Transition to sustainable growth

Updated: 2012-12-12 08:31

By Mukul Sanwal (China Daily)

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The 18th round of climate meetings has just concluded in Doha, Qatar, with limited emissions reductions by the developed countries, few resources for the developing countries and lots of rhetoric. Though this has been the case over the years, the difference this time was that adaptation, or "loss and damage", has now been accepted to be as important as mitigation in dealing with climate change and its effects. It raises the question whether the framework of the new mechanism, which will require developed and developing countries to reduce emissions, should be completely different from the current one.

Global emissions now have to remain within an agreed limit and reductions have very different implications for economies where growth has stabilized and for those that will continue to grow. To ensure equity of outcomes, the new regime has to allow for convergence of global living standards within global ecological limits for it to have any legitimacy in developing countries, because emissions, standards of living and global ecological limits are inter-linked and cannot be considered in isolation.

Greenhouse gas emissions are ultimately driven by consumption. Developed countries are seeking to maintain their energy use per capita, as they do not want to modify their lifestyles. Public opinion in developed countries is clear that their "way of life is not up for negotiation". The US Senate rejected the Kyoto Protocol by a unanimous vote.

Instead the developed countries are pushing for a consensus on the use of market mechanisms, which implies setting a carbon price applied across all countries for sharing marginal costs of measures, as they define them, with developing countries. This leads to considering the economic potential of reductions and adjustments only in developing countries, as costs there are lower. The dominant approach, shaped by the developed countries, is based on the environmental impacts of future growth in developing countries, rather than on the consumption patterns in developed countries that led to the global crisis in the first place. The policy problem here is that for an acceptable global emissions pathway, international cooperation, in the form of sharing the costs, requires a peak year, which the International Energy Agency suggests should be 2017 to avoid "infrastructure lock-in".

However, a sustainable development framework will move the deliberations from "prices" to "quantities" and human development as the basis for international cooperation. It will require agreement on quantitative limits by sharing the remaining global carbon budget. This implies that measuring reductions in emissions presents a limited picture, and seeking comparable standards of living for all countries requires considering the trajectory of emissions over a period of time.

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