Even in the early years of negotiations on climate change efforts, it was clear that developed nations not only had to lead these efforts but also had to help developing nations fulfil their obligations. To that end, the mitigation goals agreed to in the Paris climate accord were acceptable, if not sufficiently ambitious. However, there were early warnings, even during the presidential campaign last year, that a Trump administration would walk out of the accord and, in June this year, it did. As the rest of the world attempts to offset the consequences of a US exit—the US is the second-largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) as well as the largest historical polluter—a report by the NewClimate Institute, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Netherlands’ PBL finds that many developed nations will not meet their emission reduction targets for 2030.
The study assesses 25 countries/economic unions which together contributed 79% of the total GHG emission in 2012. Of the 25, as many as 16—including developed jurisdictions like the EU, Canada, the US, South Korea and Australia, and large economies like Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and the Philippines—will undershoot their targets given their current policy actions and the resulting emission trajectories. In contrast, India and China, often portrayed as worse climate villains than they actually are, will achieve their targets. Given how time is running out for emission mitigation efforts to have any meaningful impact, off-track countries need to quickly recalibrate policies. Canada, one of the largest per capita polluters, has instituted a carbon standard for new coal-fired power plants, but given this standard doesn’t apply to existing plants, a lot of the reduction will be offset by the emissions from these plants.
On balance, Canada will not meet its target of cutting emissions by 17% below 2005 levels. In contrast, India, which has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity per unit of GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030, and also to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2), is projected to shoot past its 2020 target with current policies. It has also committed to increasing its share of non-fossil-fuel based power in total capacity to 40% by 2030 (with the help of international support). Under India’s draft electricity plan, the government is committed to stabilising coal-fired capacity at 250 GW by 2026 while expanding renewables capacity to 275 GW. If this vision is realised, India would have had a substantial impact on reducing emissions, thereby meeting its targets. Similar efforts by Brazil and China show a willingness to assume the leadership role when it comes to combating climate change. Developed nations must take a cue from these countries.