|Climate Protection Policies: Can We Afford to Delay? (WRI, 1997, 44 pages)|
The policy interdependence of nations raises the significance of U.S. decisions. If the United States endorses a meaningful commitment, it is very probable that other developed countries will agree to commitments, thereby creating a much stronger basis for the subsequent involvement of developing countries. If the United States opts to delay, then it is unlikely that Europe and other developed nations will implement carbon reduction policies either. Developing countries will almost certainly follow suit. In either case, the political and economic importance of the United States means that the U.S. decision will be amplified.
Current negotiations have recently been hamstrung by differences of opinion over "evolution" - the process by which developing countries take on binding commitments. The Berlin Mandate affirms the principle that developed countries have a responsibility to act first. Developed countries not only have higher per capita emission rates than developing countries but have been responsible for an even greater share of cumulative anthropogenic emissions to date. (See Figure 3.) While the developed countries have only 20 percent of total population, they are responsible for 65 percent of present global emissions and 73 percent of the cumulative emissions between 1950 and 1995 (CDIAC, 1996; United Nations, 1996).6 The U.S. contribution, both present and historical, stands out. Developed countries also have substantially higher levels of wealth and technology at their disposal.
6 Because CO2 remains in the
atmosphere for approximately a century, cumulative emissions provide a better
insight into present responsibility. Ideally, one should account for emissions
prior to 1950 but reliable data is unavailable.
Nonetheless, some U.S. politicians are now calling for developing countries to agree to commitments from the outset (Congressional Record, 1997). This move is prompted by the fear that unilateral action by developed countries will lead to displacement of energy-intensive industries to developing countries, with little or no overall effect in global carbon emissions. These fears may be overstated and ignore emissions reductions that have occurred in developing countries anyway (Reid and Goldemberg, 1997; Repetto and Maurer, 1997).
Ultimately, developing country action will be crucial. As their populations swell and as their economies grow, so their carbon emissions will increase. This is especially likely given that many developing countries have vast fossil fuel resources waiting to be tapped. Already, in the absence of imminent action, growth in developing countries is proceeding along conventional lines. Since 1992, the World Bank has helped to finance 87 fossil-fuel projects whose expected CO2 emissions over their lifetime are one and a half times greater than today's total annual global emissions (IPS, 1997).
Just as making a transition to alternative energy technologies is constrained in the United States by the degree of carbon-intensive stock in place, so the same is increasingly true for developing countries. Their choices regarding core energy systems and energy-related infrastructure could establish the same high dependency on fossil fuels evident in the Western world. The opportunity to nip this in the bud should not be wasted.
Just as making a transition to alternative energy technologies
is constrained in the United States by the degree of carbon-intensive stock in
place, so the same is increasingly true for developing
The issue then is how best to ensure the involvement of developing countries. At the outset, the degree of their involvement hinges on moral arguments relating to responsibility for current concentrations and relative wealth. In the long term, the involvement of developing nations depends entirely on creating attractive investment and development opportunities that offer feasible alternatives to conventional growth. For both reasons, further delay by developed countries could potentially make it harder rather than easier to ensure developing country action.
First, the issue of signaling is again pertinent. The Byrd-Hagel Resolution has been perceived as a sign of U.S. reluctance to act at all as much as a call for developing country commitment at the outset.7 As a consequence, it prompts developing countries to push climate protection further down their list of priorities. In contrast, early action by developed countries would signal exactly the opposite. Even if developing countries are not required to make an explicit commitment at the outset, an agreement by the developed nations to reduce emissions, followed by action toward that goal, would send an unmistakable signal about expected future development. Not only would it provide a much stronger basis for ensuring developing country action in due course, but it would force developing countries to consider alternative energy systems even before binding commitments were in place.
7 The Byrd-Hagel Resolution, passed 95-0 in
the U.S. Senate, expresses the view that the United States and other developed
countries should not accept new commitments unless developing countries also
accept specific scheduled commitments within the same time frame (Congressional
Second, developing countries will be persuaded not to use their fossil fuel reserves only if feasible energy alternatives exist. The bulk of technological advance will need to occur in the developed countries, but may be rapid enough only if appropriate policies are set in place now. If new technologies succeed in providing more favorable alternatives, developed countries could benefit from important trading opportunities in international markets. Equally, developing countries could avoid embarking on a conventional development path from which they would rapidly have to depart in the future. Technology-forcing domestic policy should make emissions reduction in both developed and developing countries less costly.