“The global impact of carbon pricing” - Navi Pillay - Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and supporter of stoglobalwarming.eu

Navi Pillay is the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - this is the full transcript of her speech during “The Paris Agreement 5 years later”, the event organised by EUMANS and StopGlobalWarming.eu.

Thank you very much Marco, and thank you for having me and you have my signature (for the ECI) in spirit actually.

So as it was already said, I was the High Commission of Human Rights during the years leading up to the preparation of two important instruments: the Development Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

The human rights office worked very hard to ensure that human rights are centralised and made integral to development and climate safeguards, that consultation with affected populations, especially indigenous and local communities, is prioritised and that there be collective dialogue and action among governments, business and civil society organisations.

The office of the High Commissioner published guidelines for local stakeholder consultations to ensure adequate public participation in climate change projects. Coming from South Africa I am also particularly concerned with developing countries challenges and how best the populations there can benefit and be included in this whole process. African populations are largely poverty-stricken from years of unbridled exploitation of their natural resources by multinational corporations. 

So we all welcome the Paris Climate Agreement. I agree that it marked a turning point for international climate action. For the very first time all nations came together in the common cause of overcoming climate change. The Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees centigrade, above pre-industrial levels.

Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the Agreement provide for enhanced cooperation among states to climate change mitigation, including through market-based approaches such as carbon pricing. 

Carbon pricing has been hailed by scientists and Nobel laureates as the most cost effective and flexible way to achieve emission reduction. The promise of the Paris agreement was that carbon pricing can promote sustainable development goals by channelling financing through sustainable development projects. To generate revenues which can be recycled into the green economy through government spending on research and developing green technology helping vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change, or managing the economic impacts of the transition to low carbon economy.

The promise of carbon pricing was also that it will promote environmental health, economic and social benefits, ranging from public health benefits emerging from reduced air pollution to green job creation. I think that the European Citizen Initiative has an important role in connecting the dots so that civil society the world over will understand how these benefits will actually reach them. 

Carbon pricing is advancing rapidly as an incentive to climate action. By 2020 25% of global emissions are expected to be under some carbon pricing mechanism. A significant number of non-annex countries under the UNFCCC are following carbon pricing. I don't want to list them all, but recently the V20, a group of 20 developing countries who are vulnerable to climate change, announced its intention to adopt carbon pricing by 2025. An increasing number of countries, I won’t list them, have announced ambitious goals for carbon neutrality by setting net zero emission targets for 2050. 

These are all very welcome signs and a most encouraging step that other states may want to emulate is that China, currently responsible for 28% of the world CO2 emissions, announced that it will reduce these emissions to net zero. This step alone is expected to reduce by 0.3% centigrade the projected global temperature.

However, concerns remain over the uncertainties surrounding extra territorial emissions. There is a need for domestic regulation of environmental impacts of overseas investments. 

Then of course, we heard about the withdrawal by the US from the Paris Agreement for the past four years, so now we can welcome the indication given by President-elect Joe Biden that he will reconsider the US withdrawal.

These are all welcome steps. 

Scientists are warning us that humanity faces a climate emergency. Under the Paris Agreement for climate change, rich countries undertook to provide 100 million dollars a year to help developing countries limit their own climate pollution and adapt to the heatwaves, storms and sea level rises underway. 

The UN Secretary General warns that there will be irreversible impacts that would be absolutely devastating to the world economy and human life, if carbon neutrality by 2050 is not acted on. The trillions of dollars he says now being invested provided to (Covid) pandemic-battered economies, must also be spent in a green way, or today's younger generations will inherit a wrecked planet.

So, five years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, questions are being asked on whether carbon tax is indeed the most powerful way to combat climate change, or whether it is just an unnecessary cost-factor increasing price levels and bringing disadvantages into competing environments? Can the 2050 climate targets be feasibly realised without damage to the economy? These are some of the questions I'm hearing which I think we should apply our minds to. 

The EU noted on December 21st 2020 that the global average carbon price is currently only $2 a tonne, far below what the plan needs. An IMF global study in 2019 states that the price should be $75 per tonne by 2030, in order to have a meaningful impact.

The reported knowledge is that such a price will drive-up energy costs associated with fossil fuels. But, it concludes nevertheless, that the money could be used to cut other taxes and generate billions of  new jobs if properly deployed. That hopeful suggestion then takes us into areas of good governance for instance. 

The promise of the creation of billions of jobs is offered as the incentive in the new development and climate mechanisms, and is understandably seen as a cruel illusion by starving unemployed populations for my continent.

This is especially grotesque now, in the face of the food and unemployment crisis brought on by Covid 19.

This leads me to look at carbon pricing in developing countries. 

Civil society organisations, and I have consulted with quite a few of them, such as Democracy Works Foundation in Johannesburg, are questioning the relevance of high levels of policy convergence language which revolves around generic concepts. They ask how are these understood by indigenous and local communities.

A tendency towards technocratic solutions to climate change using technical quantifiable data, while important, neglects the cultural and place-specific experience of climate change impacts. 

Shifts towards decentralisation, have been driven by a new governance agenda that argues for increased autonomy of local authorities that are closer to the realities of local populations, allowing for increased participation of local actors, increased responsibilities to local realities and more sustainable development agendas.

Of course it is accepted that market-based instruments such as carbon pricing are useful for financing the type of sustainable infrastructure development to drive inclusive economic growth, add adaptation and mitigation in African states. But these do come with challenges.

If I look at my own country, well firstly no country in Sub-Saharan Africa has put in place a price on carbon. The South African Treasury is putting in place a carbon tax at a proposed rate of 120 rand per tonne of CO2 emissions. That is about US$7. They are putting that tax where up to 95% rebates will be allowed.

Secondly African countries often lack the institutional and legal frameworks to trade carbon, but alignment within regional development communities offers an opportunity to address this. 

Thirdly Africa's share of the carbon market remains relatively low, despite its relatively high renewable energy potential. 261 clean development mechanism projects are from Africa.

Fourthly, African countries have generally stuck to compliance with markets linked to the Kyoto Protocol, CDM’s, joint implementation and the emission trading system. However, less than 1% of the voluntary carbon finance has come to Africa.

A report prepared in 2019 by WWF South Africa noted, and I quote, ‘the global carbon market has failed to count all the external costs of carbon emissions and has therefore failed to deliver economic efficiency and sustainable behaviour.’ The report concluded that in South Africa compliance and voluntary carbon carbon credit trading present challenges.

The state fuel body ESCOM/ESKOM (?) and non-renewable energy provision are responsible for the bulk of South Africa’s emission. This will create a relatively small market for carbon credits outside the energy sector at current rates of 120 rand per tonne.

Civil society leadership is needed to facilitate participation around the prioritisation of development outcomes and investment areas, such as small-scale incremental projects for pooled carbon credit trading.

The South African governments national climate change adaptation strategy was made public on 18th August 2020. The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries confirmed the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and to the aim to reduce vulnerability of society, of the environment and the economy to the effects of climate change.

The strategy gives effect to the national planning division of creating, I quote, ‘a low carbon climate resilient economy and a just society. The minister stressed, that adaptation remains a critical area for developing countries and she hoped that there will be a higher commitment at COP 26 in 2021, for all the elements of the Paris Agreement; that is mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation.

The minister noted that to achieve this, they will require additional, predictable and adequate financing, technology and capacity building for mitigation as well as adaptation support, including securing carbon market share of the proceeds. This she said will enable the country to ensure that food production is not threatened, infrastructure is resilient and sustainable economic development ensures.

So there we are, many challenges in disadvantaged countries, which are nevertheless committed to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Thank you.