TH!NK post

Towards equity we march - backwards

Published 22nd October 2010 - 0 comments - 569 views -

"We have to ask for what we actually need, not what we calculate we might possibly be able to get"- Bill Mckibben.

 We all have heard time and again, from civil society leaders to eminent scientists to a few bureaucrats as well that the problem of climate change is not technological or financial or even moral but it rises above all as a political problem. I suppose I can safely assume that most of you reading this are also of the same opinion that the politics of climate change could be the final undoing of mankind. Politics is driven by the masses; peoples across a predominantly democratically run world. For any nation state to commit to anything political on climate change would be to strongly consider the future of these masses and bring to the negotiating table ideas that safeguard the future and protect the interests of these people. Having said this, I would like to introduce the idea of climate equity and its subsidiary topics of carbon space and budgets. As an idea that jeopardized the possibility of a deal in Copenhagen vis a vis that saved the development rights of developing nations, equity is at the core of the climate debate and attempts are being made to get it into mainstream negotiations as an operational idea and not just a principle within the convention.

For the uninitiated, here is a simple explanation of climate equity explained through two different, widely accepted policy frameworks:

1. All nations should have equitable access to the carbon space. i.e every country in the world within a certain year in the near future will have to reach the same aggregate emissions that, more importantly, guarantees to limit the temperature rise to below 2 degrees or approximately 400 gigatonnes of carbon between 2000 and 2050

2. All individuals should have equitable access to the carbon space i.e every citizen of this planet irrespective of the nations should reach the same per capita emissions while limiting the temperature rise to two degrees or approximately 400 gigatonnes of carbon between 2000 and 2050.

Both the theories above sound simplistic and similar to what many of us demand insofar as saying that developed nations have to cut their emissions steeply and free up the carbon space for the developing nations to emit through dirty and cheap energy while hoping that all of us will eventually cap our emissions to save the world! A fantastic idea, you would admit!

But as they say, the devil is always in the detail. I propose a few arguments here on climate equity that critically analyze the operational possibilities of the above theories and also in an ethical and moral way, look at whether equity is truly achievable or is it just a pipe dream.

a) Historical emissions is hogwash! - If today we argue that culpable injustices are being perpetrated on the current young generation(Y) by the previous generation, the emissions since the beginning of the industrial era can hardly be a burden on anybody. Any equation that carries figures dating before 1970 (since 1970 is when we began to understand the impacts) have to be annulled. 1990 as a base year for carbon budgeting is ideal since the last two decades have seen the galloping of economies and emissions across the world.

b) Peak, you must! - Enough has been said about peaking emissions but nothing has been done so far. The way forward should be domestic peaking targets for all nations that fall in line with the global 2 degree goal and with such targets being brought under the purview of a multilateral body like the UNFCCC. The UK had started with this concept but hasn't moved far. Most studies suggest that peaking across the world needs to happen before 2020 for a 65-80% chance of limiting the temperature rise to 2 degrees. and though this means lesser carbon space for developing countries, it is not a choice that we can ignore.

c) Leave US behind  -  The Copenhagen accord in retrospect is a deal that "could" reduce global emissions by 17-25% based on the mitigations targets of Annex I (minus the U.S). Include the U.S and viola, we are down to 12-18% when what we really need is 25-35% emission cuts by 2020. Climate bill dies, energy bill rots, carbon trade is becoming ineffective and democracy is facing a challenge in the U.S. In this scenario, if both Annex I (minus U.S) and developing nations are both building their plans around the possible involvement of the U.S, then we have got another thing coming!

d) It's time to rewrite the rights and become more human! -  Developing countries will continue to claim development rights in order to alleviate poverty and solve other immediate issues that are only set to worsen because of climate change. But these rights need to be rewritten! I have never come across a carbon budgeting model that considers the quality of life for a human being in a developing country. If I am forced to believe that claiming my right to pollute subsequently provides for a better quality of living, then I would rather start believing in aliens and UFO's.

e) When you are staring down the barrel, you do not calculate your chances! -  I am at no level discounting the need for India, Brazil, Indonesia or any developing country for that matter to develop, but to claim equity in the current geo political scenario with rapidly diminishing natural resources and the possible disastrous impacts of climate change; I find it hard to continue arguing for equity!

These are a few quick thoughts on equity and why I believe that every day that goes by with inaction is only getting us farther away from achieving climate equity or as some like to call climate justice! There is a lot more on this fascinating subject which I will talk in the coming blog posts!

Peace!

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