Defined as a “change of climate attributed directly or indirectly to human activity altering the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods” (UNFCC, 1992), climate change is affecting every country, in every continent. In 2015, the most significant agreement to tackle climate change issues since it has first emerged as a major political priority decades ago was ratified by 196 delegations (195 states and the European Union). The Cop 21 marked a turning point in Climate Change consideration and addressing solutions to cut greenhouse gases (GHG) use to limit global warming to 1,5°C by 2100 as it was the first agreement signed by both developed and developing countries. Every country present ratified, except Nicaragua and Syria, for the first time in the world history.
Climate change has been an issue for decades, as some sources such as Plato and Theophrastus mentioned it in their work. However, since the industrial revolution and the increasing use of fossil fuel energies, it has become a key issue of the 21st century. Because of its devastating effects, climate change is one’s of today key preoccupation. Although the intrinsic involvement of states from all around the world remains debatable, as its vary across countries. Developed countries, with their already grown economy, are asking emerging countries, which form an integral part of the world’s major polluters thus far, to reduce their use of GHG, implying a stop in their economy’s growth.
This essay attempts to describe developing and emerging countries response to the challenges of climate change.
The objective of the first part of this essay is to explain how developed countries deal with climate change issues, notably through the analysis of the European Union’s response.
Then the essay will further look at emerging countries response to climate change, and critically analyze the approach used by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) to tackle this major issue.
1. Developed countries
In 1990, Europe and the United States were the biggest polluters on earth. They have been held liable for nearly a half of the C02 emitted between 1850 and 2012 (The Guardian, 2015). According to the same source, biggest polluters today are America, Canada, Australia and Russia regarding C02 emissions per capita.
A mentioned above, the greatest diplomatic success on climate change has been the Paris Agreement. However, on November 8th, 2016, the announcement of Trump’s election was a devastating news for the agreement. On June 1, 2017, Trump, after having tried to renegotiate the Paris agreement, announced his decision to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement. Germany, United-Kingdom and France made promises to participate in climate change funding to avoid shortfalls in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), attempting to show the world autonomy from any USA’s superiority in resolving this cause. With this withdrawal, Trump served the interests of deniers and conservators and put an end to the US diplomatic and economic participation in tackling climate change. Indeed, even if the US is ranked 3rd in overall awareness of global warming, only 49% of Americans think global warming result from human activities (Gallup, 2009). America is far away from a real raise in awareness and willingness to make things evolve, despite Obama’s efforts.
European countries’ reaction to Trump’s withdrawal added to the fact that the COP 21 was organized by France show the European devotion to the climate change cause. All the 28 member states are part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), first international measure to tackle climate change signed in 1992 based on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ (UNFCC, 1992), and all have ratified the Kyoto protocol as well as the Paris agreement.
As we have no available space in this essay to cover all the improvements made by countries after the ratification of both agreements, this essay will focus on the success of the 25 EU members to reduce by 7,3% their GHG emission.
To mitigate climate change, EU leaders focus their action on 3 key objectives to cut GHG use and as a result, to become more energy efficient by 2020. Firstly, EU has targeted to produce 20% of its energy through renewable alternatives and to develop its use of biofuels and biomass as an energy source (European Council, 2018). Secondly, EU countries have to reduce greenhouse emission by 20% and thirdly, to make a 20% improvement in energy efficiency (European Council, 2018). EU has also created the “2030 climate and energy framework” outlining key points and targets to reach this 20-20-20 goals. European leaders are encouraged to invest in green technologies by the European Council, giving the opportunities to European countries to combine sustainable development, jobs and economic growth and competitiveness. European countries also act on regional planning, like on transports, for example, through a “clean mobility development strategy” encouraging the use of bicycle and reinforcing the public transports system.
