Designed for developing

September 19, 2011

All programmes to mitigate climate change are being designed for developing nations. More efforts are being placed to get non Annex 1 countries to come to various market -based solutions, while no word about rich nations' unkept promises of domestic reduction of emissions. Snippets from 2 meetings.
Clear: “Rewarding” the developing countries
The pressure is on the developing countries to reduce their emissions. Not only the governments of the developed world are pushing them to taking emissions cuts, the NGOs from the North are also doling out new proposals to lure developing countries Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a well-known NGO from the US, has come out with a proposal to ‘reward’ developing countries who take voluntary commitments to reduce emissions. A big supporter of the carbon trading and carbon market, EDF’s proposal has an ominous title: ‘ CLEAR: Carbon Limits + Early Actions = Rewards’. The proposal envisages a regime in which the developing countries will take voluntary absolute emission limits – economy-wide or for multiple sectors – higher than the current emissions.

The resulting surplus, called Clean Investment Budgets (CIB) – equal to the difference between the emission limit and the country’s current emissions – can then be traded in the global carbon market to earn revenues to finance low-carbon development This entire mechanism comes with a caveat. According to EDF, the availability of CIB is contingent upon the gap between existing emission pathways and the point at which the 2oC target is exceeded. Delay in signing into CIB means that fewer CIB’s will be available—so developing countries should quickly join the rat-race to earn some ‘rewards’. The proposal also comes with a warning. If developing countries do not reduce their emissions, it will have catastrophic consequences, conveniently ignoring the responsibility of the developed world.

The proposal is crude to say the least. It has not calculated how much can be achieved in the developing world in terms of clean energy transition which the money from CIB; on what basis different countries to take the ‘cap’; what kind of institutional mechanism will be required to implement it; what will be impact of this reduction in the developed countries. For instance, will the developed countries not do much at home and buy CIB’s to meet their targets.

The proposal also has nothing to say about the emission reductions in the developed world. It assumes that the developed countries will reduce their emissions – which they have failed to do so far.

But considering that EDF is a highly influential organisation in the US, this proposal will be heard in the Washington. The proposal interestingly is also banking on the support from some sections in India. While presenting the proposal, the spokesperson from EDF mentioned that India wants “a reliable and stable carbon market to reduce its emissions”. It seems India is becoming the posterboy of the carbon trade—at least that’s gossip at the COP.

Voices from low carbon Asia

We will rethink development but Annex 1 countries must still set
effective targets
The message was strong and sharp. Asia already has a low carbon economy. This gives a reason to rethink development to avoid carbon intensive growth in Asia. “But from the negotiating perspective why this obsession with India and China? They cannot be the barrier to global action. Let the Annex 1 set the effective targets first and then ask the developing countries to join them”. This was the sharp reaction from Raekwon Chung climate change Ambassador of Republic of Korea in the session on Low carbon Asia organized by Hong Kong based Civic Exchange.

But can Asia change the game?
China was frank about its challenge, but also tactical and proactive about its strategy. Said Kejung Jiang from China that their economy is growing fast. This is making enormous demand for energy. Over the next 30 to 40 years China with the help of various strategies would be able to decouple emissions from growth by 3 to 4 per cent. But energy use would still grow by 4 to 5 per cent. Beyond that it would need more special measures to decarbonise its economy. China will have to be energy sensible for its own sake -- to strengthen its energy security. And that will help to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as well.

China put its card on the table. It will work with national targets. Their approach is unique. The number crunching shows that China’s per capita emissions might be low but prolific growth in its cities has skewed the urban per capita emissions. The per capita GHG emission of Shanghai city for instance already equals that of New York. Beijing is close to Tokyo. This compels action. China is the first country in Asia to have set energy intensity reduction targets for its provinces and cities. The first set of targets has been set for 2010 to be reduced from 2005 level. Many provinces including Shanxi, Shanghai, Shangdong among others have targets that range between 15 to 25 per cent reduction with Shanxi having the highest reduction target at 25 per cent. China expects that this national level action will help them to decarbonise growth.

