Moral arguments build, ahead of Copenhagen

China and India have both published collections of reports on their projected greenhouse gas emissions this week. Both sets of reports will be significant in each country’s negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen meeting in December, to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

And both countries have made the moral argument: that they should not have to pay the price of developing a low-carbon economy, after the developed world was able to grow rich in the era of cheap fossil fuels.

India especially makes a strong argument in its new set of reports. On a per capita basis, its CO2 emissions have historically been tiny: in 2006 they were 1.1 tonnes, compared to 10.8 across the OECD and 15 in North America. The average Chinese person in the same year was responsible for 4.3 tonnes.

The government press release accompanying today’s studies points out that even in 2031, India’s per capita emissions will probably be lower than today’s global average. They estimate that India’s emissions will rise to a level between 2.77 and 5 tonnes per capita by 2031 – while the 2006 world average was 4.3 tonnes.

They also make the point that all of the models predict strong improvements in India’s energy efficiency – some put the number in the region of 50 per cent per unit of GDP.

Thus, even without any new policies for GHG abatement and given the structure of the Indian economy, its current and projected GHG growth rates, and its energy endowments, there can be no apprehension that its GHG emissions will increase in a runaway manner over time. India’s energy use patterns and GHG emissions profile will continue to be among the most sustainable in the world for the next generation.

Those involved in the talks leading up to Copenhagen stressed that neither China nor India want to be seen as responsible for derailing a new climate change agreement. Developing countries take climate change seriously, not least because they will be among the worst affected by it. But those who are becoming bigger net contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – particularly China and India – are opposed to the idea of a net reduction in emissions. Even developed countries are playing the moral highground: the EU, for example, says it will raise its emissions reduction target from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020, if others agree. Australia proposed conditional targets in its defeated climate change bill.

Meanwhile the developed world is showing little interest in meeting demands,  that are coming especially from China, to make a big financial contribution towards the cost of developing countries reducing their carbon output. As The Age notes, the UK’s Gordon Brown is the only leader to have mentioned a figure so far ahead of a G20 meeting expected to discuss the issue later this month.

Related links:

India’s growth set to lift emissions fourfold (FT, 03/09/09)

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