of terrorism but very soon, it could forever be associated with an agreement that marks a large step forward in stopping the dangerous slide into inaction and blame games that have marked climate change negotiations in the past decade.
The scientific information in unequivocal – the world is warmer by 0.85°C today as compared to pre-industrial levels. The politically agreement to limit global warming to 2°C, although having no basis in science, would mean that at current levels of emission we shall exhaust the ‘global carbon budget’ in the next 10 to 20 years. Deep mitigation measures are needed in all regions and sectors to ensure that a) the goals of poverty reduction and b) a development pathway that does not limit the options of future generations (sustainable development) are reconciled and met.
Much progress has been made in the negotiations since the last climate conference in Lima. At last count 131 nations, both rich and poor, have submitted their ‘intended nationally determined actions’ (INDCs) which are voluntary pledges for mitigation and adaptation. This is a large step forward from a situation of negating the science, of holding others responsible for inaction to collaboration.
However the current commitments add up to only half of what is needed to restrict global warming to 2°C, we are headed for a 3°C warmer world which would have devastating impacts. The commitments come into effect only from 2020; actions are needed immediately and they also need to be ‘ratcheted up’ every five years, based on actual progress and scientific evidence.
The Climate Equity Reference Project has provided us a brilliant analysis of the INDC commitments. Given that countries have differential responsibilities for historical emissions (today’s developed nations could use resources and emit green-houses gases without any inhibitions to reach their current levels of development), different development trajectories at present and specific development challenges, determining the ‘fair share’ of mitigation responsibilities is complex and polarizing. Using an equal weightage for historical responsibility and ‘capacity’ which is a measure of national income above a level needed to provide basic living conditions, they have assessed INDCs for their ‘fair share’ of global mitigation needs. The conclusions are illuminating: the ambitions of all developed countries fall short of their fair share. This includes Russia (zero contribution towards fair share), United States, the EU and Switzerland (one fifth of their fair share). On the other hand the majority of developing countries have made mitigation commitments that not only meet, but several cases, exceed their fair share. This includes China and India but also Kenya, the Marshall islands, Indonesia etc.
The fact that developing countries have shown commitment beyond their ‘fair share’ is an opportunity, as mitigation potentials exist in such economies while being few in the developed ones. Some countries have differentiated their mitigation actions by parts that are self-financed and others that are conditional on technology and financial support from developed countries. The financial needs are much better understood now – such as an investment of $880 bn will be needed for renewable alone by 2035. While appearing large, it is feasible when compared with current subsidies for fossil fuels that were $ 775 bn last year and just for comparison; the military expenditure of nations in 2014 was $ 1,776 bn.
Switzerland pioneered the idea of a carbon tax in 2008. With fossil fuels at historic lows, there can be no better time than this to revive it. As a small nation rich in ideas and resources, Switzerland can play a role in global affairs that is above its class. This is not reflected in its INDC sadly. Collaboration can open new pathways for growth and peace and Switzerland must contribute to this legacy from Paris.