In April 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires the global economy to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Despite a multitude of pledges to decarbonise over this timescale, we are still on course for global warming above 1.5 °C. Therefore, to deliver the Paris Agreement, we need more ambitious and credible targets from the major emitters, but what role do developing nations play in the race to net zero?
The G77 is the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the UN, made up of 134 countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, and DR Congo. Many of them are formerly colonised countries which, despite producing only a small proportion of historic emissions, now face the brunt of the harmful impacts of climate change such as the devastating floods that submerged one third of Pakistan earlier this year.
At this time, net zero targets from national governments cover at least 83% of global greenhouse gas emissions (up from 61% in December 2020). To make a rapid and just transition to net zero, however, no country can be left behind. The Global North must recommit to delivering the climate finance and capacity-building required for the Global South to achieve a net zero transition.
Despite culpability for the global carbon debt falling heavily on the Global North countries, developed countries currently lack enough green financing to fund the developing world’s transition. Wealthier countries are still $75bn short of the $100bn a year they promised to provide between 2020 and 2025. Given this major shortfall in finance, one might expect Global South countries to be reticent to set net zero targets, yet the pace of net zero adoption in the developing world has been surprisingly rapid.
As of April 2023, Net Zero Tracker records that 97% of the G77 have committed to a form of climate pledge. Of the 134 countries in the G77, 78 countries have agreed to net zero, including 64 who have pledged to do so by 2050. The presence of interim targets, which enable transparent evaluation of short-term progress to 2030, is also high. Encouragingly, 95% of the G77 with net zero as their end goal have committed to interim targets. This is compared to 71% of countries who have committed to interim targets when looking at all climate targets set by the G77, highlighting the reliability of net zero as an end target for the G77.
Importantly, nearly one-third (44) of G77 targets also include an equity dimension. These commitments, such as those considering inclusive workforce transitions into green jobs, for instance, are important factors for countries to successfully achieve buy-in from their populations. Among those countries with an equity dimension in their net zero target, 29 also have a detailed published plan in place. Multi-decade transition plans are a clear signal of sincere net zero commitments, explaining processes such as how entities will cut emissions and the associated costs of doing so.
Despite the green shoots of ambition identified above, our analysis suggests the current robustness of targets within the G77 is lower than that of developed countries. This current level of ambition will not bring us to net zero. For example, across the G77, Cambodia is the only country that has an accountability mechanism in place to underpin its net zero pledge, which is vital for structuring consistent, public reporting on progress. Just one country, Fiji, has implemented its net zero target in law. This is arguably unsurprising, given the broken promises of green finance from the developed world, without the certainty of which G77 countries cannot fully operationalise their commitments.
On a positive note, a handful of countries across the globe have already reached net zero - and the majority of these are in the G77: Bhutan, Gabon, Comoros, Guyana, and Suriname have all self-declared net zero. These countries are situated in heavily forested environments which act as carbon sinks, and often have limited industrialisation and a priority for ecological protection.
The breakthrough agreement achieved at COP27 to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters can in time help to bridge the funding gap. However, the Global North cannot wait for this funding to be supplied and distributed. To build the necessary capacity for countries of the Global South to strengthen their net zero commitments, existing financing models must be scaled up.
The Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETP), a funding model wherein G77 countries aid the replacement of fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy, can become a major step forward in moving countries from targets to action. The G77 countries which are negotiating or have struck the first JETP deals include South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India, countries which all have net zero targets and huge renewable energy potential. This correlation between target-setting and gaining financial support suggests that countries with clear net zero plans are more attractive to outside investment. Another possible financing model is the ‘debt for climate swap’. African nations, for example, are carrying both unassailable levels of historic debt and suffering some of the worst global financial losses from extreme weather events. For G77 member Ethiopia, climate-related costs make up 17% of its spending. At a time when financing is scarce, reducing the debt of developing countries in exchange for green investments and commitments to a net zero journey is another scalable solution to the funding gap.
Net zero holds enormous potential as a lifeline for ambitions of a 1.5°C world, especially given the good faith that the G77 has shown in setting targets at a similar pace to the Global North. Nevertheless, to break the current stalemate, the Global South and Global North must coalesce to collectively find solutions which render net zero synonymous with clean economic growth and prosperity.
Phoebe Reid reads Biology at New College. She’s interested in the natural world and how humans are altering it.
Art by Karolina Uskakovych.