In order to implement the Paris agreement, Ségolène Royal, president of the COP21 and French minister of environment, energy and the sea, in charge of international relations on climate stated 4 pillars of the COP21 in making some changes: “First, the signature of the agreement itself, secondly, the national contributions to reducing world emissions of greenhouse gases, thirdly the announcement by many developed countries to increase climate funding to reach 100 billion dollars per year and finally, the action agenda” (S. Royal – 2016). In an effort to lead by example in the climate change’s funding, France made a $1 billion donation to the Green Climate Fund, making France the largest provider of funds in the fight against climate change (Gouvernement.fr, 2015). Following this path, EU announced a €9 billion instalment for climate action in 2017 (The Guardian, 2017). All countries leaders are committed to support concrete actions, from the International Solar Alliance, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition to the Paris Pact on Water and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. Through 10 projects touching upon different branches, developed countries will contribute to the general mobilization, and help emerging countries, as with the African Renewable Energy Initiative which provide a financial assistance of 4,5 billion dollars to help African countries turning to greener energies.
Regarding the UN Sustainable Development Goal Index (SDG), working on 17 Sustainable Development goals (Appendix 1 – SDG Index and Dashboards Report, 2017), EU members did very well. In the top 20, only 3 countries are not from the European continent. Scandinavian countries are at the top of the class with Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway commanding the leading position in the ranking (Appendix 2 – SDG Index and Dashboards Report, 2017) . Sweden, for example, pledges to cut all GHG by the end of 2045 (Independent, 2017).
France has cut is GHG emissions by more than 10% between 1990 and 2013. To go even farther in this approach, the French government decided to increase the price of one tonne of carbon to €56 in 2020 and to €100 in 2030 in order to reduce the use of fossil fuels by 30% in 2030.
However, developed countries face challenges with the increasing awareness and willingness of emerging countries regarding climate change and sustainability issues. Having said that, the effects of climate change on other countries directly or indirectly affect developed countries. For instance, western countries and the United States are demanding that the emerging countries massively reduce their GHG emission, while they discharge their waste on them in Africa or in China. To give an illustration, a recent example is the Chinese ban on plastic waste imports since January 2018, when it was the “world’s biggest market for household waste” (The Guardian, 2017). In the United-Kingdom alone, 2,7m tonnes of plastic waste have been exported to China since 2012 (The Guardian, 2017). This change in Chinese legislation will be an extremely difficult issue for developed countries such as the UK, who now have to deal with its waste without solutions for now.
2. Developing countries
Emerging countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) or African countries suffer from Climate Change way more than others developed countries. Indeed, the countries most likely to survive climate change are mostly developed country: 8 of the 10 countries likely to be hardest hit by climate change are from Africa (Appendix 3 – Independent, 2017). The gap between the developed countries and the emerging ones is narrower now than 25 years ago. China has become the world’s biggest polluter in 2006, exceeding the USA.
As stated above, developed countries expect the BRICS and the Third World countries to make efforts regarding their GHG emissions. Conversely, the developing countries defend themselves by outlining the fact that since the Western countries have developed their economy during the XIXth century, they should be the ones that should make efforts. Moreover, some developed countries (Germany, England…) are partly accountable for high emission rejections arising from, inter alia, BRICS (China). Climate change in emerging countries is raising the issue of social justice, defined as something that ‘links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly’ (Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, 2018). The notion of climate justice emphasises on the notion of vulnerability to climate change of certain person, typically lower-income or older people, mainly living in emerging countries. In the 20 countries most at risk from sea level rise in percent of national population exposed 13 countries are emerging countries including Bangladesh, where 46% of the population lives within 10 meters of the average sea level (The Weather Channel, 2014).
To further discuss developing countries reaction to climate change, this essay will focus on the BRICs example. Indeed, accounting for more than 40% of the global population and 20% of the global economy, BRICs have a massive direct impact on global emissions.
