Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Justice and Equity in climate change: A Developing Country Perspective

Global warming poses a significant potential threat to future development activities and the economic well being of human beings. Climate change could also undermine social welfare and equity in an unprecedented manner. In particular, both intra- and inter-generational equity are likely to be worsened. Existing evidence clearly demonstrates that poorer nations are especially vulnerable to disasters. Climate change is likely to result in inequities due to the uneven distribution of the costs of damage, as well as of necessary adaptation and mitigation efforts. Developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts because they have fewer resources to adapt: socially, technologically and financially. Climate change is anticipated to have far reaching effects on the sustainable development of developing countries. Many developing countries’ governments have given adaptation action a high, even urgent, priority.

The current per capita emissions and historical contribution of developing countries to in the atmosphere is very small compared to the industrialized nations. It is argued however that the rapidly rising emissions from developing countries shall reverse this position in a few decades. The emissions from developing countries are growing at a higher rate than those for developed countries. It is likely that some developing countries may reach the emissions level of developed countries before the end of the next century. Yet, the per capita emissions in most developing countries shall remain far below those in industrialized countries. While the income gap is expected to narrow, the per capita incomes in developing countries shall remain a fraction of developed country incomes throughout the next century.

Climate change negotiations essentially ignore a key principle of climate change negotiation frameworks for a number of years. Industrialized nations have emitted far more greenhouse gas emissions compared to developing nations. The biggest responsibility and burden for action to address climate change should be taken by the developed world. Also, Rich countries therefore must support developing nations through financing and technology transfer to meet up the upcoming challenge. However, this notion of climate justice is typically ignored by many rich nations. The rich countries owe a carbon debt because they have already used more than their fair quota of emissions. Yet, by 2050 when certain emission reductions are needed by, their reduced emissions will still add up to be go over their fair share. Industrialized nations can certainly help pay off their carbon debt by truly helping emerging countries as a form of technology transfer, finance, and capacity building. So far, rich nations have done very little within the Kyoto protocol to reduce emissions by any meaningful amount. Meanwhile, they are negotiating a follow on treaty that brings more pressure to developing countries to agree to emissions targets.

A principal objective of the global climate change regime is to decide the norms for using
the atmosphere, a global common. This perspective has treated the climate change problem merely as a search for a globally efficient mitigation regime. The focus of mitigation debate is restricted to minimizing the size of the burden. The market equalization of marginal costs across nations has thus emerged as the sole means of deciding the participation of each nation in mitigation. The choice of efficient market instruments has been made the principle agenda for the global negotiations. This perspective, which justifies ignoring equity altogether, suits well the interests of industrialized nations in the climate change problem.

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