The Paris Agreement’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) had seen 193 Parties pledging emission reduction goals. The UNFCCC’s latest NDC synthesis report projects that the pledges will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 0.3 per cent by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. While such reduction will clearly be an achievement, it will unfortunately fall far short of the 43 per cent emission reduction target that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) urged the world to attain to be on track the 1.50C pathway.
Fossil fuels are largely responsible for global warming. Their primary use is to support global economic development that hinges upon the utilisation of natural resources. Over time, increased production and consumption volumes had placed massive pressure on the environment, thereby generating pressing concerns over resource shortage and rising GHG emissions. This was evidenced in Southeast Asia where the regional carbon emissions have risen by 400 metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2010 and 2018 alongside its growing economy.
The consumption of natural resources is marked by disparities between import-oriented and export-oriented countries, and high-income and low-income countries. For example, in 2019, the material footprints in Northern Africa and Western Africa, and in Europe and Northern America, were higher than their domestic material consumptions. This means that the populations in these regions consumed more resources than what they produced domestically, and the excess consumption was satisfied from imports. The situations were reversed in Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa where the material footprints were lower than domestic material consumption. This implies that a greater volume of goods produced in these regions goes for export instead of being consumed domestically.
In terms of GHG emissions, however, lower income countries that rely on industrialisation to support their economic growth are likely to emit more GHGs compared to higher income countries whose economies comprise mainly of services. International trade thus plays a big role in resource consumption and GHG emissions.
Similar disparities are likewise observed between cities and rural areas. Higher number of populations, greater economic activities and higher purchasing power in cities translate to higher consumption rate.
This phenomenon reflects unequal attribution of responsibilities in addressing environmental concerns and GHG emissions. Thus far, this is translated to developed countries taking the lead in decarbonising their economies and providing financial and technological assistance to developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
In view of GHG emissions, efforts are already in place to switch fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Additionally, the circular economic model has been put forward to taper the rate of resource consumption and achieve a more sustainable production-consumption cycle. However, given the tripling amount of resources used to support economic activities since the 1970s, which has reached about 95 billion metric tonnes in 2019, more initiatives and policies need to be taken to mainstream circular economy at the regional, national and local levels.
With the current pledges in the NDCs set to bring the world to 2.50C of temperature rise at the end of the century, the case for responsible consumption and production is imperative to bring down emissions.