A new report of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) shows developing countries have pledged to reduce carbon emissions more than industrialised nations, but the two combined fall short of a 2°C target. The report, based on an analysis conducted for Oxfam International, examines four recent detailed studies of countries’ mitigation pledges under the Cancún Agreements, for the purpose of comparing developed (Annex 1) country pledges to developing (non-Annex 1) country pledges. It finds that despite very diverse methodologies and assumptions, all four studies agree that developing country pledges exceed Annex 1 pledges. The three studies that estimate the total mitigation required for a 2°C pathway also find that even countries’ higher-level pledges fall short of the goal.
“There’s a false perception that we need to focus primarily on increasing ambition from emerging economies – these economies have put serious emission cuts on the table,” says Sivan Kartha, lead author of the report. “It’s the developed countries that need to actually reduce their emissions, and increase their commitment to provide finance and technology that will allow even greater reductions in developing countries, if we are to have any hope of keeping to a pathway that limits temperature rise to 1.5°C or 2°C.”
The studies also find that the Annex 1 pledges could be significantly diminished by several factors, such as lenient accounting rules on the use of surplus allowances, double-counting of offsets, and accounting methodologies for land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF). Kartha and co-author Peter Erickson note that one of the studies, by the United Nations Environment Programme, estimates that surplus allowances from the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period alone, for example, could diminish effort by 1.3 GtCO2e in 2020. If such loopholes are not closed off, Kartha says, “developed countries could use them to be in technical compliance with even the upper estimates of their pledges, while their emissions are actually growing between now and 2020, and possibly even beyond.”
The SEI study does not prescribe a specific allocation of effort, but it does cite the foundational principle of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” Developed countries are responsible for more than 75% of historical carbon emissions, Kartha and Erickson note, and even today, under a consumption-based accounting, they are responsible for about 60% of global emissions. In terms of capability, they write, “it is clear that the great majority of financial and technological wherewithal resides in the North,” which controls about three-quarters of the world’s GDP. Given all this, they conclude, “it seems self-evident that the developed world should take responsibility for much more mitigation effort than the developing world, and that this effort must have both a domestic and an international dimension” – the latter involving financial and technological support to developing countries.