A fair share of climate responsibility

High time to set a budget. Photo: Clappstar/ flickr.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Annex 1 countries need to have negative emissions of 441 GtCO2 by 2050, according to a new equity proposal from several Latin American countries. 

The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report published during 2013 and 2014 has for the first time agreed a figure on how much carbon dioxide mankind can still emit while staying below a 2°C global temperature increase. 

The IPCC report suggests that to have at least a 66 per cent chance of keeping to less than 2°C of warming, mankind must emit no more than 2900 Gt of carbon dioxide, when accounting for non-CO2 forcings, during the rest of this century. The conclusion of the IPCC is that more than half of this budget has already been used up (1630 to 2150 Gt tons of CO2 were already emitted by 2011). The world is currently emitting about 50 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in carbon-dioxide-equivalents each year, which means that with current emission levels the emissions budget would be used up within 15 to 25 years.

Governments around the world are discussing these figures to find out how this carbon budget could be shared. This very small carbon budget requires action by all countries and strong financial support to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation.

But many developing countries argue that this requires the participation of all countries in strict application of the principles of the UN Climate Convention based on equity, Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR/RC) and historical responsibility. These countries also want an agreement to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees and they are concerned with the inaction of developed parties in promoting real and effective solutions to raise the ambition of mitigation levels and comply with the Kyoto Protocol and its second commitment period. 

Several Latin American countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua have, for instance, submitted to the UN Climate Convention several steps that they consider to follow on from the CBDR and Equity principles in the context of climate change:

Step 1. Concerning the calculation of the climate debt they point out:

“Cumulative global emissions have been around 1,200 GtCO2 between the years 1850 to 2008. Of this figure, Annex I countries accounted for 864 GtCO2, which is 72 per cent of the total. Since their share of population was nearly 25 per cent, their fair CO2 emission share would have been 300 GtCO2 and their overuse or carbon debt was therefore about 564 GtCO2. Non-Annex I countries accounted for 336 GtCO2, which is 28 per cent of the total CO2 emissions. Their fair share would have been 900 GtCO2 and thus they had an underuse of 564 GtCO2 of emissions” (see table).

Table: Calculation of Annex I countires' climate debt to non Annex I countries.

Period 1850-2010 Annex I Non Annex I
Total CO2 864 GtCO2 (72%) 336 GtCO2 (28%)
Share of population 25% 75%
Fair share 300 GtCO2 900 GtCO2
Overuse/underuse Overuse by 564 GtCO2 Underuse by 564 GtCO2

Step 2. Concerning the calculation of the carbon budget by 2050 they point out:

“According to the Working Group III contribution to the IPCC, mitigation scenarios in which temperature increase is more likely than not to be less than 1.5°C relative to pre‐industrial levels by 2100 are characterised by concentrations in 2100 of below 430 ppm CO2eq. Temperature change caused by anthropogenic GHG emissions can be kept to less than 2°C relative to pre‐industrial levels if atmospheric concentrations in 2100 are limited to about 450 ppm CO2eq (high confidence).”

Step 3. Concerning the distribution of the carbon budget to all parties up to 2050 they point out:

“In order to keep temperature rise between 1.5°C and 2°C and not to exceed the 2°C level, in the period between 2011 and 2050 it is estimated that cumulative CO2 emissions (GtCO2) should be limited to 900 GtCO2. According to the United Nations Department on Economic and Social Affairs, the world population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and the population of developed regions will remain largely unchanged at around 1.3 billion from now until 2050. This means, first, that in the period 2011 to 2050, Annex I countries should emit only 122 GtCO2 of emissions since they represent only 13.5 per cent of the world’s population; and if the population of developing countries represents 86.5 per cent of the world’s total population, their fair share should be 778 GtCO2. On top of this, in order to be able to claim this carbon budget of 122 GtCO2 emissions, the developed countries would have to repay the 564 GtCO2 of climate debt that they accumulated in the previous period, 1850–2010. This payment could be made by re-allocating the fair shares for the period 2011–2050. Thus, Annex I countries would have responsibility for negative emissions of 441 GtCO2 (122 GtCO2 minus 564 GtCO2), while non-Annex 1 countries would have responsibility within a budget of 1,372 GtCO2 (778 GtCO2 plus 564 GtCO2). If it is not possible for Annex I countries to implement their responsibility fully, keeping in mind the difficulty of achieving such a high level of negative emissions by 2050, these countries could arrange for non-Annex I countries to take on some of the responsibility through a scheme that involves payment of financial resources to implement mitigation or avoidance of emissions.”

Step 4. Concerning the application of the principle of historical responsibility of the UN Climate Convention they point out:

“For different targets of per capita emissions for each country the principle of historical responsibility will apply according to a proposal by Brazil, which calculates the relative contribution of each country to temperature increase. This results in different per capita emission targets for each country, with the effect that those having higher historical responsibility will have to undertake more mitigation actions, while those having less historical responsibility will have more space for development. In order to ensure that all parties fulfil their commitments and actions, a Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) system will be put in place.”

These developing countries argue that these steps are necessary in order to deal with the climate crisis through the establishment of a carbon budget approach that is designed and implemented according to equity, CBDR and historical responsibility. They demand that the carbon budget approach should be included in the UN Climate Convention decisions as one of the key solutions to ensure global temperature rise stays below 1.5°C. 

Reinhold Pape 

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