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Opinions of Sunday, 20 September 2015

Columnist: Abubakari, Farida

Why developed countries fear emission reduction

Opinion Opinion

Most nations, including all major countries, are preparing to show the United Nations their commitments for acting against climate change, as a part of the road to the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) that will be held in Paris in early December.

This event will be the scenario where the political future of climate change will be defined. Its main objective is to achieve a legally binding, universal agreement on climate from all the countries in the world to bring the temperature below 20C.

According to the U.S. Department of International Energy, Africa is a continent that has contributed the least to global warming. Each year, Africa produces an average of just over 1 metric ton of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per person. The most industrialized African countries, such as South Africa, generate 8.44 metric tons per person, and the least developed countries, such as Mali, generate less than a tenth of a metric ton per person.

By comparison, each American generates almost 16 metric tons per year. That adds up to the United States alone generating 5.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (about 23% of the world’s total, making it the leading producer), while Africa as a whole contributes only 918.49 million metric tons (less than 4%).

Africa’s agricultural sector is already hampered by its reliance on rain-fed irrigation, poor soils and antiquated technology and farming methods. It is likely to be hit hard as droughts and flooding worsen; temperatures and growing seasons change, and farmers and herders are forced off their land.

In any continent, crop failure means trouble, but in Africa it’s a catastrophe. About 40% of the gross national product of Africa flows from Agriculture, and about 70% of African workers are employed in Agriculture, most of them on small plots of land who are very highly dependent on climate-related issues for their livelihoods.

While some part of Ghana will get less rain, other areas will experience greater flooding especially the recent twin flood and fire disaster which claimed over hundred lives in the capital city, Accra.

Ethiopia and Morocco, following a historic agreement this year, have both pledged significant reduction of 32% and 64% from business-as-usual emissions by 2030 respectively. While some African countries are making huge commitment, the U.S. climate and European Union commitments are weak.

It is a cruel irony that, the people living on the continent that has contributed the least to global warming are in line to be the hardest hit by the resulting climate change. This same continent who has contributed less to climate change is still making frantic effort to reduce their emission in order to bring the temperature to below 2 degrees.

According to the IPCC, developed countries need to reduce their emissions by -25 to 40% in 2020 compared to 1990 levels to have approximately a 50% chance to limit the temperature increase to 20C above preindustrial levels.

The US has pledged a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2025. Europe has targeted a 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2030. Majority of the largest emitters like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Southern Arabia and European Union have not yet declared how they intend to contribute to reduce the impacts of climate change.

This is quite problematic. First, from a climate point of view: developed countries are not making the emission reduction commitments necessary for stabilizing global temperatures at a level that averts dangerous climate change.

Without significant action of emission reduction, this could lead to a rise in world temperature of 4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and possibly 6 degrees Celsius by 2100. We cannot imagine the social and human consequences. The economic cost would also be immense.

Why Developed countries Fear Emission Reduction
There are two main drivers of low short-term pledges by developed countries. First, given the uncertainties surrounding the costs of new climate policies, governments tend to consider the upper costs range as risk precaution, and thus tend to make conservative pledges. Experience gained in implementing climate policies will progressively provide more accurate information on mitigation costs. It may lead to a re-evaluation of the level of ambition.

Secondly, countries fear that other countries, sometimes being economic competitors, will not really do what they pledge to do. It triggers in particular fear of competitive loss.

Reducing emissions has to be a top priority for industrialized countries. Developed countries need to just increase their ambition target because if action is delayed, and GHG emissions continue to accumulate, the cost of reducing concentrations of GHG to an acceptable level later would be much higher.

Developed countries have a responsibility not only to take lead on emissions, but also to significantly scale up financing to support mitigation action in developing countries as well as adaptation efforts.

Farida Abubakari, Ghana
Global Ambassador for Youth and Enlightenment and Welfare (YEW) Ghana
and a Climate Tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator program. Email: