Differences developed, primarily Western nations and their leaders, as well as the international scientific and diplomatic elite, and their developing world counterparts place on reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions is likely to be the main obstacle blocking consensus agreement on globally coordinated and well-funded mechanisms to mitigate climate change at the upcoming UN Climate Change conference in Bali next month.
While the list of Western world leaders espousing the view that climate change is the “defining crisis” of our times continues to grow, leaders of emergent developing world economic powers, perhaps most notably Chinese premier Wen Jiaobao, continue to emphasize that reducing CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions should not hinder economic development. A survey of South Africans conducted recently in Durban, for example, showed that a large majority of residents were willing to sacrifice the environment somewhat in order to gain access to jobs and grow the economy.
This schism puts leaders of developing, emerging market countries in the uncharacteristic position of being political and economic reactionaries while Western leaders, such as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the UK’s Gordon Brown and Prince Charles and others, are taking the more social and environmentally progressive and ethical high ground.
Divergent Views in the Run-Up to Bali
The divergent views of developed and developing world leaders and energy experts became apparent during a debate at the OPEC 3 Summit in Riyadh last week. Following a presentation on the theme “Energy for Sustainable Development” given by JoAnne DiSano, director of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development Secretariat, Suleiman J. Al-Herbish, executive director for the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) offered his agency’s perspective.
“My views on energy and sustainable come from a very different perspective to those already heard – that of a practitioner of development. They are the views of my institution – the OPEC Fund for International Development – and those of the 120 or so partner countries that we work with day in, day out to effect socio-economic progress and growth,” Al-Herbish stated to OPEC delegates and attending media representatives.
“I would like to begin by making a bold statement: When it comes to the issue of energy and sustainable development, there are two diverse agendas – that of the developed world and that of the developing world. At the heart of the matter lies climate change. And while no one can deny that the environment and its protection is a common, global challenge, it is nevertheless a challenge that flags different priorities for different countries. That’s not to say, however, that the two positions cannot be reconciled.”
Poverty & Population Growth: the Real Crisis
Al-Herbish made the point that the surging prominence of climate change on the international political and economic agenda is overshadowing is overshadowing the real crisis facing world leaders: alleviating poverty of a world population approaching 7 billion in which the majority live in relative poverty without basic services. “We cannot and should not hide the sobering statistics: around 800 million people in the developing world are chronically undernourished, and one child dies of hunger every five seconds…
“While the developed world preoccupies itself with the thorny problem of energy use and its impact on the environment, for developing countries the challenge is to increase access to affordable energy services that they need to fuel their development and feed their hungry,” Al-Herbish maintained.
While this may appear self-serving coming from an OPEC aid agency, the point is a valid one. Despite recent sharp rises in oil and natural gas prices, fossil fuels remain at or near the top of the list in terms of accessibility and cost. Given growing demand for electricity and fuel, primarily in developing countries, it’s forecast that fossil fuels will supply a growing portion of the world’s energy needs, which already account for between 80-90%, into the middle of this century.
The Challenge, and Promise, of Drawing the Bali Roadmap
Developing world leaders have made a fundamentally flawed point to support their development agendas, however, by stating rhetorically asking, ‚ÄòWho are developed world leaders to ask us not to cut down forests and use alternative energy sources when they have already done otherwise in their own countries?”
This is a fatally flawed argument somewhat akin to saying that since my neighbor has jumped off the proverbial bridge, why shouldn’t I do the same. The challenge for developed and developing nations is to learn from the past and make better use of their natural resources while trying to minimize environmental degradation and pollution. Somehow finding ways to limit population growth is perhaps the greatest challenge.
If world leaders are to have any chance of leading their nations towards any chance of realizing the lofty goals of the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent agreements it lies in developing a level playing field of rules and regulations to which all companies and countries can be held to account. Putting a price on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, a la the Kyoto Protocol and EU’s ETS, hold out the most efficient, effective and promising way of doing so in relatively short order. It would also better reflect a broadening of the traditional neoclassical economic paradigm that has prevailed for so long.
Clearing the way for clean tech and renewable energy technology transfer between developed and developing nations is the other key to success. Each individual national government will have much to do in the way of public education and training as well as improving their ability to gather, analyze and report on their own natural resources, how they are being used and how existing and new energy resources that generate less in the way of emissions and waste may be developed. And that’s the promise and challenge world leaders face as they prepare to meet at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.