As COP28, the largest annual climate change conference, commenced in the UAE this week, a recent study refocused attention on climate justice by underscoring the significant disparity in emissions between developed and developing countries, emphasising their respective contributions to climate change.
The Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), based in New Delhi, conducted an independent study revealing stark differences in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The study found that the average earner in several developed countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia, or Australia, emits more CO2 than the wealthiest 10% in developing nations like Argentina, Brazil, India, and the ASEAN region.
The disparities are so significant that even individuals in the bottom 10% income bracket in affluent nations emit 6 to 15 times more CO2 than those in the poorest decile in India, Brazil, or the ASEAN region.
The assessment underlined India's unwavering commitment to the core principles of 'common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)-RC,' a position consistently advocated in various summits. The past COP28 conducted the inaugural Global Stocktake (GST), shedding light on previous commitments and unfulfilled assurances.
Global South experts persisted in highlighting stark imbalances in historical emissions. Given the constraints of a finite carbon budget, there was a growing imperative for affluent nations to relinquish carbon space in favour of developing countries.
This gained significance as world leaders engaged in discussions on operationalising the long-awaited 'Loss and Damage' mechanism, crucial for assisting vulnerable nations grappling with the severe impacts of climate change, despite having contributed minimally to the issue.
“The study clearly shows that not everyone is equally responsible for increasing global carbon emissions. This, once again, drives home the scientific basis for ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ The findings make the need for accountability and long-term climate finance both imperative and immediate. We can no longer argue why emerging economies need carbon space or cheap and convenient finance to power their sustainable futures,” said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW.
India has consistently stressed the importance of ensuring that all nations enjoy fair access to the finite global resource, the global carbon budget. This is crucial for maintaining temperature increases within the boundaries established by the 2015 Paris Agreement. Furthermore, India asserts that every country should adhere to their equitable share of this global carbon budget, utilising it responsibly.
The experts are advocating for the implementation of a carbon tax targeting the wealthiest 10% of developed nations and China. This measure could generate up to USD 500 billion while discouraging highly carbon-intensive consumption patterns. The funds raised from this initiative could be directed towards climate change mitigation, research and development, mitigating risks associated with clean technology, and enhancing resilience.
“Inequity in the climate debate has a long-standing history, and the rich in developed countries are primarily responsible for carbon emissions. Our study shows that while the emission intensity of income has reduced for the highest earners (top 10%) in most countries between 2008 and 2018, overall emissions are increasing because of the rise in incomes. With the carbon budget depleting to keep the world below the 2°C threshold, the rich must be held accountable and nudged to pursue sustainable lifestyles,” said Pallavi Das, Programme Lead, CEEW.
There is a substantial emission disparity within nations, marked by significant differences between the wealthiest and poorest income groups. The carbon footprint variance between the top and bottom 10% of income earners ranges from 8 to 22 times in the countries examined.
The research team emphasised the need for high-income individuals to actively embrace low-carbon lifestyles and engage in responsible consumption. The study suggested that initiatives like India's Mission LiFE, promoting low-carbon lifestyles among the affluent, can result in notable emission reductions.
Specifically, if the wealthiest 10% in developed countries and China manage to halve their carbon footprint, an annual savings of over 3.4 billion tonnes of CO2 could be achieved, as indicated by the study.
The analysis is based on per capita CO2 emissions data for different income groups sourced from the World Inequity Database, along with income deciles information from the World Bank.
The study focuses on 'developed countries and China,' encompassing Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The category of 'developing countries (or regions)' includes Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, South Africa, and ASEAN.