1. Editorial: Captain America

Editorial: Captain America

It continues to eat into the carbon space for poor nations

By: | Published: December 9, 2015 12:29 AM

After 2006, when China overtook the US as the world’s single-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), the apportioning of responsibility to act against climate change was drastically, though unfairly, recast. The pressure on the US to curb emissions shifted to being on China, and soon on India and other developing nations. This is despite the US being the largest historical emitter of GHGs—between 1850-2011, the country, home to less than 5% of the world’s population, emitted 21% of the world’s total CO2—and the second-largest polluter at the moment. China may be the biggest emitter, but at 6.7 tonnes, its per capita emissions are just two-fifths of the US’s 17 tonnes today. Given the world, between the dawn of Industrial Revolution (mid-19th century) and 2100, can emit only 2,900 billion tonnes (gigatonnes, or Gt) of CO2 to avoid catastrophic change, and that it had already emitted 1,900 Gt by 2011, there is only very limited carbon space for countries to grow beyond what they have so far. Which is why, in the run up to the Paris climate summit, poor and developing nations demanded that the focus be on “climate justice”. For this to happen, the INDCs of nations—respective emission reduction goals and a broad roadmap to get there—needed to be “fair and ambitious.”

But the US is all set to preserve its hegemony in the carbon space. Its INDCs, as pointed out in a CSE report titled Capitan America, by 2025, would take up another 80 Gt from the remaining 1,000 Gt of carbon space—aggressively shrinking the space for the poor and developing nations to grow, while stepping up the pressure on developing nations to bring down their emissions. While it promises to reduce emissions by 26-28% from its 2005 levels by 2025, in effect it amounts to just 13-15% from the 1990 levels, compared to the EU’s commitment to reduce 40%. So, while EU’s per capita emission will stand at 6.5 tonnes in 2025, the US’s will be a whopping 13.5 tonnes. Neither fair, nor ambitious. While our special page today sheds light on how the US is boxing well under its weight in the fight against climate change, one of the starkest indicators of this is the “best-case” projection for the Clean Power Plan, the country’s single-biggest measure to reduce emissions from power plants—the country’s dependence on polluting fossil fuels for primary energy will have fallen from 78% in 2013 to 76% in 2025, while the renewable sector would be contributing just 15%, over 2013’s 9%. Not much would have changed, then. The increasing American dependence on natural gas, too, shouldn’t be much of a solace, given the US projections underestimate the role of methane released in the natural gas-production-to-use cycle—the International Energy Agency estimates that if just 3% of the methane leaks in the production of shale gas, the entire benefit of shifting away from coal would have been undermined.

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