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Climate action in the Global South: is net zero (sufficiently) inclusive?

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

In our most recent Colloquium, Dr. Jessica Omukuti joined us from Oxford University's Insitute for Science, Innovation, and Society to discuss her research on the concept of net zero, a process of balancing carbon emissions and sinks/capture methods to reach a global net zero of carbon emissions.

"Climate change is everyone's reality, but more for some than for others", opens Dr. Omukuti, and she's right. The Global South, defined in this talk geographically including Africa, South America, and Southern Asia, faces far worse consequences in the near-term effects of climate change including flooding,

extreme temperatures, coastal degradation, and other natural disasters. However, it is also well-known that countries in the Global South pollute far less than those in the Global North, which accounts for 92% of global excess carbon emissions. Citizens in the United States also waste about twice as much as those in the Global South, respectfully.

"Climate change is everyone's reality, but more for some than for others" - Jessica Omukuti

The concept of net zero, thrown around by the Global North in climate change treaties like the Paris Agreement, lacks the ability to take into account statistics like pollution per capita, confusing concepts of climate responsibility.

In the global community, international players are thinking about what countries' responsibility it is to clean up their act first-- with the U.S. as an immense polluter and international influence, developing countries in the Global South have to reckon with climate action hypocrisy on a global scale.

The Paris Agreement, the international climate agreement put forth by the United Nations in 2016, discusses a global "peak" of greenhouse gas (GHG) usage, emphasizing that reaching the peak is essential to commit to an international reduction in GHGs. That peak in GHGs is more achievable for some than for others. In developing countries, fossil fuels represent the only way to move forward, which in a capitalist economy is essential for the wellbeing of citizens and overall economic strength. Although the UN acknowledges this in its agreement, it is hardly a fair playing field.

Recommendations of 2-degree warming continue from the scientific community, which would require a drastic behavioral change from the Global North, that is not on a path to net zero. Furthermore, developing countries require different solutions to the global carbon problem than developed do, making international commitments even harder.

This power struggle, Dr. Omukuti explains, makes the Global South a reactionary player in international climate conversations. Without drastic and immediate action from the Global North, the Global South will continue to see climate action as paying for wrongs they didn't cause. Additionally, Dr. Omukuti emphasized that the weaponization of climate strategies against the Global South ruins international relationships and comradery, pitting international powers against each other.

This power struggle, Dr. Omukuti explains, makes the Global South a reactionary player in international climate conversations.

International recognition of the Global South's need to continue developing must be pushed to the front of the climate conversation, in addition to listening to the Global South about solutions that work for the unique circumstances presented there. Different solutions that work for developing countries have to be included in climate commitments that recognize the need for equity and fair treatment, which in many cases may mean the Global North pursuing far more strategies than currently committed to.

To listen to this talk and find out more, head over to our Youtube page. Thanks to our partner, Shareable, you can find this talk as a podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Jessica Omukuti is a Research Fellow on Inclusive Net Zero for the Oxford Net Zero Initiative and is based at the Institute of Science Innovation and Technology (InSIS). Her work involves engaging with actors in the Global South to outline what Net Zero means and Inclusivity can be embedded into Net Zero policies and practices in the Global South.

Jessica is also an ESRC COP26 fellow based at the University of York. Her research focuses on the delivery of climate finance for adaptation to climate change, specifically using the Green Climate Fund as a case study.

Jessica’s research expertise is on climate justice and equity, climate finance, climate change adaptation, and just transitions in the Global South. She holds a Ph.D. in climate justice and climate finance from the University of Reading (2020), an MSc in Climate Change and Development from the University of Sussex, and a BSc in Meteorology from the University of Nairobi. She is a climate advisor at CHOOOSE, which is a Carbon Offsets company based in Norway. Jessica is also a Book Review Editor for Progress in Development Studies.

She has previously worked at the Green Climate Fund which is an international climate finance institution. She has also worked in NGOs such as Mercy Corps and CARE International in sub-Saharan Africa where she led development and resilience programs in the region.


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