It also transpired in the discussion that following close on heels is Korea that has plans to announce unilaterally its GHG emissions target next year.

India flagged off the challenges of growth pressures even when it is uniquely positioned with very low per capita energy intensity and low carbon intensity compared to the key regions of the world. But there was a word of caution from P R Shukla, climate change expert from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. The current low carbon baseline in India is not driven by sustainable development plan but its low income and low energy paradigm of its economy that is already threatened to undergo massive change.

The future will require alternative development vision in India. The risk lies in the massive investments that have already been planned and underway to build cities and transport infrastructures. A lot can go wrong if the low carbon action is not mainstreamed into these plans and investments. Indian planning will require co-benefit approach – reduce emissions that have both climate and public health benefits.

Clearly the framework for action that Asia is looking at is that of co-benefits -- work with national strategies that will give the combined benefits of public health, and climate while helping to meet the developmental goals.

The support for co-benefit approach is already quite strong in Asia. This is being articulate more clearly in the context of public health challenge of local air pollution in Asia. The regional network of Clean Air Initiative for Asian cities head Cornie Huizenga pointed out that while there is good news that air pollution levels in Asia have come down, the bad news is that they are still way above the standards. It is therefore more appropriate to say that climate will be a co-benefit of development and public health action in Asia where health cost of air pollution is as high as 1 per cent of GDP. But given the enormity of the challenge Asia will have to look at a scale of action that can encompass its 5000 cities, each with more than a million population, One of the key actions in these cities will have to be the ways to decarbonsie the rapidly growing motor fleet, reduce motorized trips and get onto public transport. .

Clearly, Asian cities are the new centres of growth, emissions and also action. There is at least recognition of what is going wrong in Asian cities -- modernizing and motorizing, relying more and more on cars. Congestion cost of Seoul today is 3 per cent of GDP. This time the pollution and energy challenge of urban transport has hogged a lot of attention – especially how infrastructure development need to integrate public transport and transport management to move away from car centric growth..

The concern that has dominated the Asia discussions is that climate today is also a regional issue that needs rapid response. But this regional articulation will have to reflect national interest of the countries in the region. And the framework of change needs to be built on equity. “Economic growth may not have any set limit before the disaster happens but principles of equity will have to be established before the disaster strikes”, said Tariq Vanuri of Division of Sustainable Development, United Nations.

Desperate voice of the North

Desperate voices were heard from the North making a case for bilateral agreements to accelerate action in Asia. For them that is the best way to work around the slow progress of the convention and the multilateral agreement on climate change. The European Union is already working towards a series of agreements with India that will facilitate funding and carbon trading between India and EU. Bilateral agreements happen all the time. But bilateral arrangements as a mechanism for climate solution have come more into prominence. While these arrangements have their benefits they must not take away the focus from the need to strengthen the multilateral and a global democratic forum that Poznan represents. The global multilateral dialogue in Poznan must find effective and equitable solutions to climate change within the framework of global democracy.

We heard more desperate voices. It was most astonishing to hear Tom Spencer trying to lessen the significance of North’s burden of historical emissions. He simply said focusing on historical emissions does not help to solve the problem. Asia will also have to act as it is also the prime victim of the climate change. Of course the international negotiation and agreement will have to be worked out to make at least four key players happy – India China, US and Europe, and the equity has to be the core of this negotiation. But there is not enough in that core yet to make both China and India happy. So till the time a more equitable global framework can be found that can make all happy what should Asia do according to Spencer?

Says Spencer, Asia will be well advised to address the geo politics of the Asian region and the problem of glacial melt for its own equity and security. If the ice sheet is damaged it will be a security threat for more vulnerable population in Asian region. Let Asia therefore put reduction of black carbon as a climate driver on its agenda. Stoves in India that burn up so much of biomass, forest fires in Indonesia that belch so much of black carbon that come and settle on the glaciers, thermal power plants in China that spew such huge amount of black carbon – all need to be brought on a regional negotiating table in Asia. All of a sudden the focus shifts. A way to shift the blame as well.