Roundtable: Will developing countries act on latest climate warning?

Following the launch of the IPCC climate report, we ask what the findings mean for China, India and Brazil

The importance of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels was underscored in an October 8 report by the United Nation’s leading authority on climate change.

Produced by 91 top climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report examines the differing impacts of 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming, and outlines what actions are needed to meet the lower temperature target.

The report says countries must stop burning fossil fuels completely by 2030 if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

It calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” from energy to transport and agricultural systems. This will require an estimated global investment of US$2.4 trillion dollars a year and more ambitious action than many countries committed to under the Paris Agreement.

To gauge the impacts of the report findings on large developing countries that have growing economies – and rising greenhouse gas emissions – chinadialogue spoke to a range of experts.

Jiang Kejun, researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission’s Energy Research Institute, and one of the Chinese authors of the report

The IPCC’s report sets out a clear pathway – to limit temperature increases to 1.5C, the world must achieve carbon neutrality (net zero emissions) by 2050. There is little time to do so and the transition would need to be extremely rapid. So, how to handle such a rapid transition is crucial.

I’m not particularly worried about technical feasibility; existing technology is already able to achieve the 1.5C target. But that rapid transition will cause unemployment and the loss of traditional industries so it needs to be carefully managed.

As stressed in the report, limiting temperature increases will benefit humanity, especially in China’s case. For example, China’s low-carbon businesses are already world leaders, while, global mitigation and adaptation efforts are particularly beneficial for China’s exports and technological and economic development.

Looking forward, China is expected to overtake the US and become the world’s largest economy by 2040. It will be beneficial for China if at that time we have a peaceful and less disaster-prone world, so tackling climate change is in line with China’s long term goals. I hope China will put tougher climate targets in place.

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at Independent University, Bangladesh

The IPCC scientists have laid out what needs to be done to achieve the 1.5 degree target in the short time window left to decarbonise the global economy: stopping use of fossil fuels and switching to 100% renewable energy. I believe that this future will be led by the major developing countries such as China, India and Brazil who are already on track to make the transition, but they need to accelerate their efforts. The report has rung the bell loud and clear on what is now a planetary emergency and everyone needs to heed the call.

Fu Sha, assistant researcher at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation

The report reminds us that temperatures have already risen by 1C and even if we stop emissions today temperatures and sea levels will continue to rise. Achieving the 1.5C target would require a comprehensive transition, affecting everything. But looking at the current Nationally Determined Contributions (national plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, known as NDCs), we are still far from the easier target of limiting increases to 2C by 2030. So while there’s still hope for 1.5C, it would be hugely difficult.

This report takes a global view and does not cover regional or national circumstances. But China should regard the report as a warning; we need to better understand the position we’re in. China will update its NDC in 2020 and will also need to submit a long-term strategy running up to 2050. That scientific research will inform China’s carbon reduction targets and bolster our climate policy efforts.

Climate change is not just a long-term issue – it’s one that all of us need to act on today


Joanna Haigh, professor of atmospheric physics at Imperial College London, and co-director of the Grantham Institute of Climate Change and the Environment, London

China’s economic growth has been remarkable but the associated increase in CO2 emissions means that it now leads the world in this undesirable ranking. While the size of the population makes this understandable it should be noted that China’s emissions per person are now higher than those of EU nations.

Its investment in renewable energy systems has been phenomenal, and the plateauing of CO2 emissions since about 2012 is welcome, so I am sure we can look forward to China playing a leading role in meeting the targets set out in the IPCC report, and particularly the ambition for net zero emissions before the end of the century.

India is at an earlier stage of modernisation, and its per person emissions currently low (about one quarter those of China), but rapid economic development, and a population nearly the size of China’s, will inevitably mean an increase. Nevertheless, it has plans to abandon the build of new coal-fired power stations and significant investment in renewables, particularly solar, so with further political determination could move fast towards its decarbonisation targets.

Brazil is in yet another situation in which its very successful work since 2005 to address deforestation, a major cause of carbon dioxide increases, has stalled and maybe even reversed. This is a serious concern.

Inés Camilloni, professor, Centro de Investigaciones del Mar y la Atmósfera and contributor to the impacts section of the IPCC report, Buenos Aires

Developing countries are now on the same level as the big polluters. If they are not involved [in aligning decarbonisation to a 1.5°C pathway] like Europe or the US, it will be difficult to reach [an] agreement.

The discussion of “common but differentiated responsibilities” regarding emissions reductions has to remain in the past. All countries must discuss finance, as developing nations will need support. The report does not tell each country what it has to do, it shows on a global scale the road ahead.

Shyla Raghav, climate change lead, Conservation International, Virginia

The report represents a sobering reminder of why climate change is not just a long-term issue – it’s one that all of us need to act on today.

We’ve seen recently that acting on climate change does not need to come at the expense of economic growth. In fact, it makes financial sense and any kind of development will be impossible without addressing climate change. Large developing countries like China, India, and Brazil must lead the way in creating a new development paradigm that is climate-resilient.

Chen Ying, researcher with the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and lead author with the IPCC Working Group III, contributing to the IPCC’s Fifth and Sixth Assessment Reports.

The report will certainly improve understanding of this, but there won’t be an immediate impact on climate talks and action. For China the 1.5C target serves to raise our aim – we may not reach it, but in the attempt we are more likely to hit the 2C target.

‘Sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty’ are featured in one of the report’s headings, and it is increasingly necessary to discuss climate change within a framework of sustainability. We can’t look solely at climate change only in terms of climate change – we need to stress sustainable development, fairness, alleviating poverty.

The report states that poor policy could result in trade-offs between tackling climate change and poverty, hunger and energy accessibility targets, and we need to be wary of that. That kind of analysis should be encouraged because it takes everyone’s needs into account, particularly the developing nations.

Liu Bin, Tsinghua University’s Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, former member of the Chinese climate change talks delegation

The report will help the world maintain climate change efforts and promote the creation of a low-carbon and green society, which is all to the good.

The Chinese government’s own climate change targets and commitments have been set scientifically, in line with the country’s stage of development and circumstances, and after rigorous calculations. Those won’t change just because of the new discussion of the 1.5C target. Similarly, if climate targets were relaxed, China would not respond by easing its own efforts. I think the Chinese government will remain steadfast in working towards its own low-carbon development goals.

Luke Harrington, post-doctoral research fellow and college lecturer, The Environmental Change Institute, the University of Oxford

Emerging economies are crucial. I think it’s widely agreed that well-developed countries (in the EU, Australasia and the US) should be setting much more ambitious mitigation targets than low-income nations, which must consider other, often conflicting, requirements for continued economic development.

Emerging economies like China, India and Brazil largely dictate whether or not global temperatures can be conceivably stabilised within the next several decades.