Deep Decarbonization Pathways: Country Case Studies II

The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project

All the reasons I mentioned in the previous chapter why countries need a deep decarbonization pathway are precisely why we’ve launched the deep decarbonization pathways project. We’ve built this project as a collaborative effort to understand how countries can transition to a low-carbon economy by mid-century and how the world can meet the objective of limiting global warming below 2-degrees Celsius.

The project gathers some of the leading research institutions from 15 countries, all of them among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases emissions. Together and combined, they represent a little bit more than 70% of the global emissions. So, which are these countries? It’s Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

It’s a long list and I can tell you it was not easy to manage a project with so many participants scattered across the so many different time zones. The day very often started with an early Skype with colleagues in China or India and finished many times with a late call with colleagues in Australia or South Korea. But it was really great fun for sure.

These 15 countries are at different stages of development. And that’s an important point. They have different historic responsibilities in climate change, also different capacities to invest in climate change mitigation. But as I said, they represent more than 70% of the global greenhouse gases emissions.

721So their strong actions are really, really important to meet the global goal of limiting global warming below 2-degrees Celsius. So what was the task of the 15-country research teams. Well each of them has been developing a deep decarbonization pathway to 2050 for its country and we’re going to look in this lecture at some of the key results coming from their very insightful analysis.

The objective was really to take into account in detail all the relevant country-specific national circumstances. As I said, their socioeconomic conditions, their model for economic growth and development going forward, their infrastructure stocks very importantly, or their natural resources endowment. Why did, did we want to do that? I mean why be so detailed?

It’s really because we wanted to make a convincing case for action at the national level, because before we started the DDPP, there were already many results of global studies produced through global models showing how to achieve deep emission reductions. And the result of these global studies provide many important insights. And we have already discussed them at length into some of the previous lectures. But on their own they’re a bit insufficient to make a really convincing case for action at the national level. And that’s at least for two different reasons.

  1. The first is obviously because they are not sufficiently detailed. And yet deep decarbonization strategies need to be based on the most precise available estimates of the mitigation potential within countries and even more than that, in different regions and locations.
  2. But there is another reason, less technical, more process related. It’s because if we want them to really become the basis for a public and a policy discussion, then the need to be developed within countries.

They cannot be imposed by an international institution or by a bunch of consultants sitting in New York or Paris. They really need to be developed by local experts and discussed within countries with all the different stakeholders that have a stake in the issue of climate change negotiation. Defining country-specific targets for deep decarbonization pathways was not an easy task I can tell you, because it raises many practical, but also political issues. And in fact, the reason why the international negotiations have made such slow and disappointing progress since the entry into force of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change is in part because of a continued disagreement about how to share the global effort of emission reductions across countries. It is certainly not the only obstacle, but it’s an important part of the deadlock, because countries have different interpretations of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

One of the key principles of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, they disagree over the criteria that could be used to share global emission reductions between countries. Should we take into account historic emissions? How can we account for the fact that some countries have high emissions because they’re exporting the carbon intensive products that are consumed by other countries? How can we account also for the fact that countries have different mitigation potentials and therefore different costs of mitigation, but also, different capacities to invest in these mitigation options? All these questions, all these unresolved issues so far have blocked the international negotiations, and they have resulted in insufficient, widely insufficient action to date to reduce the emissions.

But in a way what is even more problematic is that it has prevented countries from even looking at what it would take to limit global warming below 2-degrees Celsius. The truth is that in order to stay within the 2-degree global carbon budget, every country with the notable exception of the least developed countries, but we have a full lecture dedicated to that, every country except the poorest among the poor countries will have to achieve deep emission reductions. And in particular, all of today’s large emitting countries.

The issue of who pays for the investment cost of deep decarbonization is of course essential to ensure that the global effort to reduce emissions is shared in an equitable manner. But before looking at the issue of these investment costs and who pays for them, it is critical to explore how each and every country can transition to a low-carbon economy. We need to identify technically feasible and sustainable deep decarbonization pathways, even before we quantify their costs and benefits and discuss who has to pay for them.

So how can we do that? Well we have already explained why the convergence of per capita emissions by 2050, although it cannot be used as a criteria for the fair allocation of the global carbon budget, is still a pretty good benchmark to set the target of deep decarbonization pathways; at least one of them. It cannot be considered as a criteria for the equitable sharing of the global carbon budget because it doesn’t reflect some important considerations such as historic emissions or the fact that some countries export carbon intensive goods that others consume.

But it is nonetheless a pretty good benchmark because very few countries will technically be able to fall below the 1.6 tons of CO2 energy per capita that is necessary to have a 50% chance of staying within the 2-degree limit, or the 1.1 tons of CO2 energy per capita if we want to have a higher chance, a higher than two-third chance of staying within the 2-degree limit.

Not even the low-income countries with emissions per capita lower than this level today because the catch-up economic growth in their countries will and should drive their emissions up, even as they improve the carbon intensity of their GDP growth. So as a result a very few countries can be below the global average, then very few countries can be above.

But I should say that even more important than the precise level of emissions in 2050, it is really the order of magnitude of the emission reductions that is important and that needs to be consistent with the globally agreed 2-degree limit. And this is what we’ve been looking at in the deep decarbonization pathways project as a way to explore the options for the deep decarbonization of each and every country and in a way break the deadlock of the climate negotiations.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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