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Net Zero Emissions: A Challenge for Developing Countries

What are net zero emissions?

Net-zero or carbon-neutrality refers to a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. It does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero. The absorption of GHGs can be increased using carbon sinks, such as forests on land or mangroves in ocean ecosystems, while the removal of GHGs from the atmosphere requires advanced technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) in which the GHGs are stored deep underground in geological formations.

Challenges of Developing Countries in Achieving Carbon Neutrality

Different climate policies across the world have been working towards holding the average global temperature rise to 2º C or 1.5º C and causing the GHG emissions graph to slope downwards after achieving the peak emission point. Considering these climate policies, net zero emission targets are the most recent attempt to simplify the problem of climate change. While developing countries have a significant role to play in achieving these targets, this needs to be bounded by the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) principle as mentioned in the Paris Agreement.

As the developing countries are faced with the problems like poverty, hunger and unemployment, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is further challenging. The Paris Agreement recognises that GHG emissions will take longer to peak in developing countries because addressing poverty is an overriding challenge for them. For the whole world to reach carbon neutrality in 2050, developed countries must reach net zero carbon emissions earlier. The comparability between developed and developing nations is further diminished when looking countries such as India and the US, for where the per capita emissions of India (1.79 metrics tons CO2e), are significantly less than that of the US (15.24 metrics tons CO2e).

In order to drive the global economy towards net zero and thereby achieving the Paris Agreement goals, over 160 firms with US $70 trillion have joined forces. Apart from this, an estimated additional US $6-10 trillion, which amounts to approximately 6-10% of annual global GDP, will be needed in the next decade in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change. According to International Energy Agency data, globally, on an average about 30% of additional investment is expected to come in from public sources while the remaining 70% is expected to come from private sources. This means private firms need to divert their funds to achieve the target of carbon neutrality.

Achieving the targets of net zero emissions is very crucial in the current scenario. However, it is also key to keep in mind that the targets need to be consistent with demands for climate justice. Least developed countries like Bhutan and Suriname have already achieved their target of net zero emissions. However, as already discussed, developing countries are facing serious developmental challenges and the climate crisis added to the mix poses the issue of a ‘double-whammy’. Hence, the countries which are capable to invest more in combating climate change could help developing countries, so that the overall target of net zero emissions can be completed. 

Developing countries would need to prioritize their domestic developmental issues and accordingly formulate their policies and plans to attain the goals of net zero emissions. Instead of following a single net zero transition plan, there must be multiple and differentiated net zero transition plans that can be consistent with climate justice, as per the country’s national context so that the transition towards achieving a green economy or the net zero emission target does not hamper the developmental goals of the concerned country. This will only be bolstered through an adequate flow of finance towards the developing countries in supporting their net zero plans.