Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Net-zero emissions target is unjust for developing countries


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kyoto Protocol

Mains level : Paper 3- How net-zero emission targets are unjust for developing countries

The article explains why the net-zero emission targets are unjust for developing countries like India.

Understanding climate justice

  • The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) based on historical responsibility have been the bedrock of climate actions under the UNFCCC ever since 1992.
  • Based on these principles in Paris Agreement, developed countries promised to deliver higher finance commitment by 2025 and a more facilitative technology regime, apart from leading mitigation actions.
  • Developing countries agreed to take legal obligation that entails undertaking domestic mitigation measures and reporting on their implementation as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).
  • These are also the central pillars on which India’s call for climate justice is premised.

How India is leading by example

  • Indian government introduced climate sensitivity in domestic policies.
  • Climate sensitivity is reflected in interventions like energy for all, housing for all, health insurance and crop insurance, action like the “Clean India” and “give it up” campaigns, popularising yoga and sustainable lifestyle practices.
  • Together, these initiatives ensure climate justice to the vulnerable and poor sections that are worst hit by climate change.
  • While the rich were cajoled to move towards sustainable living, the poor were provided with the safety nets to fight climate change.

Addressig 3 aspects of climate justice

  • In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished three forms of justice, namely distributive, commutative and corrective. 
  • With the onset of the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, it would be useful to take stock of how well the global community is addressing these three aspects of justice.

1) Distributive justice

  • Distributive justice pertains to how resources should be distributed in terms of principles of equality, equity and merit.
  • For climate change, the most important resource is the global carbon space.
  • The developed countries continue to corner a lion’s share of the carbon space for their luxurious consumption while they goad developing countries to cut their emissions emanating from even basic needs.
  • Therefore, the focus should be on ensuring ambitious climate action by developed countries in the near-term to ensure distributive climate justice.

2) Commutative justice

  • In the climate change discourse, commutative justice refers to the honouring of past commitments in good faith.
  • The Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997 was a historic turning point with legally binding targets for industrialised countries to reduce overall GHG emissions.
  • However, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that commits developed country parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 18 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 only entered into force in December 2020, just one day before its expiry.
  • These targets unambitious and grossly inadequate to meet the principal objective of UNFCCC.
  • Also, several developed countries backtracked and refused to take on any targets in the second commitment period.
  • The developed country delivery of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building support to developing countries is also not up to the mark.
  • The fulfilment of these past commitments would be a critical precursor to any enhancement of climate ambition by developing countries.

3) Corrective justice

  • Corrective justice pertains to the righting of wrongs.
  • Climate justice demands that every individual who is born on this earth has a right to development and dignified living.
  • For this, developed countries need to repay the climate debt by shouldering greater mitigation responsibilities and providing finance, technology and capacity-building support.

Consider the question “Why net zero emission targets are considered to be unjust for developing countries?”


So, while many herald the call for net zero by 2050 as a positive signal in avoiding runaway climate breakdown, in reality it delays climate action by developed countries and is being used to evade historical responsibility and transfer burdens to developing countries.

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