03 December 2007

Climate change: Who pays?

In the lead-up to the UNFCCC Bali conference, many of the difficult issues facing negotiators have been reported in the press. Many of the issues deal with the question 'Who pays?', which is discussed in the following. The answers thus far are all over the map and depend on where on the map you are. Most nations support calls for action, but few seem willing to lead. I fear that many are still underestimating the enormity and urgency of the situation. For instance, there is little agreement on what constitutes dangerous climate change.

Many developing nations say the “rich” countries should pay. India is pledging to keep its per-capita emissions lower than those of the rich world. China argues that global warming is primarily the fault of Western industrialised nations and they should be made to bear the brunt of cleanup costs. Other Latin American nations, including Brazil, offer much the same rationale.

Many of the developed world nations brings similarly short-sighted reasons primarily based on their self interest and a perceived financial threat. The United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol primarily because China is exempted from greenhouse gas reductions. Canada, once a world leader in environmental issues, has lost its way , a result heavily influenced by industry interests. Until recently Australia followed a similar path to the US, but the newly elected government is seeking to remedy this situation. Japan and Europe are meeting their obligations under the treaty through purchase/transfer of carbon credits and have been generally willing participants and leaders on the issue.

There is merit in the arguments of both rich and poor countries. Rich countries did create most of the problem, largely through energy intensive, wasteful consumer-driven lifestyles. This story on the desire for perceived bargains shows that we are generally unwilling to give up this lifestyle. This report, issued in the US, holds out the idea that CO2 can be reduced without a change to the consumer lifestyles. (What about the rest of the environment?). This lifestyle choice perpetuates the problem. At the same time, nations like China and India can do more. While their per capita numbers are low, those two nations are quite high in total emissions, ranking among the developed nations. This is a result of the environmental issue that is rarely discussed: overpopulation.

In the rich nations, there is an obligation to lead, assist developing nations with adaptation and technology transfer, and to change our lifestyles to something more ecologically sustainable. Repairing the environmental damage within those countries is also an obligation. In developing nations, the onus is to prevent future environmental damage (e.g. avoid deforestation), reduce population growth and develop sustainable economies, with the assistance of the rich nations. All nations need to act in concert to deal with the increasing number of natural disasters and to be willing to welcome and accept climate refugees as the need arises.

As it stands now, the various attitudes displayed by the 'two sides' reflect a deep disconnect with reality and a general failure to truly grasp the scale of the problem. Instead, the focus is only blame (and the avoidance thereof). The truth is we all have a moral obligation to do what we can. None of us are free from blame, and it is a pointless waste of time to partition it out. We all have to live with the consequences of climate chaos and we all need to bear the cost, each according to their ability.

1 comment:

Jai said...

Getting any two or more parties to agree on anything is an act of negotiation. No-one at the IPCC or UNFCC appears to see this.

If they (the scientists and UN'ers) state (rightly or wrongly) that doing 'X' will fix the problem, no government will sign-up for it politically unless
a) they can convince the public of the COST/benefit
and more importanlty
b) they can be sure of holding to any measurable commitments.

Reducing CO2 by 1% is a 'vague' target. It does tell how it will be achieved.
Reducing Co2 by 40% has to be an unrealistic target. Common sense says no government will sign for that.

The key point on negotiation is to get agreement to do something as a first step.
Dont fix the big problem.
Take the first step.