Beware of 'carbon colonialism'

LETTERS: While efforts to goad governments to take more climate actions are laudable, net-zero emission targets by 2050 for rich countries and their corporations will not be enough.

The phrase "net zero" is being used by a majority of polluting governments and corporations to orchestrate escape clauses to evade responsibility, shift burdens, disguise climate inaction and, in some cases, even to scale up fossil fuel extraction, burning and emissions.

Most of net-zero pledges are not grounded in deep decarbonisation and rely heavily on nature-based solutions as sinks to sequester the carbon emissions. Most rely on carbon markets to deliver carbon offsets, mainly in developing countries.

What carbon offsetting means is that developed countries do not reduce emissions domestically but pay developing countries to do the reductions instead. Offsetting is deemed more "cost effective" to buy carbon credits to offset emissions generated in the developed world.

With or without carbon offsetting, such pledges create a huge demand for sinks, mainly in the forests, wetlands and grasslands of developing countries. Clearly, the quantity of sinks needed would exceed the sequestration capacity of the planet by several fold.

This will have negative implications for developing countries, including generating conflicts over land use, as well as among local communities and indigenous peoples, whose lands and forests are being sought to solve rich nations' emission problems.

Climate justice groups have referred to this as "carbon colonialism". Limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C requires the sharing of the remaining carbon budget in an equitable manner. For a 50 per cent probability of keeping global warming below the limit, the remaining carbon budget is 480 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq).

At the current rate of emissions of 42 GtCO2eq per year, the budget would be exhausted in about 12 years. With a shrinking carbon budget, the right approach must be one where the rich developed world takes the lead in much deeper cuts to their emissions based on a fair-share approach.

Such an equity-based proposal has never seen the light of day due to strong resistance from developed countries, especially the United States on the grounds that no international agreement can dictate a top-down approach to emission reductions for countries.

Serious academics and civil society groups have pointed out that rich countries are not doing enough. A recent analysis by Dr Jason Hickel from the University of London, reported in medical journal The Lancet, showed that up to 2015, the Global North was responsible for 92 per cent of excess emissions.

By contrast, most countries in the Global South were within their boundaries of fair shares. including India and China (although China will overshoot soon).

Instead, the net zero mantra allows developed countries to get away with targets that amount to doing too little, too late, and passes on the responsibility to developing countries to do the heavy lifting without commensurate financial and technological transfers.

The Paris Agreement does call for a balance between human emissions and removal by sinks by 2050, but this is to be on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

The rich North must go to real zero and help developing countries do their fair share through financial and technological transfers so that they do not repeat the mistakes of the North.

Net zero is indeed a mirage to delay further action by rich nations responsible for the crisis in the first place. The sooner we realise this, the better it is for the planet and the poor.

President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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