Martin Khor joined as Executive Director of the South Centre on 1 March 2009 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Prior to this, he was the Director of the Third World Network, a leading developing-country civil society organization involved in research and publications in trade, environment and development issues. He was also the Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS). He is a member of many organizations, for example the United Nations Committee on Development Policy. Martin Khor was educated in Economics in Cambridge University and the Universiti Sains Malaysia. He has authored many books and papers on trade, sustainable development, intellectual property rights, and development.
In December, the global climate negotiations are expected to reach its climax point at Copenhagen. A new global deal is supposed to be “sealed”, that will move both developed and developing countries onto intensified actions to counter climate change and its effects.
Unfortunately, it looks as if the Copenhagen conference may be an anti-climax instead. While political leaders have made solemn pledges to do their best, the reality is that these are very complex negotiations involving not only environmental issues but deep-seated economic issues involving the distribution of environmental and economic resources worldwide. To reach a fair and equitable deal is becoming elusive. In recent months, there have been intense pressures to get “advanced developing countries” like China, India, Brazil and others to commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And to shift the blame to them if Copenhagen fails to reach a deal.
But the promised financial and technology transfers to help them shift to a sustainable development path are still nowhere in sight. The amount of funds talked about is too little to be seriously considered.
The United Nations recently estimated that USD 500-600 billion is required by developing countries for mitigation and adaptation annually, and that much of this should be from public funds, in a programme similar in spirit to the Marshall Plan after the Second World War. In contrast, the European Commission (EC) in September proposed that international public financing for climate activities would be 22-50 billion Euros in 2020, of which Europe would fund only 2 to 15 billion Euros.
The EC expects developing countries to get most of their funding from their own domestic resources, or from the carbon market. But an international carbon market is yet to exist and can be expected to face many glitches. For example, how can a developing country plan a reform of its energy or transport sector seriously when the funds it will rely on have to come from the carbon market and there is no way of telling what the price of carbon will be in two years’ time or even six months from now.
It is unfair to expect developing countries to commit to emission reduction before they are assured of the funds and technology they need to change from one production system to another.
Developed countries have a historical responsibility to help developing countries because they are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, they have already taken up most of the “atmospheric space” available.
One key question for the Copenhagen “global deal” is how to assign the emission-reduction task fairly between developed and developing countries. Developed countries are proposing a 50% global greenhouse gases (GHG) emission cut by 2050 (from 38 billion in 1990 to 19.3 billion tonnes in 2050).They are willing to take a 80% cut from 18.3 billion to 3.6 billion tonnes. This proposal implies that developing countries would have to accept a 20% cut from 20 billion to 15.7 billion tonnes. As the population of developing countries is expected to double during that period, they will end up with a 60% cut per capita. And since population size is projected to remain the same in developed countries, their per capita reduction will be the same as their overall reduction at 80%.
It is unfair to ask developing countries to undertake a per capita emission cut just slightly below the cut that developed countries are prepared to make. If developed countries were to make a 100% cut, developing countries would still be required to make a 52% cut per capita. Developed countries would need to reduce their emissions by 213% by 2050, for developing countries to maintain their current per capita emission level. Developed countries would, in other words, need to cut emissions to 0% and create sinks to absorb greenhouse gases equivalent to another 113% of their 1990 emissions.
To both developed and developing countries, this may seem impossible. For developing countries it may seem impossible to achieve economic development while maintaining (instead of increasing) their current, low per-capita level of emissions. For developed countries it may seem impossible to go beyond a 100% emission cut. But it may need two impossibles to make a possible deal.
In order not to exceed the danger level, the world has around 600 billion tonnes of emission of carbon (equivalent to around 2,200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide) to budget between 1800 and 2050. The developed countries have already emitted 240 billion tonnes of carbon between 1800 and 2008. This is far above their “fair share” of 81 billion tonnes in that period (if their emissions had been at the same ratio as their share of world population). From 1800 to 2008, developed countries have a carbon debt of 159 billion tonnes of carbon, or 583 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. And, given the scenario of a 50% global cut and an 85% developed country cut by 2050, they will emit another 85 billion tonnes of carbon between 2009 and 2050. Thus, their total emission would be 325 billion tonnes of carbon from 1800 to 2050. Since their fair share is 125 billion tonnes for this period, they have a “carbon debt” of 200 billion tonnes of carbon.
In a fair climate deal, the historical debt would have to be met, at least through sufficient transfers of finance and technology that would enable developing countries to take their own actions to counter the effects of climate change and to switch to climate-friendly technologies, while maintaining their ability to have adequate economic and social growth and development. Of course, a fair deal also requires developed countries to cut their emissions deeply. The greater the cut, the more will be the atmospheric space left for developing countries. Developing countries have asked that developed countries cut their emissions collectively by at least 40% by 2020 (compared to the 1990 level). The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report has also been interpreted to conclude that developed countries need to cut their emissions by at least 25 to 40% by 2020.
Unfortunately the announcements made by individual developed countries, when added up, only amount to an overall cut of 16 to 23% (excluding the US), according to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) secretariat data, or 11 to 18% (if the US is included), according to another reliable estimate Worse, the developed countries in early October indicated they do not intend to commit themselves to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, which is scheduled to start in 2013. Instead, they intend to switch to another agreement to be created, which will include the US. However the US has made clear that it will not join a treaty which has internationally binding commitments for emission cuts. Thus the likely plan is to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a much weaker agreement in which developed countries will merely make pledges to cut emissions by a rate that their national government or parliament decides on.
It is most unfortunate that such a planned climb-down from an internationally-binding treaty commitment (aimed at a collective ambitious target) to a collection of nationally-determined pledges (which may add up to a low overall level of ambition) is taking place at a time when scientists and the world public have become so concerned about the need for drastic action.
The developing countries at a UNFCCC session in Bangkok in October registered their protest at what they perceive as a move to kill the Kyoto Protocol. “This is an attempt for a great escape,” said the Chinese delegation. “The Kyoto Protocol track is about to be destroyed and its debris and fragmented pieces lie on the Convention track. Don’t kill the Kyoto protocol and don’t derail our Copenhagen train.” Many other developing countries spoke up in a similar vein.
Meanwhile, the developing countries face increasing pressures to take on more obligations. There are many proposals in the negotiations put forward by developed countries that would blur the distinction (which is in the Convention) between the mitigation commitments of developed countries and the actions of developing countries.
On the other hand, the developing countries’ proposals to set up a Climate Fund and a Technology policy-making body, both inside the UNFCCC and to be governed by the Convention members, have not been accepted yet by the developed countries. The developing countries are also asking that they have access to climate-friendly technologies at the most affordable prices. The greater the rate of technology development, transfer and absorption, the greater will be the countries’ capacity to slow the growth of their emissions. In this regard, international intellectual property rules, which were set at the WTO, should be clarified or relaxed to further sustainable development goals. So far this request has been met with hostility by the developed countries, which own most of the world’s patents for climate-related technologies.
There is such a wide divide on so many key issues that it would now be difficult for Copenhagen to reach a full agreement. Even the outlines of a shorter agreement on politically-important points appear difficult. Nevertheless all parties have strive to their maximum to avoid a failure and to ensure that Copenhagen will at least mandate that further negotiations will take place next year, in the right direction and on the basis of both environmental ambition and equity among nations. (29. Oktober 2009).
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