Climate justice imperative for Copenhagen success | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, November 06, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, November 06, 2009

Climate justice imperative for Copenhagen success


In light of the established scientific consensus there is little doubt that the current climate crisis is anthropogenic, as opposed to what Sarah Palin tried to sell to the world during the last US presidential election. When we see the rapid melting of the North Pole glaciers, the sea-level rising, repetitious flooding in all parts of the world, food shortages, drought and cyclones hitting everywhere in a vicious cycle affecting millions, it is clear that Mother Nature returns to us with a vengeance again and again.
The whole world is now pinning its hope on the forthcoming Copenhagen meeting of world leaders on climate change issues in December this year. The big question is whether they will be able to do something great if they do not have "the right political will." They must have it here and now. The world cannot wait any more; it is now or never!
A successful international climate agreement cannot be achieved at Copenhagen without the wider participation of the developing countries. It is no less worrying that the developing countries will account for more than half of global emissions by the year 2020. China turned out to be the world's largest CO2 emitter in 2006 surpassing the United States. The United States and other developed countries should take the lead and bring the key emerging economies -- China, India, Brazil and Mexico -- under their wings.
However, it will not be easy to make the developing countries cut their emissions as their economic development and growth depend on it. With the developed countries' burden of sharing historical guilt for the majority of the current stock of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have caused global warming, some fair mechanisms for climate mitigation and adaptation have to be urgently invented to give us a better and safer planet to live in. Some formulaic approaches to the Unfccc principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" need to be devised to strike the balance between the developing countries' right to economic development and their obligation for mitigation of climate change.
Whatever mechanisms are devised in the proposed international climate agreement have to be based on the principles of fairness and justice; otherwise, the success of a global deal in Copenhagen will be a far way off. Both the developed and developing countries must act in good faith towards the common goal. There are reasons why developing countries have already lost their faith in the developed countries' campaign for the former to cut their emissions. First, the developing countries feel that carbon emissions offered the developed countries the ladder to economic prosperity, and now when it comes to the developing countries, they tend to kick it away from them.
Second, the developed countries have been more vocal and keen on climate mitigation than on adaptation, which might imply their huge financial and other practical commitments towards the developing countries. Such mistrust between the developed and the developing countries can be dispelled with the engaging leadership of the former. However, it is not only US leadership that is required; China should also lead the developing world as a whole for its own interest.
In Copenhagen, one of the contentious issues will be the developed countries' commitment of financial and technological assistance to the developing countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation. To finance mitigation projects in both the developed and developing countries, some prescriptions have been made such as cap and- trade, clean development mechanism, and harmonized domestic carbon taxes. To these, one more could be added, which is taxing the fossil-fuel supplying countries. A proportion of the proceeds from their fossil fuel trade should be used to pay for the damage caused by global warming. Carbon emissions generated by fossil fuels contribute to 76 per cent of global warming. Such a tax would be an incentive for the suppliers to invest more and be more innovative in clean energy. The Opec could play a significant role in this context.
If the "polluter-pay" principle can be well recognised now, why cannot "emitter-pay" be pushed ahead in an appropriate fashion, based on the source factor? This may provide the necessary additional funds for climate mitigation and adaptation projects in the developing world. Both the supplier of the emission sources and the emitter should bear the burden of the social cost they are causing to the world. Mind you, the heroin supplier and the heroin-addict are equally responsible -- both morally and legally -- for the social ills they cause.
Above all, as the developed countries expect the developing countries to cut their emissions, they themselves should also do so as exemplars. The developed countries' financial and practical assistance for climate change should come with their right, in return, to monitor the developing countries' graduated progress under various schemes depending on the levels of their development towards the reduction of their emissions and adaptation to climate change.
One may not be surprised, however, if the Copenhagen meeting is not fully successful this time round, despite the hopes many may have cherished because of the great urgency of the matter. There are various complex issues as well as conflict of interests among the nations which might take a while to resolve. The least that the meeting could do is to agree on a broad legal framework involving both developed and developing countries and leave the details for future refinement. In this way, the success of the meeting could be seen as a significant building block towards the ultimate goal.
Professor A F M Maniruzzaman is Chair, International Law and International Business Law, University of Portsmouth, UK; member of Environment & Human Rights, and member of Energy Law & Climate Change, World Conservation Union (IUCN).

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