Thursday, July 02, 2009

How Emerging Economies Will Fight Us on Climate Change

It's no secret that the Third World and the emerging economies see the entire global warming issue far differently than we in the West. In fact, they often see global warming as a plague inflicted on them by our greed and gluttony. An article in today's Times of India gives a glimpse into the anti-Western slant being taken to climate change:

"If the current fleet of 25-40 million gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in the United States were to shift to more fuel-efficient cars such as those available in Europe, more than 1.6 billion people in the world currently living in the dark can be provided electrification without any increase in the levels of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.

Phasing out the oversized, power-packed SUVs, considered the hallmark of a Midwestern dream in the US, would reduce global emissions by a whopping 36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, according to the World Bank's yet-to-be-released World Development Report 2009.

This is only one example of the "duplicity" of the industrialized nations that the WDR highlights to prove that "carbon space" is inequitably powering the luxurious lifestyles of the rich at the cost of the poorer nations. Carbon space is an individual's or a country's share of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

The report, the draft overview of which was seen by TOI, now points out that the 1 billion people living in the high income countries are using 63% more carbon space than is their fair share on a per capita basis if one were to analyze the emissions since 1990.

India, for decades, has demanded at the UN climate negotiations that it must be given a greater 'carbon space' in the atmosphere to allow its 600 million poor access to electricity. The industrialized nations have argued that if India grows and powers its poor, the already limited space left in the atmosphere to spew out GHG gases would lead to irreversible and dangerous climate change.

It's a good argument, unwelcome perhaps but damn good. It takes our cherished principles of fairness and equity and beats us over the head with them. It's not just that the West has and continues to take more than its "fair" share but, in the process, the Third World (which the emerging states are mustering behind them) are paying the price for it. Ouch, burn, sizzle.

The global warming argument is now indeed coming around to "carbon space." Here's a hint - that's not good for us. At least two credible research papers released this year have approached the climate change problem from fudgy numbers about percentage reductions over proposed timetables to a hard assessment of just how much carbon dioxide we've actually pumped into the atmosphere and how much more the atmosphere can carry before we absolutely exceed our 2 degree target. The remainder can be called "carbon space" and the emerging economies want to ensure they get their fair share of it.

The problem with their argument is that for the West to give the emerging economies (and presumably the Third World) their fair share of the remaining carbon space, we'll have to immediately slash our carbon emissions by 63%. Not 80% of some notional figure by 2050. 63% tomorrow. And then they poke their pointy stick in our eye by pointing to our precious SUVs.

It looks as though the West has two choices. We either come up with some argument to refute the complaints of the emerging nations or we ignore them and maintain that we must continue to have a superior right to the residual carbon space. After all, we are the West, aren't we? Just who do they think they are?


LMA said...

We really don't have the moral right to inflict our pollution on the rest of the world, do we? That's why it's so disheartening to hear Ignatieff talk about the Tar Sands as a national treasure. It's great that he speaks so passionately about Canada's role as an international player, but why isn't he saying more to motivate and inspire Canadians regarding their global environmental responsibilities?

BTW, what is your opinion of the Western Climate Initiative? Do you think such regional programs are a viable alternative to the inaction of our national leaders in setting policies to reduce GHG emissions?

The Mound of Sound said...

I support the Western Climate Initiative although, in Canada, its more Eastern. BC, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario are in. Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have taken observer status.

I think it's important as a trans-national movement that will probably grow in both countries.

As they say every bit helps. My only concern is that regional agreements, just like micro-environmentalism, must not be allowed to obscure the fundamental need for truly global consensus. Without that essential global consensus all these fine efforts may be just so many nice ideas.

The Mound of Sound said...

AS to your other point, LMA, it is our fault that we have contributed so much to the carbon problem during the industrial era but we only grasped the magnitude of our actions quite recently. It would be a curious world if we were held accountable for matters that were not foreseeable. That said, having the benefit of the research conducted over the past 15-years, we are fully accountable for what we do hereafter.

Bear in mind too that India and China cannot totally play victim in this. It's no one's responsibility but their own that they have overpopulated their corner of the globe. Together those two nations account for more than a third of humanity. This fact alone undermines them on their "per capita" arguments.

There can be no genuine equality between the West and the behemoths of South and East Asia. They cannot, for example, have a North American standard of living because there aren't nearly enough resources on earth to allow it.

We embarked on a powerful dynamic in the mid-80's when the earth's population reached the limit of her renewable resources. Ever since then we've been sliding into steadily deepening environmental deficit. We kept this human Ponzi scheme from collapsing by agricultural hucksterism we proudly named the "green revolution" which entailed producing high yield crops for the endlessly expanding population by exhausting our groundwater resources.

Now the aquifers are being drained out just as climate change is upending what we've come to consider "normal" precipitation patters. Groundwater and surface water resources are imperilled.

In other words, we have bred a couple of billion people on the strength of an unsustainable freshwater resource.

We can't stop this. Even if we achieved an 80% reduction in emissions tomorrow it won't restore the overtaxed freshwater resource. No water, no crops; no crops, no food; no food, probably war.

LMA said...

That was the point I was making, i.e., we are fully accountable for what we do or fail to do hereafter, and that is why the development of the Tar Sands troubles me so much.

Fish said...

Unfortunately, the West is not likely to give up its massive SUVs any time soon... human nature is a bitch.

The Mound of Sound said...

We may learn, Fish, that, when the rest of the world aligns against us, they - not human nature - become "the bitch."

You're a young fellow my friend. That means you're going to be living with the blowback of our leaders' attitudes.

Forget about your children (assuming you can actually find some woman willing to procreate with you). It's your future that's being written today, indelibly. You can't afford the smug, callous indifference of us old geezers. You may find your sanguinity, while admittedly cosmopolitan, exacts a very unwelcome price by the time your my age.

For once the old can say to the young, "Sucks to be you!"

Fish said...

I am officially giving your entire generation (those few of you who are still alive) the finger!

The Mound of Sound said...

Be very careful with those fingers, Fish, for we Boomers aren't done with you yet. We shall need you to work those fingers, each and every one of them, to the bone to tend lovingly to us in our dotage.

I just realized that we're on the cusp of rendering irrelevant the old saw about how you can't take it with you. That's completely meaningless if there's nothing left behind to take by the time you join the choir invisible.