The Right of the Poor to EcoEquity

THE fight against poverty and the climate change are the two key challenges of the 21st century. But how can we square development, which allows freedom from poverty, with climate protection?

poor-in-africa1THE fight against poverty and the climate change are two key challenges of the 21st century. But how can we square development, which allows freedom from poverty, with climate protection?

In Copenhagen this week a meeting of climate change scientists claimed that if we manage to achieve the current greenhouse gas emission targets (which are at present unachievable) there is still only a 50:50 chance of preventing a two degree rise in global temperature. A two degree rise above pre-industrial levels is now widely considered as the best case global warming scenario. This would see 20-40 per cent of the Amazon rainforest die off within 100 years. Rapidly melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are likely to cause sea levels to raise by a metre or more by 2100. This would endanger coastal cities and the living space of 600 million people who live in deltas, low-lying areas and small island states.

Without unprecedented global cooperation we may see global temperature rise above two degrees. There is a need for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, even if wealthy developed nations reduced their domestic emissions to near zero, we would still need to achieve large reductions elsewhere. Developing countries are unwilling and unable to prioritise rapid emission reductions as they struggle to achieve an acceptable improvement in the quality of life of their people.

In 2000 the World’s political leaders outlined a new vision for humanity embodied in the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Where they committed themselves to spare no effort to free fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty. Since then the MDGs have become a universal framework for development. They provide a means for developing countries and their development partners to work together to achieve a shared future for all. There are eight goals – eradicating poverty, educating more children, promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality among them. However, there is growing concern that many of the targets set for 2015 will be missed. This week the UK International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, told a meeting on global poverty in London that the world’s poorest countries will suffer the most from the global recession. The recession could push back the world’s progress in meeting MDGs by at least three years. By the end of next year another 90 million people could be in poverty.

The proven routes to a better quality of life for many of the world’s poor is access to energy services which can ensure water and food security, improved health care and education and secured livelihoods. The limited availability of low carbon technology to developing countries means that an increase in the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases is inevitable. One way to achieving climate protection while allowing the poor to develop is the establishment of a global burden-sharing scheme. The Greenhouse Gas Development Rights (GDR) Framework proposed by EcoEquity could provide the necessary means to protect the climate on an equitable basis. The GDRs framework determines the right to development based on a “development threshold”. This is a level of welfare below which people are not expected to share the costs of the climate protection. This threshold reflects a level of social welfare that is beyond meeting basic needs. People below this threshold have a right to develop. People above this threshold have achieved their right to development and must gradually curb their emissions associated with their consumption and move to more sustainable, low-emission lifestyles. Combining income, income distribution and emission data the GDR Framework is able to provide an index of responsibility called a “Responsibility Capacity Index” (CRI). un-climate-change-conference-poznan-poland

Using such an index the United States and the European Union have the largest responsibility to reduce their emissions. The national obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of these countries will be more then what they can achieve at home. They would therefore be required to contribute a Multi-National Climate Change Fund to support mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries. The GDR Framework would demonstrate a major commitment to North-South cooperation to tackle climate change. It would also provide a means of distributing the burden to reduce greenhouse gases in an equitable way while providing financial and technological transfers to poorer nations.

The GDR Framework is ambitious and the likelihood of it being adopted at present seems limited as it would require powerful nations such as the US and the EU not only to accept their share of the global burden to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to commit to large international financial and technology transfers. The next meeting in Copenhagen in December will be to agree a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol yet these climate negotiations will not be successful unless we can ensure that developing nations meet their the right to develop and achieve a better quality of life for their people.

© Gary Haq 2009