As the 28th annual United Nations climate summit (COP28) takes place in Dubai, the age-old debate of who should bear the cost of combating climate change remains unresolved.
Developed nations point fingers at developing countries like China and India, blaming their coal plants for the crisis. On the other hand, developing nations argue that the West’s historical emissions are the real culprits and demand compensation for their efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Amidst this blame game, the planet continues to heat up, with 2023 set to be the hottest year on record.
The silver lining is that we are gradually moving towards a post-carbon world, thanks to technological advancements and market incentives. However, the pace of decarbonization is not fast enough. The stalemate over who should finance the fight against climate change is hindering our ability to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.
Historically, the U.S. and Europe have been the largest contributors to cumulative emissions, with 25% and 22% respectively. China, the current largest polluter, is responsible for nearly 15% of historical emissions. When adjusted for population size, the U.S. has burned almost eight times more carbon per capita than China and over 25 times more than India. This highlights the disproportionate responsibility of Western nations in causing climate change. However, the atmosphere doesn’t care about fairness.
To stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, global emissions would have to decrease by 43% by 2030. Developed countries, having exceeded their fair share of the carbon budget, should bear the brunt of this burden. They have the resources to aggressively decarbonize without compromising their economic development. Expecting them to do more is not about retribution but about not depriving developing nations of their right to develop.
To reach net zero, all countries must commit to it. While developing nations should not pay for the sins of wealthier countries, they must, unfortunately, do so unless negative emissions technologies are developed. For them to agree to this, industrialized countries must accelerate their own decarbonization, invest in technologies that reduce the cost of decarbonization, fund the upfront costs of decarbonization in developing countries, and compensate vulnerable nations for the losses they’re already experiencing due to climate change.
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