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Developing countries must take lead in emissions rules

By Mukul Sanwal (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2012-12-17 21:08

The 18th round of climate meetings has just concluded at Doha with an agreement that all countries take on commitments of a similar legal nature: limited emissions reductions by the developed countries, and few resources for the developing countries. 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 adverse effects. The new regime is to be shaped around a common understanding of "aggregate emission pathways" to achieve stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse concentration, which is also the objective of the convention, and provides the opportunity for developing countries to mainstream their concerns of sustainable development. However, agreement on an alternative vision that will lead to international cooperation will not be easy, as all parties are primarily interested in continuing their economic development.

The scientific assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear efforts to combat global climate change and the pursuit of sustainable development are two sides of the same coin, but they have yet to be integrated into the climate change debate and climate negotiations. Global emissions now have to remain within an agreed limit reduction, and that has very different implications for economies where growth has stabilized and for those that will continue to grow. To ensure equity of outcomes, the new agreement 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 interlinked and cannot be considered in isolation.

All the analyses suggest that the most rapid growth of the middle class will occur in Asia, with India somewhat ahead of China over the long term. The volume of urban construction for housing, office space, and transportation services over the next 40 years could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history. Up till now, fewer than 1 billion people have accounted for three-quarters of global consumption; during the next two decades, new and expanded middle classes in the developing world could create as many as 2 billion additional consumers. The health of the global economy will be increasingly linked to how well countries earlier considered developing do — more so than the traditional West. As these countries enjoy a rapid increase in their power, they will need to think about the global ecological limits, or availability of carbon space, in new ways.

A multipolar world is now marked by wide differences regarding how to manage the international system. The developing countries have been calling for a more democratic process for international relations instead of established powers shaping the rules in their own interests, disputing perceptions of an open, liberal order that has allowed emerging powers to prosper and rise. As the recent authoritative analysis by the National Intelligence Council of the United States notes: Equality, openness, and fairness are not just values to be applied to domestic setups, but also pertain to the broader international order.

The unresolved issue is how much overshooting of the temperature limits temporarily will be acceptable in the face of continuing reluctance of the rich countries to modify longer-term trends, which they has committed to under the convention, and requires the new rules to move away from defining the "principles" to achieving the "objective" of the convention.

The author is a former adviser for the United Nations Environment Programme.

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