How Rich Countries Are Cheating In Climate Change Negotiations

us coal plants

This is an important year for climate change negotiations and climate change diplomacy is picking up fast, with an important virtual meeting called by US President of several world leaders scheduled for April 22. What is absolutely clear is that  climate change mitigation and adaptation are among the most important challenges before humanity, and all countries, all people should try to do their best for this. However what is disturbing is that the richest countries of the world are paying shrewd games which will benefit them at the cost of most of the other countries.

Till not too long ago the principle of differential responsibility was very widely accepted, based on the historical reality that climate change is largely the result of the excessive emissions of the richest countries for a long time and they have to accept the larger responsibility for corrective action in time, while the poorer countries need more space for reducing poverty and should have access to substantial  funds and other help for this purpose. In fact a more specific target of the rich countries contributing enough to create a fund that can provide 100 billion dollars annually for the poorer countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation was agreed upon, while there was also discussion on additional funds to provide the poorer countries relief from disasters linked to climate change.

Now compare this with the present times when only a small fraction of the promised funds have become available, and there is a lot of criticism about how the little that has been made available  is being exaggerated in various ways. Instead of speaking about differential responsibility there is now more talk about moving together towards net zero emissions in 2050 or 2060. We have come a long way from the earlier position to a position where  differential responsibility is being pushed aside more and more as a common goal for rich and poor, more or less.

Secondly there are questions regarding how exactly emissions are to be calculated for various countries. It is well known that a few rich countries have a powerful grip on  world economy and trade. Using this power they can operate in a situation where the richest countries can have very high consumption levels but they can push the environmental costs to other countries by locating the more polluting industries and activities there. So the high emissions caused by their unsustainable and polluting lifestyles do not get shown up in their emissions. The systems of carbon trading can further worsen this distortion. In fact some of the most highly polluting industries and multinational companies are trying to emerge as leaders of sustainable business. This messes up the entire task of checking climate change. When such deception is practiced it becomes difficult to ensure the enthusiastic participation of people which is the key to success. .

The entire concept of net zero emissions is based on deduction from emissions of carbon absorption or capture. But several aspects of capture are uncertain and dubious, while geo-engineering technologies sometimes mentioned can cause a lot of damage. On the other hand there are several much better established solutions like protecting natural forests, creating new forests which try to mimic natural ones to the extent possible, increasing organic content of soil in many ways. These are solutions which are beneficial for humanity and other forms of life for other reasons too, and will also help to reduce poverty on sustainable basis. Progress along  these lines could have been abundant by now in poorer countries if they were getting their share from the 100 billion dollar fund and utilizing it properly. This fund has been largely denied, but  what is worse is that multinational companies and even several aid agencies based in rich countries or dominated by them continue to push poorer countries along very different ( and harmful) lines regarding agriculture, forestry etc., as they had done in the past.

This draws attention to the wider reality that while finding solutions to climate change should lead us to a path of changing world in very basic and justice-based ways, the richest  countries are trying to achieve this  largely in business-as-usual ways, without ending militarization, arms race and wars, without ending imperialism. The solutions for climate change are sought to be achieved in a world of increasing inequalities, increasing domination and wealth of billionaires, increasing grip of multinational companies spreading highly distorted technologies and pushing for highly unjust policies. This is not the right path  at all.

We really need to move towards a different path of climate change mitigation and adaptation, which is within the  framework of justice, equality and peace, which also sees the necessity of challenging the many oppressions of imperialism and the entirely  avoidable extreme distresses of militarization.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener of Save the Earth Campaign with its SED Demand. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and Man Over Machine.



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