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OPINION: BRICS and emission reduction

The following is an opinion piece by Robin Guenier. Please note that the views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author's and not of OxCAN.

BRICS and emission reduction

‘BRICS’ is the acronym for an economic bloc of five major non-Western countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Neatly spanning the world, it comprises 41% of the world’s population, 24% of global GDP and 44% of global GHG emissions. Developing countries follow its lead. Its position on climate change was epitomised by its response in 2019 to UN Secretary General António Guterres’ call (re a UN ‘action summit’ to be held in New York later that year) for ‘all leaders to come to the Summit ready to announce the plans that they will set next year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050’.[1] But the BRICS countries showed no serious interest (and announced no plans), simply reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement, ‘including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’.[2] In other words, they were in effect insisting that they should continue to be exempt from any reduction obligation. Nothing seems to have changed since then. At a summit on 17th November the BRICS countries stated their priorities for a forthcoming G20 meeting. They identified for example recovery from COVID-19, terrorism and the protection of trade multilateralism. Climate change wasn’t mentioned.[3]

Photo credit: Flickr, GovernmentZA

The new US administration seems ready to face up to this problem. In a short speech on 24th November, John Kerry (Biden’s new ‘climate envoy’) noted that the USA (responsible for only 13% of global emissions) cannot alone solve the challenge, that the whole world must come together to end the crisis, that Paris is not enough and that, at the Glasgow summit next year ‘All nations must raise ambition together, or we will all fail together. Failure is not an option’.[4]

Can the US do any better than the UN? It won’t be easy: persuading major non-Western countries – Russia and China in particular – to change their priorities will be a massive challenge. I believe it would be a significant feather in OxCAN's cap if we were able to propose anything that might help – perhaps via the recently launched Oxford Net Zero initiative.[5]

Any ideas? Robin Guenier: 29 November 2020

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