Green, but not fair: Developed world must adopt a fairer approach to climate action

By: |
July 16, 2021 6:30 AM

Member-states will have to work on building forests and other vegetation, important carbon-sinks.

With a 2050 net zero goal, the EU, along with the US, is already being celebrated as the climate leader that the world so desperately needed.With a 2050 net zero goal, the EU, along with the US, is already being celebrated as the climate leader that the world so desperately needed.

The EU has just unveiled its ‘Fit for 55’ climate-action legislation. To a planet starved for meaningful climate action for decades, its scope would seem paradigm-setting. The legislation seeks to cut EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 55% over the next decade. It talks of, among other measures, a ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035, increasing the share of renewable energy in the bloc to 40% (from 1990 levels) by 2030, and, most important, a carbon-border tax to discourage carbon-intensive imports from countries with a heavy emission-footprint.

Member-states will have to work on building forests and other vegetation, important carbon-sinks. With fundamental changes in consumption, the EU is going “to ask a lot” of its citizens and industries. All of this is, without doubt, great on paper—the challenge for the bloc will be to get approval from member-states; this is estimated to take at least two years. But, the EU leadership has stated it as baldly as possible—this has to be done “to give humanity a fighting chance” and to prevent future generations from “fighting wars over water and food”. With a 2050 net zero goal, the EU, along with the US, is already being celebrated as the climate leader that the world so desperately needed.

Only, just between August 2019 and July 2020, 1.7 million hectares of the Amazonian rainforests were stripped for timber and creating space for rearing livestock—developed countries, including the EU, were large importers of the wood and meat produced. It is a similar story with deforestation in South East Asia that is linked palm-oil exports; the EU-27 accounts for 32% of India’s population, but imports 81% of the quantity that India, the largest palm-oil importer, does. So, when the EU talks of a carbon border tax as being central to its green action plan, it merely exacerbates the inequity that has become embedded in global climate talks. Not only does this leave developing nations in the lurch—and protects the EU’s polluting industries from competition overseas—it steers the climate-action agenda away from duly recognising historical roles, in favour of an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.

Even the net zero conversation and targets by developing nations show how iniquitous the apportioning of climate responsibility remains—former MNRE secretary Deepak Gupta has pointed out (bit.ly/2UjbhRH), global ‘net zero’ by 2050 doesn’t mean every country reaching net zero by that year; a more equitable approach would be historical emitters turning net zero much earlier to allow developing nations the carbon-space to grow and meaningfully reduce poverty. Juxtapose the cost of punishing large developing-economy carbon-emitters against EU’s proposal of protecting its own vulnerable households from large carbon-costs.

The developed nations have defaulted on their commitment to fund to ‘green’ growth in developing economies; the deadline for Green Climate Fund’s target of mere $100 billion has been pushed from 2020 to 2025. In the run up to CoP 26 later this year, India—irrespective of how the EU’s carbon-border adjustment affects it—must work with other nations to ensure fair apportioning of climate-responsibilities. It is no doubt time for drastic action by all, but history also needs to inform the degree of ‘drastic’ that befalls individual nations.

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