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Awaiting Jamaica’s emissions policy and its targets

Thursday, April 20, 2017    

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The Jamaica Observer reported on February 8, 2017 that the Cabinet has given instructions to develop a national policy for emissions in Jamaica. On Wednesday, April 12, 2017 the Observer then reported that Jamaica ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change on March 30, 2017. There is an obvious connection between the creation of the emissions policy, the ratification of the Paris Agreement and the country’s climate change and development strategies.

The creation of the emissions policy is a welcomed strategy that will assist in mitigating against this phenomenon and the expected impacts that it will have on Jamaica. This will be accentuated by Jamaica’s quest to become a developed country by 2030, as is outlined in the Vision 2030 National Development Plan. Reaching developed country status will require an increase in economic activities, and these activities will require different, and in some cases, high levels of GHG emissions, if fossil fuel is the main energy source being considered to support these developments.

The crafters of Jamaica’s emissions policy will need to carefully consider emission targets and acceptable correlated levels of temperature rise, which has been and continues to be the subject of many discussions worldwide. Over two decades ago, the European Union (EU) introduced a 2°C global average temperature rise increase target, when compared to average pre-industrial levels. This target, when calculated, is correlated to keeping the concentration of GHG emissions in the atmosphere to 450 ppm (parts per million) CO2e (measure of GHGs, when compared to carbon dioxide) (Syri, 2008).

Similarly, the United Kingdom Government-commissioned Stern Review suggested the adoption of targets that correspond to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at ranges between 450 ppm CO2e and 550 ppm CO2e, which would also keep long-term temperature changes below 2oC, when compared to pre-industrial levels. James Hansen, the climate scientist who is often referred to as the “grandfather of climate science”, suggests that mitigation policy measures should be geared towards the reduction of CO2 (not including other GHGs) concentrations to at most 350 ppm (parts per million) by 2100.


At the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) held in December 2015, signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including Jamaica, agreed to the stipulations of the now ratified Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep global rises in temperature below 2°C, above pre-industrial levels by the end of 2100.

This essentially means that 197 countries globally, including Jamaica, will voluntarily seek to limit emissions and, by extension, temperature rise to meet the desired target through the implementation of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) as well as other policies and programmes. This is commendable. However, both developed and least developed countries will find some level of difficulty adhering to the target set under the agreement, due to its practicality and respective economic activities, both present and/or proposed.

Jamaica, in our quest to achieve developed country status, will find it challenging, although not impossible, to craft an emissions policy that will incorporate the balance that is critical for its future development, while seeking to reach the endorsed target under the Paris Agreement.

Assessment of past and present levels of emissions suggest that reaching the Paris Agreement target would have meant a complete global shift from fossil fuel use to renewables and other cleaner forms of energy over two years ago. It would also require past and existing technology that will continue to remove significant amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, along with other measures.

It is also critical to point out that the proven fossil fuel reserves globally are still at levels that will result in emission levels and corresponding temperature rises above 2°C, if extracted. The most recent International Energy Agency report stated that in spite of growth in the global economy, carbon dioxide emissions from energy have not increased over the last three years. Notwithstanding the stability, the agency also cautioned that this recent pause in emissions is not sufficient to meet the globally agreed temperature rise target under the Paris Agreement.

The 2oC target outlined in the Paris Agreement is preferred as research by scientists warn that warming beyond this point will result in dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, that will be difficult to reverse. Although there are a number of limitations associated with achieving this target, getting countries worldwide to agree and to get ratification from some of the major emitters was not an easy undertaking; and commitment to a benchmark target is laudable.

Despite the shortcomings that are associated with actually reaching 2°C and the fact that the Paris Agreement does not formulate country-specific emission targets, Jamaica’s emissions policy should incorporate measures that are pointed to at least reaching close to the stated 2°C target by 2100. An option worth considering is the institution of a combination of targets to be staggered and imposed over time that incorporates the sensitivity of the climate system, tipping points and the corresponding feedback.

Expected ranges of emission that are correlated to our desired levels of economic growth to achieve vision 2030, major proposed development projects, as well as planned activities in all sectors in the country should also be accounted for.

Funding is a crucial element in the country’s adaptive capacity and will affect the implementation of strategies to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, existing and expected; including the emission policy. Jamaica does not have the financial resources to effectively fund it’s climate change mitigation and adaptation activities and is reliant on external partners, Official Development Assistance, the Least Developed Countries Fund, the financial structures established under the UNFCCC, etc.

Therefore, any established target/s in the emissions policy will have to correlate with our INDC and what was globally ratified, to guarantee continued assistance under these structures. To ensure that this policy and all other climate change mitigation measures are successful, the country will need to take a holistic, integrated approach to dealing with this phenomenon.

This will also require a complete shift in how we carry out development on the island, and will require reshaping of some of the objectives outlined in the stated goal of becoming a developed country by 2030. Will the crafters decide on a feasible target outside of the 2°C and/or the 1.5°C set by the Paris Agreement, or will they ignore the limitations and practicality of reaching the target and fall in line? I await the emissions policy and decided target.

– Donna Miller is employed as an urban planner. She has a Master’s Degree in Climate Change and Development from the University of Reading in England. She is also a 2014/2015 Chevening Scholar. Send comments to donnakamiller@yahoo.com

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