After a series of back-to-back scorching days around the world that broke temperature records, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday that the Earth’s average temperature was the highest on record in early July – the latest in a series of alarming (but not surprising) signs that the planet is already very hot and that greenhouse gas emissions must drop sharply.
However, underdeveloped and developing economies often argue that they have less responsibility due to their low historical contribution and current emissions per capita.
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Does this mean that the energy transition of these economies can wait? Not really. A transition in the G20 developing economies alone could be one of the fastest ways to reduce emissions. However, even this scenario implies that developed economies pay for their historical emissions, because these economies cannot finance such a transition themselves. Here are three tables that explain it.
Developing economies and current emissions…
Developing economies are right to say that historically they are not responsible for the current climate crisis in the world. The two most populous of them – India and China – have contributed only about 18% of total fossil emissions since 1850, while they currently account for 36% of the world’s population. However, this does not mean that these countries will remain unimportant in the trajectory of the climate crisis. In 2021, these two countries accounted for 38% of fossil emissions; while all G20 developing economies taken together contributed 53%. Clearly, a large portion of future emissions will come from developing countries, and they will continue to define the battle against the global climate crisis unless this trend changes.
…although developing countries are energy efficient right now
It may seem obvious that developing economies emit more because they consume more fossil fuels. However, this is not a completely direct correlation. An example should clarify this. Renewable energies accounted for 20% of the energy mix in 2020 for Mexico and Russia, the first being a developing country and the second a country in transition. However, Mexicans emitted only 2.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita during the year, while Russians emitted 10.8 tonnes of CO2 per capita. In fact, an analysis of 21 emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) shows that the share of renewables in the energy mix bears almost no relation to emissions per capita. Indeed, the poorest economies generally consume less electricity per person.
For example, Mexicans’ per capita electricity consumption was only about a third of that of Russians. Therefore, while the share of renewables in the energy mix has no relationship to per capita emissions, per capita electricity consumption from fossil fuels does. This means that the “emissions per capita” argument that developing economies currently use weakens as they grow. Indeed, the demand for electricity and energy per capita increases as countries become richer. The data for the 21 economies (this also applies to the world in general) also shows that electricity consumption per capita is higher among economies with higher GDP per capita.
Transitioning now can keep emissions low
The arguments above make it clear that an energy transition now will help keep emissions low even as today’s developing economies become developed tomorrow.
What will it take?
A report released by the International Energy Agency in June shows that EMDEs have invested US$770 billion in different aspects of the energy transition – such as power generation and distribution, phasing out fossil fuels and efficient energy use by households and industries – in 2022. is to increase to $2.2 trillion per year at 2022 prices during the period 2026-2030 and thereafter to $2.8 trillion per year. year at 2022 prices during the period 2031-2035 (and remain at this level until 2050) to limit warming in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5°C. If China is excluded from this group, the increase will have to be even larger proportionally: $260 billion in 2022 to $1.9 trillion.