Serious efforts needed to curb carbon emissions
Will the promises by major nations at the recent climate summit bring the world closer to the Paris goals?
7 May 2021
0 mins read
On January 20, 2021 United States rejoined the Paris Accord (Image: Kai Stachowiak; Public Domain license)

The Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by the United States President Joe Biden has come to a successful conclusion. The summit tried to galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis and was attended by leaders from 40 countries. In his inaugural address at the summit, Joe Biden said that the average global temperature is rising so fast that we now have very little time to control it. So we need to act quickly without any delay.

To combat this problem, Biden took the initiative to almost double the carbon emissions reduction target (26-28%) committed by the United States in the Paris Climate Agreement. The United States will now cut carbon emissions by 50 to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, Biden has said that his government plans to zero carbon emissions from the power sector by 2035 and from the entire economy by 2050.

In the United States, $2 trillion has been earmarked for infrastructure transformation, of which $174 billion will be spent on electric car infrastructure. “Even though we are all in a crisis right now, we must turn it into an opportunity because we still have time to control the rise in the average temperature of the earth,” he said. All countries must work together to do this, an increase in the percentage of carbon emission cuts committed as per the Paris Climate Agreement calls for this.

In the face of rising natural disasters caused by rising temperature, the European countries have planned to reduce their carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. These countries have also reduced their carbon emissions by 24% between 1990 and 2019 from 1990 levels.

Great Britain has taken this issue more seriously than any other country in the world and has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 68% from 1990 levels by 2030 and by 78% by 2035. Canada has also agreed to increase its carbon emission reduction from 30% to 40-45%, based on 2005 levels.

Japan ranks fifth in the world in the production of carbon emissions. It had set a target of reducing carbon emissions by only 26% by 2030 from the 2013 level. There are many problems with the Japanese target. Firstly, the base year used by Japan is 2013, which for the European countries is 1990. Secondly, at the 2021 Climate Summit, although Japan has promised to increase its carbon emissions cuts to 46%, it has again set the base year at 2013. It has also pledged to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who had demanded $1 billion from the United States administration for discontinuing deforestation and threatened to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement at the Summit on Climate Change, also backed small measures. He has pledged to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and zero carbon emissions by 2050.

South Korea said it would stop public financing of new coal-fired power plants, potentially an important step toward persuading China and other coal-reliant nations to curb building and funding of new coal-fired plants as well.

Apart from these countries, China, India, the Russian Federation and Australia, knowing and understanding the critical situation of the time, have not announced concrete commitments in carbon emissions.

China, which is the world’s largest carbon emitter, accounting for 28% of the total carbon emissions since 2006, reiterated its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 after meeting its economic growth target. China has announced that it will ‘strictly limit’ the increase in its consumption of coal during the next five-year economic plan period (2026-2030), which means it will do little for another five years.

India, the second-largest coal-fired power producer after China, said that it will not only meet the Paris carbon emissions targets by 2030 but will likely exceed those goals as it ramps up the use of renewable energy.

The Russian Federation, the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of climate-damaging fossil fuel fumes, said it is ready to cooperate internationally to find effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges related to it.

Australia has the third-highest per capita carbon emissions in the world after Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Climate Summit claimed that the country is making significant progress in tackling climate change, which will reduce total carbon emissions by 70% and per capita carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. However, he has not given the roadmap for carbon emission cuts.

It is also pertinent to mention here that ‘Investors Group on Climate Change’ has challenged Scott Morrison’s claim made at the Summit on Climate. The group said that Australia would have the highest emissions intensity and release the most heat-trapping gas for every 1$ of GDP, among the G20 countries if others delivered on the new commitments to tackle the climate crisis. Besides, Australia’s carbon emission reduction targets by 2030 are only 26-28% of the 2005 emission levels. This target is much lower as compared to many other countries and the base year is 2005.

The promises and plans of Great Britain, the European countries, the United States and Canada are commendable. Great Britain and the European countries are expected to deliver their promises as these countries have already cut their carbon emissions by 24% during 1990-2019 from 1990 levels.

Only time will tell whether the United States will live up to its promises, as this is the second time in this century when the US returned to the Kyoto Protocol under President Obama and most recently the US has returned to rejoin Paris Climate Agreement under President Biden’s leadership.

It is also important to note that the United States has been the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases up to 2006 now the second-largest carbon emitter. However, it has so far made only promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China, the United States, and India are the countries in the world that have been the hardest hit by natural disasters caused by rising temperature. Between 2000 and 2019, 577 natural disasters in China affected 173 crore people and killed 113,000 people, while 321 natural disasters in India affected 108 crore people and killed 80,000 people.

Despite the damage, the two countries have not implemented any concrete actions to reduce carbon emissions and have not pledged to implement them soon. China is still pushing for a plan to reduce carbon emissions after 2030 and start reducing coal energy use from 2026.

India, instead of trying to save the country and its people, is claiming a high rate of economic growth, while every year one or the other region of the country is hit hard by some natural calamity due to unplanned economic growth.

The coldest part of the Russian Federation, Siberia has been plagued by heatwaves and wildfires during the past year due to rising temperature. Australia has also been hit by devastating wildfires in 2020, followed by droughts and severe floods earlier this year (2021).

Each country should start cutting carbon emissions from local to national levels to save the country and the lives of its people from natural disasters. The countries should make every citizen aware of this serious problem so that they do not use high carbon emission products and turn off non-essential lights in their homes, make a switch from a high non-vegetarian diet to a vegetarian rich diet, use public transport instead of using private vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.

The tropical forest area has declined by 12% during 2019-2020 which is a matter of concern as the dense forests of these areas absorb more carbon dioxide than the other areas. A simple solution to this problem is planting species of locally found trees and there should be a complete restriction on the cutting of old trees.

The government of all countries should also make the means of public transport more efficient so that people can automatically start using public transport instead of private vehicles. Every country should cooperate and act in the same way as the European countries have done and are doing to reduce carbon emissions.

Although the European countries had historically emitted large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, they realized their responsibility and rapidly reducing it. If the United States succeeds in putting Biden’s planned reduction of carbon emissions into practice now, then perhaps the rest of the world, which is still emitting large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in the name of economic growth, would begin to reduce carbon emissions.

This is a good move initiated by the United States and followed by the other countries to protect the planet and its people from rising temperature and natural disasters, but it requires concerted efforts to make it work. China and India also need to work together to reduce carbon emissions, while keeping their narrow interests at bay to save the planet and its people from global warming.

Considering that air pollution kills around 7 million people every year, as compared to the COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in the death of 31,12,314 people by April 25, 2021, worldwide. Looking at the data, the people and governments of all the countries must put their serious efforts to reduce carbon emissions because currently, it poses a higher risk than COVID-19.


Gurinder Kaur is Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala

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