New research reveals the economic viability of developing and developed countries partnering to reach enhanced emissions reduction goals.
Chile, New Zealand and Switzerland may be half a world apart geographically, but researchers say they share many of the same challenges when it comes to reducing their carbon emissions.
From the opportunities of geothermal energy to the challenges facing the high-emitting dairy and forestry industries, to the need to consult and cooperate with local indigenous groups, these countries have more similarities than you might think.
Suzi Kerr, chief economist at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), says the Climate Action Teams model partners wealthier developed countries with developing countries to reduce emissions globally. It is about increasing ambitions at an affordable cost, and not about using the mechanism to replace or avoid domestic targets and objectives for net zero.
“By 2030, more than 70% of emissions will be in developing countries,” she says. “That means that the mitigation action that has to happen will be in developing countries.
“If we allow the wealthier countries to support and work with developing countries, and increase mitigation in the developing countries, through that support we can double the amount of mitigation for the same cost. So you can massively increase climate change ambition, making it much more likely that we will achieve our 1.5°C goal.”
What are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?
Nationally Determined Contributions are actions that individual countries have committed to take in order to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to below 2° Celsius, as part of the UN-led 2015 Paris Agreement.
Kerr says the teams would most likely be successful when the partnerships were between countries with similar industries and economies – to facilitate the sharing of policies, information and technology – or where there was an existing and historical relationship.
But she says both host (developing) and partnering (developed) countries would need to show a genuine and ongoing commitment to emissions reduction policies and frameworks for the plan to work.
“Chile already has quite an ambitious target – they would be mitigating beyond that, which would then put them on a path to be more ambitious,” she says.
One of the challenges would be to ensure that the price paid for emissions reduction in developing countries was fair and sustainable – not ridiculously low targets, but more sustainable long-term carbon emissions reductions based across whole sectors of the economy.
“Some countries are engaging in bilateral agreements with other countries where they are buying their low-hanging fruit – really cheap emission reductions,” says Ana Pueyo, a fellow at the New Zealand-based Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Institute.
“We would want them to collaborate in a climate team with a country that has a reasonably ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). And we would not be supporting them just to meet their NDC, we will be supporting them to go beyond.
“We will be talking about emission reductions over $50 per tonne, so not low-hanging fruit of the kind that we saw in the Kyoto Protocol that raised a lot of mistrust and criticism by environmental groups. We want to collaborate with countries that are ambitious.”
What is the Kyoto Protocol?
The Kyoto Protocol was a UN agreement adopted in 1995 that committed industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change. It has been largely superseded by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Kerr says the proposal had a lot of potential in a country like Australia, where domestic politics around emissions reduction was messy and fraught with pushback from vested interests.
She says a Climate Action Teams model would enable a country like Australia to raise its ambition by partnering with neighbours like Papua New Guinea or Indonesia, or countries with similar economies and challenges like South Africa, and get a better return on investment when it came to reductions.
“Australia already has strong trade and aid relationships with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, which would make them suitable candidates, or in South Africa you have many of the same challenges of large mining sectors trying to transition away from coal,” Kerr says.
“These natural affinities could be a really great thing because Australia is going to really need to find ways to make real change without causing dramatic, politically impossible change in the Australian economy. Australian climate policy has had a pretty rocky past, but this is the sort of opportunity to do something really good without having to fight the vested interests head on in the way some of the other policies might require.”
Kerr reports there has been lots of interest internationally. “Countries are really beginning to take their compliance seriously and they’re taking on much more ambitious, nationally determined contributions. They are also realising how difficult this is going to be.”
Jarni Blakkarly is a journalist based in Melbourne. He is the winner of a Young Walkley Award and he tweets @jarniblakkarly.