Someday, it will be easier to make judgments about which nations are doing their share to face up to the demands of the climate crisis, and which are free riding. Before that fine day dawns, though, two things will have to happen. First, the national pledges of action that countries – northern and southern, large and small – have committed to deliver to the UN Secretariat, the pledges in which they lay out their emission-reduction action plans, have to get a whole lot easier to read and compare and interpret. Conditionalities have to be spelled out, and loopholes have to closed. Second, we have to reach at least a rough international consensus on what different countries, at different levels of development, should do, in the light of historically-informed and principle-based comparisons that take, say, wealth and responsibility into account.
In the meanwhile, we’re stuck with overly-simple approaches based on problematic metrics like, say, per-capita emissions, or rates of decrease in carbon intensity. Or we can just embrace simplicity and compare northern tons to southern tons. The surprising thing is that even such a simple-minded analysis as this produces interesting results.
SEI’s Sivan Kartha, working with Erickson Pete, has done just that, in a new report with the snappy title of Comparison of Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 pledges under the Cancun Agreements. The report, which is based on a recent analysis conducted for Oxfam International, examines four detailed studies of national mitigation pledges under the Cancun Agreements, and finds that there is an extremely strong agreement on the bottom line: Developing country pledges add up to larger cuts than developed country pledges. This broad agreement holds, moreover, despite the diversity of assumptions and methodologies employed in the studies and substantial differences in their approaches towards quantifying the pledges.
This result is notable. After all, despite the sorry state of the climate negotiations – and indeed the whole international system of governance – the wealthy countries unambiguous committed, back in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, to lead the way out of the climate mess. How could they not, when they led the way into it? But despite this, and despite their far greater wealth, their efforts are badly lagging.
No surprise, then, that the total mitigation pledged globally leaves us looking forward to a global temperature rise of greater than 2°C, and possibly as much as 5°C. Which is to say that, if we want to get off a path that has a high probability of ending in true catastrophe, most all nations, around the world, will have to raise their emission-reduction ambitions sharply. And this is simply not going to happen unless the developed countries raise their pledges to the levels required by science and equity, and fulfill those ambitions through actual mitigation.
Note that, while this report concludes that wealthy-world pledges are too low, it doesn’t imply that developing country pledges are too high. If the necessary technological cooperation and financial support were put in place, the developing countries could legitimately be expected to raise their ambitions, as they must do if we’re too keep the warming below 2°C or 1.5°C.