The climate change summit of 40 world leaders, spearheaded by the US President Joe Biden during April 22-23, 2021, amidst the concern for achievability of the climate ambitions is a significant step forward. A number of countries announced their new targets of higher reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while the others reiterated their commitments. The USA has made commitments to cut GHG emissions by at least 50-52 percent (from its 2005 levels) by 2030, Japan by 46 percent in 2030 (compared to the levels of 2013), and Canada by 36 percent from its 2005 levels. Ahead of the summit, the EU committed to cut GHG emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) and the UK pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030. On the other hand, China repeated its commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. South Korea plans to stop funding overseas coal development.
While the historic responsibility of the advanced countries has been reflected in these commitments, the world eagerly awaits their implementation in the coming days. In the past, such rhetoric has not been acted upon, and thus the world is still far away from achieving net zero emissions—as targeted in the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2015, at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris, 196 parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made commitments to reduce GHG emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of this century.
Six years later, when countries are preparing to review the progress on climate commitment at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, there are mixed feelings on the work done towards climate mitigation. The Paris Agreement aims for reaching net-zero emissions so that global temperature increase can be stabilised below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The carbon neutrality targets have been set by more than 100 countries. They have announced transformation of their economies to fulfil their commitments. Non-state actors, including various large private companies, have also set their targets by redesigning their business models. However, the achievement of lower temperature targets still seems to be a far-fetched ambition. According to the estimates of the Climate Action Tracker, if all the net-zero pledges made by countries as of November 2020 are implemented, global warming could be as low as 2.1 degree Celsius by 2100. This implies that all actors have to expedite their actions towards net zero emissions by 2050.
The major players in this are a few developed and developing countries. Hence, the major responsibility for GHG emissions reduction falls on them. In Paris, all member countries made their climate commitments by submitting their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) towards climate mitigation. Article 4, Para 9 of the Paris Agreement calls for enhanced ambitions every 5 years. As the main emitters of GHG, the developed countries had set various targets and timelines. Several developing countries also made their targets for GHG emission reductions. The least developed countries (LDCs) are not major polluters and only the victims of the GHG emissions. But they also took on some obligations voluntarily. Historical trends of GHG emissions indicate that, during 1850-2017, the share of GHG emissions by 47 LDCs was only 2.9 percent compared to 24.1 percent by the USA, 15.8 percent by the EU, and 12.3 percent by China. The Climate Watch data also reveals that in 2017, the GHG emission of 47 LDCs was 3.4 percent as opposed to 13.7 percent by the USA, 8.2 percent by the EU, and 27.3 percent by China. Thus, in view of the slow progress towards net zero emissions, the polluting countries will need to make long-term and more serious commitments.
The fulfilment of the Paris commitment also depends on the availability of climate finance, particularly to the global South. The ambition to mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 as Green Climate Fund remains unfulfilled. President Biden’s pledge of increasing climate funds to USD 5.7 billion a year by 2024 for developing countries is a welcome move. But other countries and organisations will have to come forward, too. Related to the access to climate finance is the issue of debt relief of low-income countries. During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, countries are making commitments for green recovery through making large-scale green investments and charting out green energy plans. This is difficult for developing countries with limited resources. Hence, these countries must be provided with more resources for making green economic recovery, while also making sure that they do not fall into debt traps. Besides, these countries also need technology transfer and support for technology development towards green energy transformation.
Countries such as Bangladesh, which are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, require more actions towards adaptation. The international climate discourse focuses more on mitigation and less on adaptation. But stronger adaptive capacity and resilience are the keys to reducing the climate vulnerability faced by these countries. The extent of vulnerability varies from country to country. It also varies from community to community within countries. The poor, women, children, and the marginalised are the most vulnerable sections to climate change while the rich can withstand the impact to a larger extent. Differential impact of climate change also accentuates inequality in the society. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is a double whammy on climate vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh. As the poor struggle with their livelihood challenges during the pandemic, inequality is apprehended to increase. So, developing countries and LDCs are in need of enough resources to address the fallout from the pandemic, rebuild their economies, and adapt to the climate challenges all at the same time.
Bangladesh, as the head of the Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF), has called for higher international commitment for GHG reduction by countries and increased support for tackling the impact of climate change. Bangladesh will also announce its updated NDC by June 2021. In 2015, Bangladesh committed to reduce GHG emission by 5 percent by 2030 in three sectors (namely, power, transport, and industry). However, if additional finance and technology are available, Bangladesh will reduce GHG emission by 15 percent. Bangladesh’s revised NDC—which is currently being finalised by national experts—will include two more sectors, such as waste and land use. Bangladesh plans to shift to renewable energy gradually by reducing the usage of coal-based power plants to fulfil its NDC.
Surprisingly, a certain quarter in the country is advocating for raising Bangladesh’s NDC to 30 percent, which is close to that of some of the developing countries whose pollution level is much higher than Bangladesh’s. But as of 2018, Bangladesh’s share of GHG emission in total global GHG emission is only 0.45 percent, compared to 23.92 percent by China, 11.84 percent by the USA, 6.84 percent by India, and 4.07 percent by Russia.
Despite being a low emitter of GHG, Bangladesh’s commitment on NDC is a reflection of its sense of responsibility towards the global community. Bangladesh will behave responsibly while making economic progress and need not increase its NDC, given its current level of insignificant emission level. It is the advanced countries which determine the trajectory in global emissions. Let them share the burdens proportionately and equitably. And let us not get swept away by the strong wave of global climate politics!
Dr Fahmida Khatun is the Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of her organisation.