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Climate and the Leapfrog World

The Kyoto treaty, as most people know, does not include developing nations. The reasons behind this are two-fold: firstly, that the per-capita emissions of the developed nations are significantly higher than those from the developing world (even if the overall emissions from China and India approached developed world levels due to population); and secondly, that rich nations can better afford the transition to more efficient technologies without harming growth, while the poorer countries could find development stalled while trying to cut greenhouse gases. The presumption is that the developing world will be brought in for Kyoto II, the still-to-be-negotiated next phase kicking in after the first treaty ends in 2012.

The initial talks for a successor to Kyoto are now underway, and it's interesting to observe the early positions being staked out. While much attention is focused on whether the United States will participate, the real story may be the degree to which the big developing nations -- China, India and Brazil, in particular -- sign on. At this early stage, it seems that India is pushing hard to avoid being part of a 2012 climate treaty.

This observation is underscored by a series of brief essays by environmental activists in these three key leapfrog nations, published this week on openDemocracy. Rubens Born and Mark Lutes of Vitae Civilis Institute for Development, Environment and Peace in Brazil, Clifford Polycarp of the Centre for Science and Environment in India, and "Angel Green," a Chinese environmental activist writing under a pseudonym, present useful observations of the state of climate change politics in their respective countries.


Polycarp reinforces the notion that India may play the spoiler role in the next climate treaty:

Indian governments have taken a strong moral stand on climate change in the past. More recently, the government has seen it more as a business opportunity. There seem to be two preoccupations: milking the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) cow, and avoiding any legally binding limits on its emissions.

[...] Among our three nations, India’s situation looks to me to be the worst. India is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We are increasingly contributing to the problem itself though our growing emissions without really attempting to do anything about it. And our politicians are not paying attention.

China, conversely, seems to be starting to take climate issues seriously -- a welcome development. Pan Yue's observations about the depth of the Chinese environmental disaster appear to be increasingly echoed throughout the Chinese government. One major stumbling block for now appears to be a disconnect between policies pushed by the environmental ministry and those pushed by the energy ministry. Another is the role of Western "export credit agencies," which often focus investment in coal power plants.

My organisation started our campaign on climate change about a year ago. We believe that for a developing country like China, helping find energy solutions is as important as raising awareness of climate change. Otherwise, the government will not listen to you or adopt your advice, and you will find it difficult to promote your idea among the public.In China we call this “walking with two legs”: expose the problem and provide the solution. Last year, the government consulted us on the country’s first renewable energy law. This year we are working on the first wind power development scenario of 2020.

Brazil, as always, is an interesting case. Much of the official debates around climate change strategies are driven by "civil society" groups. Under the umbrella of the Forum for Environment and Development, the Brazilian government has partnered with the citizen organizations to develop policy. Moreover, the bulk of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions are connected to deforestation, not industrial or transportation pollution; Born and Lutes argue that meeting future climate treaty limits will be relatively simple for Brazil, given the already-recognized need to halt and reverse deforestation.

Public opinion and media coverage in Brazil is overwhelmingly in favour of action to prevent climate change. [...] The overwhelming role of deforestation in Brazil’s emissions makes it likely that this question will be central to future negotiations of Brazil’s role in the emerging global emissions-reduction regime.Negotiations over climate change offer civil society groups a venue for pursuing more democratic global governance, and a chance to frame this debate in terms of sustainable development ideas. They can help us to link global governance to values and actions that can promote equity, and social and environmental justice.

It remains to be seen whether Brazil's current emphasis on biofuels and plans to reverse deforestation will be sufficient as a climate strategy; it may well be that Brazil is suffering from complacency nearly as much as India. Certainly the possibility of linking "global governance... equity, and social and environmental justice" to climate disruption negotiations is appealing, but Brazil may well need to take even more radical steps around economic and social organization.

India, as suggested, has the potential to be a big problem. While its energy efficiency and footprint are, for now, better than China's, there are few signs of a concerted effort in India to improve those statistics. If India's government continues to use economic growth as a rationalization for not engaging in efficiency and emission improvements, they risk not just significant environmental problems and being positioned as the American-style pariah of Kyoto II, but they also risk losing out on the economic growth advantages which will come from the leapfrog energy and efficiency technologies.

China, still an environmental basket case, appears to be starting to make the necessary changes. There are still plenty of opportunities for missteps and backsliding, to be sure, but there finally seems to be widespread recognition that a problem exists -- as do solutions.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 20, 2005 1:30 PM.

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