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Notes from COP27: Richest countries have overrun their carbon budgets, and must now pay, study shows

RePlanet’s campaign director Joel Scott-Halkes, reporting from the UN Climate Change Conference.

From left to right: Renato Redentor Constantino, deputy co-chair of the CVF Expert Advisory Group; Selamawit Desta Wubet, CVF workstream coordinator; Yann Robiou du Pont, report author; Henry Kokofu, special envoy of the CVF Ghana Presidency.

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, November 11, 2022 – The glaring injustice of the Global North’s supersized contribution to climate breakdown was already blatant. But a groundbreaking new report published at COP27 today has found that the inequity is far worse than previously thought, adding to pressure on richer countries to provide climate finance.

The report, published by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), ranks nations on a traffic light basis in terms of their alignment to the Paris Agreement. It shows just how drastic emissions cuts by wealthy nations would need to be if the global carbon budget were distributed on a fair shares basis.

The results are stark. G7 and G20 major economies are all stuck in the red. Meanwhile, developing and climate-vulnerable nations are all in the green (see image below), indicating that their climate mitigation plans – known as NDCs – are already fully compliant with the Paris Agreement, and fully aligned with a 1.5 degrees world if rights and responsibilities to the atmosphere are distributed fairly on a per-capita basis.

The report shows just how drastic emissions cuts by wealthy nations would need to be if the global carbon budget were distributed on a fair shares basis.

The report, titled ‘Paris Goals NDC Alignment "Traffic Light" Assessment’, shows that the G7 would have to cut its emissions by 82% below current levels immediately, and 91% below its current 2030 NDC targets, to be 1.5ºC compatible. Meanwhile the Umbrella Group of 12 developed non-EU nations (including the USA, Canada, Russia and Australia) would need to cut its current emissions by an eye-watering 95%, and be 107% below its 2030 NDC targets (i.e. becoming carbon negative), to be 1.5ºC compatible.

From CVF's Traffic Light Assessment report. Click here for full report.

Unlike previous attempts to rank global economies’ contributions to the climate crisis, the report assesses the remaining carbon budget each country has to burn on a fair shares basis, in accordance with the principle that every human being has equal access to and responsibility for the atmosphere. This involves starting with the UN Climate Convention’s base year of 1990, when the first IPCC report was produced, and then adjusting these budgets using GDP and the Human Development Index to account for the differing capacities of a nation to actually undertake emissions cuts.

This model helps paint nations’ true responsibilities for bringing down emissions in a far fairer light. Most other studies have assessed a country’s remaining share of the global carbon budget based on current emissions at the time the assessment is made (an approach known as ‘grandfathering’), unfairly letting wealthy nations off the hook for decades of highly unequal polluting – and essentially incentivising continued inaction year on year.

It’s hard to understate just how sobering these numbers should be to us. Even under the normal ‘unfair shares’ basis of attributing carbon budgets that is traditionally used, wealthy nations – now including China – were already woefully inadequate in both their targets and their implementation.

But viewed through a fair shares lens, truly equitable action by the world's most developed countries doesn’t just look unlikely, it looks utterly unfeasible. Thus finance – the major demand of developing countries – is the only realistic way to address the imbalance.

Only money can redress the balance. That's why this year's COP must succeed

The analysis therefore strongly supports the need for loss and damage finance, a central aspect of the current negotiations at COP27. In addition, the ‘climate prosperity plans’ that some of the most climate-vulnerable nations have put forward require billions of dollars’-worth of investment in clean energy. And those nations in the Global South currently struggling under crippling debts must have these debts restructured and cut on the basis of their climate actions.

Because the CVF nations are not asking to increase their emissions – in fact, many have higher ambitions for net zero than their Global North counterparts – the unequal use of the atmosphere will not be addressed by aligning pollution levels on a per capita basis. And nor should this be a goal.

Therefore only money can redress the balance – making it clear once again why this is the ‘finance COP’, and why it must succeed.

Joel Scott-Halkes is RePlanet’s campaign director and involved with setting up the newly launched RePlanet UK. Read his piece on Climate Prosperity Plans here.


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