by Samir Saran and Vivan Sharan
Mumbai, 2nd of July 2012
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And so the saga concludes. A tired, weather-beaten group of States have retreated from Rio de Janeiro after a half-hearted attempt to rescue the world from a host of unsolved problems including climate change and unsustainable development. What unfolded was largely predictable. The Rio+20 declaration, ‘The Future We Want,’ is punctuated with old rhetoric around action and responsibility, laden with sweet murmurings on change, some affectionate recognition of imminent apocalypse and defined by absence of commitment.
The highly contested Kyoto Protocol remains the last substantial effort at the global level on environment. With developed countries lacking resolve to agree and/or act to achieve the set of common goals at the recent Durban Summit, and now, at Rio+20, it is becoming clear that global action is illusory, utopian and certainly less efficient.
It is ironic that at the same time as we dither on committing finance and technology to save the Earth, nations have, with great alacrity and commitment, pumped in trillions of dollars in concert to save wanton banks and financial entities that have failed to meet even basic regulatory and supervisory norms. The US alone has doled out $1.5 trillion to save its financial institutions following the financial crisis created by the same entities, while the developed world collectively put forth around $3 trillion for the same.
The message for Joe the plumber and the aam admi is unambiguous. Saving the banks is a multi-trillion dollar effort requiring action today. Saving the planet will cost only a fraction and can wait for 10 years. So it is hardly surprising when surveys reveal significant decline in interest on matters climate.
And the hypocrisy continues. Most recently, at the G20 Summit at Mexico, BRICS nations, including India, collectively pledged $75 billion through the IMF, to save the failing Eurozone economy from imminent collapse. That developing nations’ policymakers and economists rely on the unsustainable consumption of the western economies for their own obsession with perverse growth makes us willing accomplices. India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, China are no victims, they just seem eager to sustain the lifestyles of the rich. Lifestyle emissions today account for nearly two thirds of total emissions.
According to the seminal Stern Review on ‘The Economics of Climate Change,’ global atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide equivalent gases must stabilise in the range 450-550 parts per million (ppm) by 2050. Anything higher would ‘substantially increase risks of very harmful impacts.’ Arctic monitoring stations reported this year that the concentration of these gases has already reached 400 ppm and the global average is predicted to reach this level in a few years (2016).
Developed countries currently occupy approximately 80% of the greenhouse gas (carbon) stocks. Developing countries like India need room to grow and per capita energy consumption will have to rise to enable this economic growth and development. Even to rise above the energy poverty level prescribed by the UN, India and Africa will need to increase their energy production by at least three times.
Carbon space will be a natural requirement. This space is now being denied. Hypocrisy becomes malafide now.
The alchemists of capitalism have turned the sparse carbon into ‘carbon real estate,’ available for sale to the highest bidder. The weak and poor have been priced out. And at the G20, we have just offered to subsidise the rich to buy more.
The core issue of equity still eludes all debates and was missing at Rio+20 as well. Mitigation commitments being discussed are just not enough; they are deceitful as they undermine the sovereign rights of other nations. Developed countries will need to vacate their holding of carbon stocks.
One sixth of humanity cannot continue to hold 80% of the total carbon space that is available if western science is to be believed. This is what needs to be negotiated. The time lines and specific action by which these countries have carbon negative footprints must be sought.
It is unfortunate at the very least, if not downright conspiratorial, that countries like China and India have not been able to see through the haze created by the multilateral discourse and identify the real priority: to evict the developed countries who are squatting on carbon real estate that does not belong to them rather than negotiating the partaking of what is left.
Samir Saran is a vice president and Vivan Sharan an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.