Is climate justice in high gear? (2)

Is climate justice in high gear? (2)

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Column: Thoughts by Armenio Manuel

Following the two-week Conference of the Parties in Egypt last month, experts, who participated in the Climate Change summit, say the focus on “net zero” also brings with it many other problems, including accounting and fairness.

Today’s offsets are often accounting tricks, whereby an entity helps avoid emissions elsewhere, often in a developing country, and claims that as negative for them.

John Kerry recently told African leaders “Mother nature does not care where those emissions come from.”

These physical realities miss several issues, according to some experts.

First, if all carbon is equal, then we cannot ignore historically accumulated carbon.

Second, when considering offsets, paying to avoid future emissions elsewhere doesn’t negate emissions – it simply avoids growth.

Not to mention a lot of “carbon finance” is just a label. It’s often not additional money and, even worse, is routinely debt funding for things like solar projects which would find funding anyways.

Third, avoiding all carbon isn’t equal, these experts add.

Cheaper low-hanging fruit-like offsets in poorer countries must not absolve the rich from aggressively ending their emissions from hard-to-abate sectors like home heating, industry, and transportation.

The recent US Inflation Reduction Act was a step in this direction by focusing on increasing the supply and use of clean energy.

Keeping the world within 1.5°C maximum average temperature rise needs aggressive steps and while most countries are doing more than in the past, their targets don’t add up to staying within 1.5°C.

Even worse, their policies and actions don’t match the targets.

Countries like the UK and the United States tout lowered emissions, but that’s from a very high base, and they also benefited from a one-time shift from coal to cheap gas, which isn’t available to many poorer countries.

Another issue is many developed nations import a large fraction of their emissions as embedded carbon, which doesn’t show up in national emissions accounting.

The UK imported 41 percent of domestic emissions as embedded carbon in 2019, growing from 11 percent in 1990.

Experts argue the rich already have saturated development: the cars, refrigerators, roads, and homes they need to build are mostly replacement stock, although they will also need infrastructure to support the clean energy transition.

But poorer countries’ growth needs are far more than just the replacement of fossil fuels with zero-carbon infrastructure.

Given such high growth can’t be met easily by zero-carbon solutions, their emissions will need to rise in the short run, according to experts.

But the poor’s rise in emissions will be less than the likely failure in reduction by high emitters in the coming decade, they add.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the “egregious injustice of the climate crisis” has important implications for the world’s efforts to agree on international solutions.

For example, demanding that all countries decarbonize at the same rate and split the remaining carbon budget evenly between them is, in the words of War on Want’s Asad Rehman: “The equivalent of rich countries eating every slice of pizza but one and then arguing everyone picks up [an] equal share of the cheque because they ate part of one slice.”

According to Guterres, to achieve climate justice, rich nations must acknowledge their historical culpability for creating this crisis and take steps to make amends – for example by supporting developing countries to transition to clean energy and adapt to our changing climate.

Governments of these nations must take legislative action to hold companies headquartered within their borders accountable for the harm they cause to both people and the environment overseas.

That includes upholding the right of Indigenous peoples and communities to safeguard forests, which play an outsized role in protecting the natural world and are severely impacted by its destruction.

And lastly, Guterres says any fair justice process “involves listening to those who have been wronged.

“The same is true of climate justice, which must involve giving those who have been most impacted by the climate crisis a meaningful voice in climate policy negotiations, which have for too long been dominated by the interests of wealthy corporations and countries.”

We cannot disagree.


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