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G77 and Annex 1 can still get it right: chuck the blame game and focus on the core issue

To move from the present ‘golden era of the 1950s’ to the ‘sustainable development era for the 21st century’, policy makers across the globe need to realize that they have an opportunity to catalyze activity in the private sector.

At New Delhi’s Climate Change conference currently underway, ministers from 30 countries are debating who is to bear the responsibility and hence cost for climate change. The core issue of sustainable development is being undermined.

In the last decade ‘climate change’ has started getting attention from policy makers at the same time that scientific consensus has been developing around the increasing levels of green house gas emissions. When the Kyoto protocol was adopted in 1997, one of its key principles was based on a 'common but differentiated responsibilities'. The parties agreed that:
1. the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in developed countries;
2. per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low;
3. the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet social and development needs

As part of the differentiated responsibility was an undertaking by the industrialized nations (Annex I countries) to create funding mechanisms that promoted adoption of newer more efficient technologies in the developing countries. China, India, Brazil, Korea and Mexico have received 85% of this funding thus far.

No doubt there are imperfections in the Kyoto model: the fact that all African countries getting only 2% of the funding being one of them. But in the last several months as the discussions towards the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen have progressed, the entire Kyoto framework has been called into question.

Blaming everything on ‘Climate Change’.
Rather than improve the system, calls are being made to scrap it. And rather than have policy makers take a statesman like position, (see earlier article), they are entering into a blame game.

Policy makers and politics are getting inter-twined as country representatives take stances driven from ideology rather than driven by science. Now that there is a broad term like ‘climate change’ out there, politicians are only too eager to attribute their ills to it and looking for scape goats. Cyclones, droughts, floods, sand storms, etc are all getting attributed to climate change! And the G77 seem only to eager to point the finger at the Annex 1 and especially the G8.

At some level it would appear that developing countries are trying to force industrialized countries to compensate them for the past. This is a passive approach that effectively says: “you are responsible for climate change: so you fund us”.

Core issue getting lost: that we are still using technology from the 1950s
Climate change is not the issue: sustainable development is. The fact that mankind as a whole needs to embrace sustainability and start adopting the benefits of newer technology is agreed upon by everyone.

Even today we continue to use technologies developed over decades if not centuries ago in the areas that cause the most amount emissions:
1. Construction material, processes and design have been where they were from the earliest part of the 20th century
2. Energy for heating in developing countries is still based on biomass: using stoves and devices that have not changed for centuries!
3. The transportation sector has made marginal gains in efficiency over the last 50 years compared to what is possible
4. Power sector output of energy per unit of raw material also has made marginal gains in efficiency
5. Conventionally used plastics at a mass scale (which do not decompose for thousands of years) were introduced 50 years ago. With a ‘use and throw’ culture, the newer bio-degradable materials have yet to make a dent.

In essence we are still living in the golden industrialization era of the 1950s.

We need to move towards a ‘sustainable development era for the 21st century’.

It is possible and the solutions are out there.

What is lost in translation is that the funding in developing nations for newer technologies need not be a stumbling block.

Moving to a win-win
There are a number of things that can to be undertaken within a country to get the right dynamics going for sustainable development. We will not touch upon those here.

What we want to touch upon is that there can be ground where the developing world and the developed world can come to terms on a win-win proposition for the ‘sustainable development era’. The three pillars for such a dialogue are:
1. Taking market based solutions to scale:
Most of the technologies needed for sustainable development are owned by the private sector which sees business for them. There is an opportunity to build out these businesses to scale and creating conditions for private enterprise to adopt them quickly. The follow-through for such an initiative would entail adapting the technologies, R& investment, marketing, etc. But simultaneously there is monetization that would happen as users and consumers adopt the more sustainable solutions.

2. Creating revolving facilities and need for financial innovation
Most of the sustainable technologies have pay-backs: they are not black holes. Yes, there is a higher upfront investment; but many solutions have pay-backs that are measured in months and years. That point needs to be seized upon to form the basis of creating newer ‘sustainable funds’ and ‘investment vehicles’ to help take the solutions to market quicker.

3. Investing in innovation for the future
Most of the newer technologies around carbon sequestering, energy storage, sustainability materials, etc. still need significant investments before they can be relevant to developing countries. This capacity-building track needs to be funded and focused upon separately.

Private sector has already seized this opportunity and the cleantech sector is one of the fastest growing verticals. Policy makers across the globe need to realize that they have an opportunity to help catalyze this activity and take them to scale. That is the need of the hour.

Author: SustainabilityOutlook