Two years ago, the 19th annual UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) was held in Warsaw. Lead negotiator Yeb Sano of the Philippines had just witnessed the horrors of Typhoon Haiyan, a direct consequence of climate change. Compelled by the uncertain fate of his countrymen and his own brother, Sano delivered an emotional plea to the gathered world leaders. “It is the 19th COP, but we might as well stop counting, because my country refuses to accept that a COP 30 or a COP 40 will be needed to solve climate change,” said Sano.
Yet speeches are one thing and action is another. COP 21 ended on 12 December 2015, but we seem to be as far away from a solution as we were two decades ago when these conferences were first begun. Despite the world’s newfound optimism on the battle against climate change, the end product of COP 21, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, leaves much to be desired.
The agreement has set out long-term targets of limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius while requiring countries to report emissions and progress every five years. Unfortunately, this leaves a large flaw: there is nothing legally binding to force countries to take action. This is because many nations don’t want to stunt economic growth to combat climate change.
So who should bear the burden of reducing carbon emissions? A list of CO2 emissions by country reveals that developing nations such as China and India remain at, or near, the top of the list . Total greenhouse gas emissions from China, India, Brazil and Indonesia make up more than 33.4% of global emissions . Many carbon emissions come from factories within developing countries, which use massive amounts of energy from unsustainable sources. Some developed nations thus want developing nations to place greater emphasis on reducing emissions.
However, this logic is flawed; per capita, citizens of developed countries have significantly greater carbon footprints. The developed countries of Canada, USA, Japan, and the European Union account for 40.4% of world emissions , despite the fact that they only represent about 13.6% of the total world population . Furthermore, consequences of climate change such as natural disasters disproportionately impact developing nations, which are not well-equipped or sufficiently stable to deal with them. For instance, while developed countries have proper infrastructure to deal with potential floods caused by rising water levels, many developing countries do not. Moreover, any strong climate regulations would restrict developing nations’ growing economies—limiting socioeconomic development.
For the COP21 to be productive, developed countries, including Canada, need to step up and take initiative. Despite the many optimistic speeches from Justin Trudeau that “Canada is back,” Canada has yet to targets that will aim for the global temperature increase limit of two degrees Celsius. There has also been dissent among provincial leaders: Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has argued that these climate regulations, such as carbon taxes, threaten the already weak Canadian economy.
The fact is, Canadians, as well as the wide majority of citizens of developed nations, often fail to see that we, not the developing countries, are the root of the problem. It is easy for us to carry on with our daily lives, while turning a blind eye to the impacts of our wastefulness elsewhere.
It is not enough for us to merely regulate our own industries and emissions. To solve this problem which we have created, we must encourage developing countries to use alternative energy sources and reduce emissions, without significantly compromising their economic and social growth. Ultimately, it is our duty as developed nations to take action, because we are the cause of the over consumption, wastefulness, and ignorance that have caused climate change in the first place.