IPCC Mitigation Report, 2022: What it Implies for Developing Countries
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There is no doubt that climate change needs to be addressed by all countries in a concerted manner. The fact remains, however, that there is a wide variance among countries both in terms of capacity to address and culpability for the problem. Developing and least developed countries are likely to suffer disproportionately the effects of climate change. The recently released IPCC report ‘Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change’, which is part of its Sixth Assessment Report, acknowledges this gap and unequivocally places the larger responsibility of mitigation on developed economies.
While countries, rich and poor, are required to step up their mitigation efforts, reading the report from a developing economy perspective reveals that there are limitations and hindrances which these countries must overcome before they can adopt and implement the recommended measures. This article highlights the report’s critical takeaways for developing and least developed economies.
First, the report underscores the glaring carbon inequality in global emissions as it finds that regional and national per capita emissions differ widely, depending on different stages of economic development. Least developed countries emitted only 3.3 per cent of global emissions in 2019 with their average per capita emissions less than a quarter of the global average between 1990-2019. This reaffirms that the onus for climate mitigation lies predominantly with developed countries as they continue to contribute disproportionately to the cumulative as well as the per capita global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Second, there has been a lag in innovation in developing countries, despite an expansion of policies and laws addressing climate mitigation since the previous Assessment Report (2014) which have led to emissions reductions and increased investment in low-GHG technologies and infrastructure. Innovation policy packages have resulted in a continuous decline in the unit costs of several low-emission technologies such as solar, lithium batteries, and wind energy since 2010. However, these improvements remained confined to developed countries. Developing and least developed countries continue to lack enabling economic and political conditions that would catalyse such innovations.
Third, developing countries face barriers in mitigating emissions from construction and transportation. On construction and infrastructure development, the report is optimistic that a net zero GHG emissions can be achieved by 2050 if policies combine ambitious sufficiency, efficiency, and renewable energy measures, and barriers to decarbonisation are removed. Developing countries have the largest potential for mitigation in this sector through new greener buildings whereas developed countries can mitigate by retrofitting existing buildings. Yet, to adopt and implement these mitigation measures, developing economies would require critical technological upgrading, improved knowledge systems, and innovative practices while also modernising and scaling up traditional sustainable knowledge systems on building and infrastructure. Financial and technological assistance from developed economies would be key in realising these potentials.
Similarly, transport sector emissions can be reduced in developed countries through demand-side options such as behavioural changes and low-GHG emissions technologies, and the same can limit emissions growth in developing countries. Developing countries, which still resort to carbon intensive transport technologies primarily, will need assistance in the form of technology transfer and financing to leapfrog to low emissions transport systems.
Fourth, developing countries must manage the unavoidable trade-offs of climate action. Such unintended negative effects of climate action on the overall development processes can be challenging for developing countries, vulnerable populations, and Indigenous Peoples given their limited capacity (institutional, technological and financial) and constrained capital (social, human, and economic). Developing and poorer economies would require assistance to manage these trade-offs through capacity building, finance, governance, technology transfer, investments to needy communities. Developmental and social policy making and measures will have to be inclusive with meaningful participation of indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations.
Fifth, the immediate cost of transitioning to sustainable development pathways is still too high for many poorer economies even though the long-term benefits outweigh costs. The Panel asserts that countries that embed climate mitigation efforts within their development context can widen the scope of their emissions reductions. Pivoting economic policies towards sustainability can broaden the range of mitigation options available. Every country is encouraged to shift to developmental pathways congruent with sustainability and climate action, and accelerate mitigation and transitions across systems. This is a matter of immense challenge to developing and least developed economies, although developing economies such as China and India are making efforts in this direction. Developing economies remain in need of financial, technological, and knowledge assistance from developed economies to endure the cost of transitioning to greener development pathways.
Sixthly, climate governance is either weak or lacking in many developing countries. Mitigation requires robust climate governance in the form of new laws, strategies, and institutions specific to a country’s national circumstances. These can provide frameworks through which diverse actors interact and form a basis for policy development and implementation. Regulatory and economic instruments strengthen technology-push policies and investments (for scientific training, R&D, demonstration), and demand-pull policies such as standards, feed-in tariffs, taxes, all of which create incentives and market opportunities. Developing countries would therefore need to augment their climate governance institutions, instruments, and processes to enhance climate action.
Seventh, developing and least developed countries lack liquidity and financial resources which mitigation measures require. They need monetary resources to source low-emission technologies, implement mitigation programmes, manage trade-offs from climate actions, and seize socio-economic benefits. The report therefore strongly necessitates the acceleration of financial support for developing countries from developed economies and private sources. The report also underlines that the global financial system has “sufficient capital and liquidity” to bridge this finance gap. The problem lies in its disbursement and diffusion, and the lack of political will and commitment. The agreement to mobilise USD100 billion-a-year by 2020 under the Copenhagen Agreement for assisting developing and least developed economies to mitigate and adapt to climate change remains unfulfilled. This would have partially helped bridge the finance gap.
Finally, the report underlines the importance of international cooperation in climate change mitigation. Cooperative activities such as global financial flows, technology, and capacity building support to developing countries are likely to encourage more ambitious nationally determined contributions over time and strengthen their implementation. Further, international cooperation on climate action and mitigation would also be enhanced through support to developing countries in technological innovation systems and capabilities, and finance. One might add that international cooperation should also be forged in South-South cooperation through which developing countries share region-specific knowledge and data relevant to climate mitigation and action. Such cooperation need not be limited to state actors but undertaken at the level of non-state actors including scientific communities.
In summary, it is a question of global justice and climate equity that developed economies pay heed to the loss, damage and climate needs of developing and least developed economies. Wealthy countries will have to expand their economic assistance to developing countries to boost their capacity for climate mitigation measures.
Robert Mizo is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delhi, Kamala Nehru College. He holds a PhD from the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi in Climate Change Policy studies. His research interests include Climate Change and Security, Climate Change Politics, and International Environmental Politics. He has published and presented on the above topics at both national and international platforms.