Equitable Global Climate Policy for an Unequal World

As the world progresses away from fossil fuels and towards environmentally friendly alternatives, many countries differ in their abilities to address the climate crisis. Wealthier countries have the capacity to make much more substantial or expensive changes than those with less wealth. As a result, these countries may require different methods of approaching climate change. Furthermore, wealthier countries typically contribute far more to exacerbating climate change than their less wealthy counterparts. In order for this transition to be equitable on a global scale, these countries must contribute more to the transition: this includes helping the poorer countries transition themselves.


With the help of the GSPA’s Global Climate Policy Database, I look at policies wealthier countries can implement to both improve their own energy and agricultural emissions, as well as to help poorer countries with theirs; I also look at policies these less wealthy countries can feasibly implement.


Energy

One example of how wealthy countries can increase their use of renewable energy over fossil fuels is through what Sweden calls “the climate leap”. The policy consists of local climate investments in every sector, which anyone can apply to receive. The amount a project gets is based on its expected greenhouse gas emissions reductions— this aspect is important because it allows for substantive change, rather than focusing on small projects that minimally reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The policy was extended until 2026, and since 2015 is had financed projects reducing emissions by 29 million tonnes, creating over 4000 new jobs. Furthermore, the policy focuses on direct reductions, instead of experimental projects that might reduce emissions. While innovation is important, more certain carbon reductions outweigh uncertain experimental methods that do not have a sufficiently greater expected impact. The investments have included charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, switching from oil to biofuel, and district heating.


Other countries should adopt a policy similar to Sweden’s because of its focus on direct emissions cuts. By focusing on direct cuts, we can ensure progress is made in the fight against climate change. This also speeds up the transition to renewable energy, since infrastructure is constantly being changed through direct projects. Many wealthier nations and states already have a form of climate funding present— in order to become more effective like Sweden’s climate leap, these funds should be expanded and focused on reducing emissions primarily.


Wealthy countries can help less wealthy countries by increasing money flow into funds for adaptation. With the Paris Climate Agreement, nations are required to put money into a fund for developing countries. However, according to a study, these nations are providing less than half of the required amount: while $50 billion is required annually, in 2018, $16.8 billion was the official figure provided and $9.8 billion is the true number. This is due to the fact that many nations had included finance provided for projects completely unrelated to climate, such as road construction. Ultimately, in order for this technique to work, nations need to actually donate to projects that will decrease emissions and accurately report what they gave. As this article says, climate funding is crucial and the most equitable solution for poorer nations, and there needs to be a trusted method of measuring the amounts developed countries contribute. One successful example is the Tunisia wind farm project, which will help increase their renewable energy share from 3% to 30% by 2030. Projects such as this one, with money going towards actions that will actually reduce emissions in these developing countries, are essential and what these funds should be addressing. This is further illustrated in the Paris Ahreement’s Green Climate Fund, which mandates developed nations “to support developing countries raise and realize their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) ambitions towards low-emissions, climate-resilient pathways.”


Less wealthy countries can use specific projects geared towards increasing renewable energy such as Mauritius’s home solar project. They launched the project in order to install 10,000 solar panels on the homes of those in the lowest income group. They are doing 2000 homes a year for five years, which makes the project easier to implement than larger scale projects. The project is also progessive by focusing on those in the lowest income group; since those in higher income groups are more capable of paying for these changes, the country is able to help those least able to make these changes. This is similar to the wealthier group in that it is easiest for these countries to implement smaller scale projects with definite chances of decreasing fossil fuel usage than to make riskier investments with a larger risk of failure. These countries can implement policies like this one through using financing available through international organizations, such as the Green Climate Fund.


Agriculture

Starting with wealthy countries, a promising method for them to control agriculture and its environmental aspects includes a plan such as the Canadian climate solutions. The program runs for ten years, and thus far has given about $185 million towards providing grants and funding. The program considers projects that prioritize carbon sequestration, such as cover cropping or intercropping, or greenhouse gas mitigation methods, such as nutrient management and feeding strategies. In this program, farmers and scientists work together to find the best solutions to climate issues involving agriculture. Wealthy countries should implement policies like this one because it encourages collaboration for finding sustainable agricultural solutions. Instead of farmers being forced to work alone to decrease emissions, or scientists trying to encourage farmers to implement techniques that may not work, both groups work together with government support. They also prioritize specific techniques in order to provide structure to the grants, which prevents them from being given to projects that have no chance of reducing emissions.


A method wealthy countries can use in order to help poorer countries is, unexpectedly, to cut local farming subsidies. By maintaining farming subsidies, wealthy countries make it difficult for farmers in poor countries to conduct business. Subsidies allow domestic farmers to charge cheaper prices than their counterparts in poorer countries, making it more difficult for them to compete. By cutting these subsidies, countries in these less wealthy countries will be able to compete better and it will allow farmers to serve their local communities, ultimately reducing emissions from travel. Cutting subsidies is also the most equitable solution in wealthy countries by allowing small farmers in these countries to compete with large scale farms and factories. By making it cheaper to buy things like seeds and fertilizers, these necessities run out. Because the demand is high, the prices are driven up, making it more difficult for farmers who make less. Small farmers also have a smaller impact on emissions due to their smaller scale and the tendency to support local communities rather than national or international. Thus, by hurting them they are indirectly leading to an increase in emissions. Furthermore, subsidies also decrease the likelihood that farmers will make riskier moves that may ultimately be more beneficial for our planet because prices are already low; risks aren’t needed for additional gains. This has previously been recognized, with the World Trade Organization ending export subsidies in 2015. Ultimately, farm subsidies help the wealthy in wealthy countries; others are minimally affected or even hurt by the practice. By cutting agricultural subsidies, nations can help their small farms and distribute the wealth from large corporations in a more equitable manner.


A method poorer countries can use in order to decrease emissions from agriculture is through creating energy from biogas, as St. Croix U.S. Virgin Island is currently doing. The island creates energy from biomass through anaerobic respiration from the production of the feedstock Giant King Grass. Using biogas may decrease emissions because it captures the carbon typically released from organic matter. The grass also will provide organic fertilizer to farmers and convert underused land to agricultural use. This can also be done with a number of diverse crops available in a wide range of regions, including sunflowers, soybeans, and jatropha which does exceptionally well in droughts. Many of these crops also use less fertilizers than other plants and have multiple purposes, making them cheaper for farmers in developing nations to grow. By growing these crops with their normal rotation, farmers in developed nations can both increase the production of renewable energy in their country and potentially have a much safer fertilizer available for the rest of their crops.


Takeaways

While developed nations differ substantially in what they can contribute to combating global warming when compared with developing nations, both groups can make an impact using the resources available to them.


Developed nations further have an obligation to go beyond what they contribute for their own climate crisis, and assist with developing nations as they fight their crises. While I only outlined a few options, there are many more possibilities for developing and developed nations that many are already using.


As GSPA’s Open Climate Policy Database highlighted, the adoption of these equitable and effective policies is critical given the shocking disparity between most nations’ climate pledges and policy realities.

Kendall Chappell is a researcher with PDI and helped build GSPA's Global Climate Policy Database.





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