First of all, Russian people are leaving in a country well known for its freezing temperature, the ‘global warming’ concept is a hard to imagine concept for Russia inhabitants. Provided that, it seems evident that Russian population sensitization and awareness is hard to raise. Combined with challenging economic conditions, Russian governments are prioritizing their efforts on climate change. Nonetheless, Russia is one of the biggest polluter per capita on earth with Australia, Canada and the USA (Appendix 4 – The Guardian), even if Russia has seen a decrease on its GHG emissions, due to industrial decline (The Guardian, 2016). Moreover, President Poutine often defends climate deniers, putting forward points of view denying the human responsibility on climate change.
Secondly, India, with its increasing population and growing economy, is facing many challenges when it comes to climate change. Surrounded by water, subject to abundant rainfall from June to October, India will suffer from sea rise level issues and increasing monsoon season. These two issues, combined with India growing population, make India more willing to prioritize its own interests before paying attention to the Climate Change. With 300 million people living in filthy conditions, India has a major concern on taking care of its population regarding their primary needs (access to education, water, electricity). Additionally, India new energy minister announced that India will continue its efforts to reduce GHG emissions but do not want to be forced by developed countries. By doing somewhat effective efforts, like its Draft Electricity plan or by setting a goal to decrease its emissions by 33% to 35%below 2005 levels before 2030, India’s response to Climate Change could be compatible with the 2°C level of warming set by the Paris agreement (Climate Action Tracker, 2017).
Thirdly, after years of unwillingness to make effort in tackling climate change, China has been increasing its understanding of the issue. After Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, China appears to lead the world’s global effort on climate. Xi Jinping’s, showing that China’s attitude toward climate change has changed, pledges to stop GHG emissions growth before 2030. (The Guardian, 2017) By being the world’s largest emitter, China efforts on emissions are seen as vital for the smooth functioning of a Paris agreement’s success. Many efforts have been done: China has already outperformed its prediction for 2020 on solar PV deployment and is still developing its wind energy industry. However, despite the development of its green energy industry, China’s efforts to reach Paris Agreement goal are highly insufficient in achieving the goal to prevent global warming (Climate Action Tracker, 2017).
Finally, Brazil positioned itself as the first major emerging country to give absolute reductions targets for its nation (The Guardian, 2017). Brazil pledges to increase its use of renewable energy from 35% to 45%, to halt illegal deforestation or to decrease its emissions of GHG by 43% before 2030. Despite these proofs of good will, Brazil appears to not be doing enough to reach its goals. Deforestation continues at an alarmingly high rate and the Brazilian Environment Ministry have seen its budget cut by 50% in 2017 (Climate Action Tracker, 2017). The economic slowdown has resulted in fewer emissions of GHG from Brazil than expected but measures implemented by Brazil to reach the targeted temperature rise goal are not sufficiently effective (Climate Action Tracker, 2017)
Climate change is definitely a worldwide issue, affecting countries from all over the world. Beforehand countries leaders appeared not to take climate change issues seriously. However, since the establishment of famous environmental concerned agreements, like the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), the Kyoto Protocol (1997) or the ratification of the Paris agreement (2015) attitudes have changed. Regarding the latter issue, the COP21 has been ratified by almost all the countries in the world. For the first time in human history, leaders from both developed and developing countries agreeing to all make efforts to tackle climate change, and especially global warming. Europe, the United States or China, Syria and India pledged their commitment to participate in to contain the rise in temperature below 2°C.
To put it in a nutshell, this essay has described different approaches used by developed and emerging countries in response to climate change issues. By focusing on two mains groups in developing and developed countries, the BRICs and the European Union, this essay has showed that responses to climate change were not always as effective as necessary to prevent a rise in temperatures. Big polluters such as India, China and the United-States are not doing enough taking into account their impact on the environment, through their economy and society.
However, this essay lifts a major issue when looking at countries’ response to the challenges of climate change. With the numerous arguments concerning who have the responsibility for climate change, who caused it, do emerging countries have to pay for developed countries development thereby scarifying their own industrialization this essay has raised, a key question remains: will the world succeed in preventing a greater than 2 degrees temperature rise?