Rich Countries Must Do More than Poor Countries to Fight Climate Change
José Antonio Ocampo and Nicholas Stern
In the following viewpoint, José Antonio Ocampo and Nicholas Stern argue that rich countries need to take the lead in investing in sustainable growth to avert climate change. The authors contend that rich nations cannot expect the developing world to halt development and growth, and they call on developed countries to accelerate their actions. Ocampo is a professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York City. Stern is I.G. Patel Professor of Economics and Government and chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. The authors contend that the world is headed for how much of a global warming by 2020?
2. The developing world will be home to how many of the projected global population of nine billion in 2050, according to the authors?
José Antonio Ocampo and Nicholas Stern, “Rich Nations Must Take the Lead in a Clean-Energy Revolution,” Financial Times (UK), June 18, 2012. Copyright © 2012 by José Antonio Ocampo and Nicholas Stern. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
3. What do the authors say is the answer to combating climate change?
As the United Nations [UN] conference on sustainable development begins [June 20, 2012] it is the rich countries that have the most to prove. The last summit in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago provided the opportunity for countries to sign the UN framework convention on climate change, which should have stabilised global annual emissions of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels, and placed prime responsibility on the industrialised nations, who have done most to pollute the atmosphere, to lead by example.
The Failure of Rich Countries to Lead
But rich countries have not led and annual global emissions have continued to rise. Even taking into account pledges by rich and poor nations for action by 2020, the world appears to be heading for likely global warming of 3°C [approximately 6°F] or more, to a temperature not seen on earth for about 3m [3 million] years.
Having witnessed, for instance, failure by the US and Canada to honour their signatures to the Kyoto Protocol [an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions], poor countries are understandably sceptical, as we approach another summit, of lofty ambitions expressed by rich nations.
Rich countries have not led and annual global emissions have continued to rise.
It will take more than words to restore the confidence of poor countries. Some rich countries are dragging their feet on tackling climate change while unfairly criticising the developing world, apparently unaware of the strides that these countries are making in finding a new path. China, India, Mexico, Brazil and other emerging powers have laid out ambitious Page 182 | Top of Articleplans to tackle deforestation and to reduce radically their emissions to output ratios. Most importantly, they are implementing those plans.
The Challenge for Poor Countries
One of the biggest injustices of climate change is that the poorest countries are most exposed and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change even though they have done least to raise atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. Now they must contend with the brutal arithmetic of a tight budget for global emissions as they try to fight poverty, develop and grow, while managing the enormous risks of climate change.
Rich and poor countries agreed in Cancún in December 2010 that global emissions should be reduced to avoid a rise in global average temperatures of over 2°C. To have a reasonable chance of this, global average emissions have to be reduced from the present level of about 7 tonnes per capita of carbon dioxide equivalent to around 2 tonnes in 2050.
Some rich countries are dragging their feet on tackling climate change while unfairly criticising the developing world.
This is a huge challenge as developing countries will be home to 8bn [8 billion] of the projected global population in 2050 of 9bn. Even if the rich countries reduce their emissions to zero by 2030, developing nations would need to hold their emissions to about 5 tonnes per capita by 2030 and 2.5 tonnes by 2050. For comparison, current per capita emissions are 22 tonnes in the US, over 9 tonnes in the EU [European Union], about 7 tonnes in China, and 2 tonnes in India.
A Sustainable Path for the Future
So rich countries not only have to accelerate their actions, but must also support the poor countries as they make the transition to low-carbon economic growth.
It would be morally unacceptable to try to insist that developing countries drop or scale back plans to fight poverty and raise material standards of living. The developing world is understandably suspicious that this is a hidden agenda. Yet it is a fact that their growth is the biggest source of the rise of emissions. The answer is clear: radical change in emissions per unit of output. This revolution carries many benefits: cleaner, quieter, safer, more energy-secure, and more biologically diverse energy. Rich countries must support this with technology and resources.
Rich countries not only have to accelerate their actions, but must also support the poor countries as they make the transition to low-carbon economic growth.
The developed world must not attempt to preach to the poorer nations. As they deal with the largely self-inflicted Page 184 | Top of Articledamage to their economies, rich countries must show they understand the dangers that arise from hesitation in acting against climate change. They will discover by investing in the low-carbon economy, adopting clear and credible policies, and building new technologies and markets [that] they will help to create the only truly sustainable growth path for the future, and help find a way out of the depression of their own making.