Sunday, December 13, 2009

Copenhagen: The Need to Develop A Fair System

It all started with UNFCCC 1992. The resolution was passed to fight climate change with equitable measures from all nations while recognizing the developmental needs of the developing nations.

The Kyoto protocol of 1997 took the UNFCCC resolution further by creating the carbon market place on the principle of 'Polluter Pays'. The carbon trading market took-off in spite of several developed nations not joining it.

In last few years, the climate change issue has gathered steam and every nation is under the pressure to act. But at the same time every nation wants to adapt the approach taken to tackle climate change to serve its own interest. Lets look at the how the perceptions vary:

  • Is the Per-Capita Emission more relevant or the Emission at Country level:
Per-capita emission of a person in US is 20 times than a person in a developing country. However, US supports lesser percentage of humanity than developing countries like India and China. Hence on national level these countries will have higher emissions in future. So the question is which measure to be used? Per Capita or Per Country? Each measure tilts the scale.
While one decides, bear following in mind:
- Who is the polluting entity? A Country or an Individual? A country does not pollute. Its the individuals and the factories/plants that pollute.
- Can all countries be treated as same? Consider a country with a small population burning coal, oil and gas (a very high per capita emission) but its total emission being less than other larger countries. Is that country therefore, less responsible?
- Effective reinforcement occurs at which level? An individual may self-enforce some bindings but laws are framed and reinforced at country level. Only at a country level policy decisions can be taken which promotes a mass uptake of clean technology.

  • Does past actions have any bearing?
Are the historic emitters who have pumped the carbon in atmosphere have greater responsibility or the responsibility lies now only with the new emitters to pay for the past and future?
The historic emitters (more often developed countries) who have reaped the benefits of increased emission would argue that they are already there. They are first. They cannot roll back. Only developing nations can do that.
However, a developing nation may see this as unfair, as they are not responsbile for the extent of carbon in atmosphere. Why should they pay for it?
An interesting debate brokeout in Germany that whether the citizens in Germany should pay taxes to help developing nations reduce the emissions? Many would say No! Why should we? But the answer from other side will be 'Don't pay us. Instead use that money to reduce your per capita consumption to that of our level'. And interestingly, Kyoto protocol addressed this issue. Realizing that developed nations cannot roll back the polluting technologies based industries and power plants in few years, Kyoto protocol suggested that they provide resources to reduce equivalent emissions in any other part of the world.

  • Are resources available to shift to clean economy?
The shift will require huge resources, both technological and financial. Both of these resources are scarce with developing countries who hold larger potential of mitigation and adaption. So should resources be given to them by developed countries who are enjoying the fruits of a carbon based economic growth?

  • Is climate change the only issue?
Climate change is serious issue but its not an exact science. There are those who challenge it scientifically. However, the issue has been inflated to the extent that several human developmental needs like poverty eradication, education are taking back seat. The developmental needs of poor developing countries is being ignored.

  • The trade angle?
During pre-negotiations at Barcelona, trade issues were being mixed with climate change. Products of a polluting company may cost more and become uncompetitive in market if they are asked to shell out for their emission. And companies in developed countries will suffer more.

  • Sovereignty Issue?
The call for legal bindings on developing countries will be perceived as infringement on their sovereignty. One should not forget that many of the developing countries were under imperial control and will detest any similar control. Further, there has been bad examples set by many developed nations who did not fulfill their obligations under Kyoto protocol and no action was taken against them.

This is a food for thought for anyone who wonders that why the countries are not coming to consensus on a critical issue which challenges the whole mankind. Climate change is a serious issue. No doubt about it. And such serious issue can be combated only through fair and just means. An unfair system will face opposition and fail. The mankind doesn't have time to absorb a failure and then readjust the course in future. The fair system has to be evolved now if one hopes for any serious action by every nation of the world. The UNFCCC was a good start and should be taken further in same spirit without contamination of nation's self-interests.

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