Gen­uine com­mit­ment needed to ad­dress cli­mate change

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

An in­creas­ing num­ber of coun­tries are com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing cli­mate change and want ev­ery­body to know about it. As of Oct. 1, around 195 coun­tries had made public their letters of in­tent be­fore the Paris Con­fer­ence on Cli­mate Change, which starts on Nov. 30. These In­tended Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions (INDC) sum­ma­rize each coun­try’s in­tent to re­duce emis­sions of green­house gases and thus help limit global warm­ing to 2 de­gree Cel­sius by the end of the cen­tury. Although Tai­wan is not a sig­na­tory to the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFCCC), it has also ex­pressed its com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing the coun­try’s car­bon emis­sions. In mid-June, Tai­wan’s Leg­isla­tive Yuan ( ) passed the Green­house Gas ( GHG) Emis­sion Re­duc­tion and Man­age­ment Act ( ), pro­vid­ing a le­gal ba­sis for re­sponse mea­sures to cli­mate change while de­mon­strat­ing the coun­try’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to sup­port UNFCCC by achiev­ing its goals. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (EPA, ) an­nounced yesterday its plan to draft a na­tional ac­tion plan for cli­mate change and im­ple­men­ta­tion mea­sures for cut­ting GHG to 20 per­cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030, and 50 per­cent by 2050.

Although these fig­ures av­er­age the goals set by other de­vel­op­ing coun­ties, we be­lieve, based on the re­search of the Cli­mate Ac­tion Tracker (CAT) — an in­de­pen­dent sci­en­tific anal­y­sis pro­duced by four re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions track­ing cli­mate ac­tion — that these com­mit­ments re­main in­suf­fi­cient and could still her­ald a tem­per­a­ture in­crease of 2.7 de­gree Cel­sius in the fu­ture. In their INDCs, all coun­tries stressed their “ef­forts” as they try to ad­dress cli­mate change. Be­hind the num­bers and the seem­ingly tech­ni­cal jar­gon, how­ever, most coun­tries keep on us­ing and abus­ing sub­tleties dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand for the av­er­age in­di­vid­ual, sug­gest­ing they en­gage as best they can. So let’s go be­yond the loud prom­ises to cut GHG emis­sions by half in four decades from now and ex­plain the tricks im­ple­mented by the smartest of them (and of­ten the most pol­lut­ing).

To be­gin with, set­ting the ref­er­ence date to mea­sure car­bon emis­sions for their own ben­e­fit is the most com­mon way to defy the sta­tis­tics (and com­mon sense) and cal­cu­lat­ing GHG emis­sion cuts based on the years a coun­try is­sued a lot of them. For in­stance, the U.S. aims to cut emis­sions by 26 to 28 per­cent by 2030 com­pared to 2005. Yet, fig­ures show the coun­try was the sec­ond-largest pol­luter that year with peak emis­sions of 5.8 bil­lion tons of equiv­a­lent CO2. Com­par­a­tively, the U.S. “only” emit­ted 5.1 bil­lion tons in 2012, prov­ing that the ref­er­ence year dic­tates the ef­forts to be made in the fu­ture. Com­par­a­tively, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment refers to 2013 to set its re­duc­tion tar­gets, pur­posely know­ing that it was the year when GHG emis­sions reached a peak be­cause of the Fukushima Ac­ci­dent that forced the author­i­ties to let coal-fired power sta­tions op­er­ate at full. From that per­spec­tive, it’s al­ways easy to say emis­sions are go­ing down.

In their INDC, coun­tries must also list the ar­eas in which they mean to achieve their goals. If they men­tion energy, for in­stance, they must be spe­cific in their ef­forts un­der­taken in the re­new­able sec­tor. If they men­tion land man­age­ment and forests, like Rus­sia, which plans to cut emis­sions by 30 to 35 per­cent by 2030 com­pared to 1990, they should pro­vide fur­ther de­tails on their for­est man­age­ment poli­cies, be­yond “pro­tec­tion, main­te­nance and af­foresta­tion.” For sure, re­ly­ing on land man­age­ment to cut emis­sions can be an in­ter­est­ing strat­egy if your coun­try ac­counts for 25 per­cent of global for­est re­sources like Rus­sia, but with­out specifics, some might be­lieve that you are lack­ing en­thu­si­asm in your ef­forts to curb emis­sions or sim­ply de­lay­ing the energy tran­si­tion. The same blur­ri­ness ap­plies to other coun­tries and or­ga­ni­za­tions, like the Euro­pean Union, which prom­ises a 40-per­cent re­duc­tion by 2030 com­pared to the lev­els of 1990, with­out pro­vid­ing much de­tail on each coun­try’s ef­forts.

So, how will they man­age to cut their emis­sions be­fore the agreed dead­line? The re­sponse is sim­ple: they all plan to buy pol­lu­tion rights through a “car­bon mar­ket.” This mech­a­nism al­lows states to con­tinue emit­ting GHGs them­selves by buy­ing car­bon cred­its from other less pol­lut­ing na­tions or par­tic­i­pat­ing in projects to re­duce emis­sions abroad. In­stead of curb­ing emis­sions and en­cour­ag­ing the energy tran­si­tion to­ward more re­new­ables, how­ever, the sys­tem will fur­ther en­cour­age pol­luters to buy cred­its from less de­vel­oped economies, which will even­tu­ally run con­trary to the goals set by the Paris Con­fer­ence on Cli­mate Change in the first place and a gen­uine com­mit­ment to ad­dress cli­mate change.

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