Developed countries’ climate change efforts are coming in for criticism

A moral question is at the heart of many of the international talks that are gathering pace in the lead-up to the Copenhagen meeting in December. How should the cost of reducing carbon emissions be divided up? It plays out in discussions of caps versus curbs and also in the arena of manufacturing and trade. Two recurring themes are whether emissions should be counted towards the manufacturing country’s allowance, or the consuming country.

Then there is the question of ‘leakage’, or losing jobs and industry to those countries who do introduce carbon caps. Proposed US legislation seeks to avoid this by making a ‘border adjustment’ on some imported goods from 2020, but that again raises the question of whether poorer countries should bear as much of the costs of greenhouse gas emissions as richer nations. At the same time, developing countries are expected to contribute almost all of the increase in carbon emissions to 2030.

The IPCC’s chair Rajendra Pachauri has been critical of the developed world in the past couple of days.

Today he said the G8 meeting in Italy earlier this month, while making progress, wasn’t enough:

“It’s interesting that the G8 leaders agreed on this aspirational goal of  (limiting) a temperature increase of (no more than) 2 degrees Celsius, which certainly is a big step forward in my view,” said Mr Pachauri, whose scientific panel shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president Al Gore in 2007.

“But what I find as a dichotomy in this position is the fact that they clearly ignored what the IPCC came up with.”

He was referring to the IPCC’s recommendation that emissions must peak no later than 2015 in order to have a reasonable chance of avoiding a dangerous climate increase, and that emissions should be cut between 25 and 40 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. He did, however, praise the Obama administration for trying to get a cap and trade bill through; even if it does fall short of the those emission targets.

Yesterday he made a plea to US lawmakers to abandon plans to add a ‘border adjustment’ for carbon emissions embedded in imported goods.

“This is a dangerous thing, and I think people in Congress must understand this,” said Pachauri, who spoke with the AP after he addressed the National Press Club. “Please don’t use this weapon.”

Carbon tariffs were raised as one of the key reasons for India giving short shrift to Hillary Clinton when she visited the country over the weekend to make the case that economic development could be achieved in a low-carbon environment. India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, was not having any of it: he pointed to the country’s low emissions per capita (as a reference point, India’s per capita emissions are about a quarter of China’s), adding:

“And as if this pressure was not enough, we also face the threat of carbon tariffs on our exports to countries such as yours.”

As the AP story notes, China has also voiced concern about the tariff. But China has other goals, too. Like India, it demands some kind of compensation from the developed world to the developing – using the moral argument that western nations were able to become wealthy without having to factor in the cost of carbon emissions. But China, much more than India, has insisted on ‘technology transfer‘ – allowing it to use low-emissions technology developed overseas in its domestic industry.

Perhaps a new method of distributing carbon allowances is the solution. But the chances of that happening before the Copenhagen meeting in December are infinitesimally small.

Related links:
Determining who pays for carbon emissions
(FT Energy Source, 19/03/09)
Colonialism, ethics and China’s emissions growth (FT Energy Source, 26/02/09)

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