Gasbagging the North

The South has opposed the North's proposal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in yet another stalemate

By Ravi Sharma
Published: Saturday 15 October 1994

-- THE industrialised world seems to be sincerely following up on George Bush's swaggering statement in early 1992 that the lifestyle of us citizens is "not negotiable". It shows no inclination to thrash out the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions, but instead wants to jump the gun and start "joint implementation" -- an euphemism for the former offering developing countries money and technology to reduce emissions, in exchange for raising its permissible emission level by a similar magnitude.

The developing countries have, however, strongly opposed this barter, negating any chance of an agreement being reached at the 10th session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change, held at Geneva from August 22 to September 2 -- a crucial preparatory hearing for the first formal meeting of the convention of parties scheduled to be held in Berlin in March 1995.

"The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (oecd) member countries face difficulty in implementing the emission stabilisation targets agreed in the convention, and their delegates are powerless to make good on their own commitments," remarked Lise Becker, representative of the Brussels-based non-governmental Climate Action Network (Europe).
Skyrocketing emissions That emissions continue to rise in industrialised countries has been pointed out by Daniel A Lashof of the us-based Natural Resources Defense Council, in his review completed in August this year of the progress in meeting greenhouse gas emission targets. Although emission levels in the us will be an estimated 70 million tonnes of carbon equivalent over 1990 levels, the country is reluctant to discuss emission targets, the report says. Besides, although the draft report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change says that to ensure minimum global warming, carbon dioxide emissions need to be cut by more than 60 per cent immediately and not merely stabilised, global CO2 emissions are expected to skyrocket by more than 200 per cent between 1985 and AD 2025.

OECD countries, however, say that their share of CO2 emissions is expected to fall to 34 per cent. Developing countries point out that this is just a manipulation of statistics and that in absolute terms the total emissions of these countries will actually rise by 168 per cent. Further, the cost of stabilising or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which is significantly higher than similar reductions in developing countries, discourage politicians of the developed nations from taking any concrete measures.

Environmentalists point out that this will make developing countries unnervingly dependent on technologies from the industrialised world, hampering their indigenous research and development. It also significantly reduces the industrialised countries' responsibility for reducing emissions. But the developing countries have a card poking out of their sleeve: experts believe that their rejection of the barter and insistence that the industrialised nations take the lead in reducing emissions before opting for joint implementation is no more than a bargaining tactic to squeeze out more money and technology from the North.

In response to this demand, Germany has proposed an emission-reduction agreement that will be legally binding, particularly for the industrialised countries. The proposal was welcomed by developing countries but got a cool reception from other industrialised countries, especially the us. But some countries in the North have started informal discussions to turn the protocol to their advantage when they realised that it had become politically difficult for the industrialised world to reject it wholesale.
Technology standards Not willing to give up so easily, the developed nations are contemplating the addition of a clause that will require all the signing countries to agree to a minimum standard in technology related to greenhouse gas emissions. The clause is likely to make it mandatory for all cars manufactured or sold in developing countries to be fitted with catalytic convertors.

The developing nations say that this forces them to become part of the fast-emerging "clean technology" regime, but overlooks the fact that industrialised countries are primarily responsible for excessive emissions in the first place. The regime also manoeuvres the North's public opinion on environment to create a market for industrialised country manufacturers of the so-called "clean technology", the market for which is estimated at about US $100 billion dollars. Besides, there is no independent evaluation of the effectiveness and appropriateness of the "clean technologies" that developing countries may be forced to adopt.

The stage seems to be set for the industrialised countries to pass the buck to the cash-short developing countries by paying as little as possible for the damage. Unfortunately, the developing countries, with their scarce resources and rampant poverty, are likely to be the major victims of any climate change, primarily because of their inability to adapt their food production to changes in the climate.

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