German environmental group Germanwatch last month named China as one of
the world's worst countries in dealing with climate change, providing a
lens through which to focus fears generated by late October's Stern
Review firmly on China.
Authored by former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern and
commissioned by the UK-government, the Stern Review warned that the
world needs to spend 1% of global GDP – equivalent to about US$345
billion – every year to deal with climate change now, or face a bill
between five and 20 times higher down the road.
With China hulking menacingly in the corner, the global coordinated approach Stern put forward is easier said than done.
China's environmental track record has already seen it leap to the top
of most name-and-shame lists. According to the International Energy
Agency, China will overtake the US to become the world's biggest source
of carbon dioxide emissions by 2009, nearly 10 years ahead of earlier
China is both a powerful motivator, and a convenient scapegoat for
inaction, as Australian Prime Minister John Howard knows. As head of
one of the two chief industrialized pariahs on climate change – the US
being the other – Howard conveniently blames China for his government's
failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Howard contends that, like industrialised nations, rising emitters
China and India should also be required to cut emissions to below 1990
levels by 2012.
But in making this argument, he is ignoring the moral high ground
occupied by developing nations, which argue that most of today's
greenhouse gases were produced by developed nations. These countries
have no right to prevent others following in their footsteps, they say,
no matter the size of the ecological footprint.
Ultimately, the dispute misses the point: mother nature is not a moral judge and a new way forward must be found.
The Germanwatch study, which was based on an evaluation of the
greenhouse gas emissions and climate policies of 56 industrialized or
industrializing nations, was released on the sidelines of November's UN
climate change conference in Nairobi. The conference was seeking to fix
long-term rules to fight global warming beyond 2012, when the
provisions of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol run out. Hopes were
not high for a workable solution.
It, and other such forums to follow, would do well to first resolve the
intractable divide between the developing and developed world. The rich
world caused today's troubles, and it has the moral obligation to take
the lead in repairing the damage.
There are technological, as well as behavioural, solutions to global
warming. The developed world has the technology; it is simply lacking
the political mindset to put it to work. If there is to be real
progress on climate change, attitudes must alter and the technology
must be made readily available abroad.
Technology transfer of the scale required will cost the developed
world, but it wrote the checks that have brought us to the ecological
brink. It now has a duty to cash them and lead us back.
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