Earlier in November 2021, a few days after world leaders gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 summit, the United States and China made a surprise announcement by resolving on working together to cut emissions.
An immediate reaction would undoubtedly be a relief, since both countries are the world’s largest carbon emitters, with China and the US accounting for about 27% and 11% (respectively) of global emissions, according to a report published in May by research and consulting firm Rhodium Group. (It is, however, worth noting in other publications that the US has a higher per capita carbon emission compared to the rest of the developed nations.) Thus, it would amount to some hope and optimism that the rest of the world wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from emissions caused by the developed countries.
However, a few caveats.
First of all, it cannot be stressed enough that concrete actions must follow those resolutions. Any halfhearted attempts and achievement of the bare minimum of said resolutions with the tagline, “Well… we (sort of) did it!” no longer cuts it in our currently-unsettling moment of environmental predicaments. Let’s remind ourselves that global warming and climate change worsened over these years because we increased our carbon emissions and didn’t put our 100% into reversing those emissions. On top of that, both mankind and (now, more than ever) the effects of climate change are either uprooting or burning to a crisp our primary natural allies that help us in carbon sequestration. To be blunt, the thought of simply “winging it” as a last-ditch effort to fulfill the resolution and earn a reputation does little benefit and inflicts a ton of damage in the long run.
The main point here is the issue of politics, regional disputes, and the tears in the fancy fabric of diplomacy. In the case of the lead-up to the COP26 summit – it’s finger-pointing. It’s not wrong to call out another nation for its lack of effort in getting something done. But if the pointing is done by another nation that has a similar lackluster effort in curbing emissions (at least, in proportion to the emissions produced by said nation), they might as well be pointing at a mirror.
When the response to the standard, “we must set aside our differences and work as one,” speech is met with, “we’re doing what we can, it’s [them] that need to work as hard as us,” the conundrum that comes out of this exchange shouldn’t be as complicated as it sounds. Indeed, every nation putting an equal amount of effort into cutting emissions is the ‘united’ way of saving the planet, but the truth is… some nations do have to put more effort on the table than others.
As mentioned in the report, China and US lead the global emissions rate percentage-wise. So, it should be a logical step for a country with a higher emissions percentage to contribute to curbing emissions on a similar proportion. The smaller and vulnerable nations obviously cannot pull the same weight in this effort in comparison to leading, developed nations. Of course, any nation can surpass expectations and assist other nations in achieving their target easily and quickly, but again… tangible efforts must be made to surpass in the first place.
The utilization of trading carbon credits as a placeholder for sequestered carbon is one interesting way to support another party in lowering their carbon footprint, which can also benefit the trader’s economical status in one go. In fact, the first (and so far, largest), carbon offsetting market was set up under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. It sets up a premise that carbon sequestration can be an economically-viable approach to help other parties steadily achieve net-zero status. Today’s developments are seeing efforts go beyond net-zero to reach carbon-negativity.
The blueprints are technically in place, creating a system that helps nations of all levels reach their target goals, and even share the excess benefits to other nations. Like any system that is comprised of small and large mechanisms to help it function, it’s only fair to let the nations – small and large –work on the parts that are most compatible with them. Also, don’t let the smaller nations toil on the larger parts while allowing the larger, more capable nations to tinker with the smaller parts; that’s just… wrong.
Basically, what this all boils down to is that nations must be well-aware of how much they’re emitting before touting their efforts of cutting those emissions. It will only be an achievement if one manages to completely balance out their emissions to the point that no more is produced, and it will be even a bigger achievement if they actually went into overdrive and removed the excess carbon from the atmosphere. If neither of the two checks out, then there’s no point in blaming another nation for their lax effort. Because if the finger-pointing and self-praising take up the more serious global issue at hand, there would come a time when the vulnerable nations wouldn’t be there to pick up the pieces.