The steady principle of inconsistency

  • 14/03/1995

THE industrialised countries are back to their pre-Rio game of chess. They imposed their narcissistic environmental agenda on the economically atremble South by virtually bamboozling it into signing the treaty on climate change in 1992. Three years later, the North has not only reneged on its commitments, but also seems to have put to bed the international law it had formulated to resolve global environmental problems.

What is galling is that these are precisely the countries responsible for 80 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. In a sickening abdication of responsibility, they are refusing to tighten their own belts, exhorting instead the newly industrialising countries (NICs) like India, China and South Korea to start reducing their comparatively negligible emissions. The North's argument is that the NICs have potential enough to increase their emissions in the coming decades.

The national reports filed by the industrialised countries to the UN Secretariat on Climate Change shows that all of them are venting their carbon dioxide by an increase average of a whopping 16 per cent per annum. Gone is the spirit of the Climate Change Convention they had signed, an accord that entailed stabilising their carbon dioxide emissions at "an earlier level" -- the 1990 level -- by AD 2000. There are only 5 years to go for the deadline -- which was entirely consensual -- and there is still no evidence that these countries are even trying to adhere to it. The emissions are increasing and there is no serious containment policy in sight.

So now, Oblomov-like, they are basking in the easiest option: of doing nothing themselves. Instead, they want to use their leverage in multilateral development banks (MDBs) like the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) to stop funding projects in developing countries which lead to greenhouse gas emissions. Calling it the "principle of consistency" -- consistency, that is, between the legal convention and the policies of inter-governmental financial institutions -- they are trying to drastically alter the development pattern in developing countries which receive funds from these banks.

If accepted, this principle means that countries like India will not receive external finance from public sources to use natural, ultra-cheap and readily available resources like coal. A recent study by the ADB on India says, "India, with its abundant coal and scarce oil and gas resources, is pursuing an energy policy of substituting oil with coal. However, the Global Environment Facility, in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, may fund projects which change fuel conservation priorities in India from saving oil to saving coal." The WB is also loyal now to this policy, which emphasises funding renewable technologies at the cost of coal-powered thermal power stations.

With amazing grace, the Climate Change Convention does not ask developing countries for any reduction or stabilisation of Carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it clearly states in its preamble, "Noting that the largest share of historical and global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs." Therefore, the insistence of industrialised countries to introduce consistency between the convention and the MDB's policies is actually promoting inconsistency, since the convention does not expect developing countries to stabilise or even reduce their emissions.

Further, the industrialised countries are browbeating developing countries into giving them credits for carbon dioxide emissions in return for funds to buy efficient technologies to reduce emissions. This skulduggery enables the industrialised countries to meet the convention commitments with a handful of cents. It also ensures that they do not have to re-work their own consumption patterns and, consequently, their emissions. This may be cost-effective for them, but it leaves the South holding the hot brick.

The first phase of cuts in emissions in developing countries will be through making the manufacturing process more energy-efficient, for which technologies already exist in the global market. This cut should be enough to meet the commitments of developing countries whenever the issue crops up in any convention in future. However, if the current phase of cutting emissions is gifted to industrialised countries as "credits," developing countries will later have to go in for the second phase of cuts in emissions, which are likely to be as expensive as they are in Europe and North America today. In this phase, developing countries will not be entitled to any funding support, making it extremely difficult for their economies to absorb such costs.

The developing countries should ensure in the Climate Summit scheduled to be begin on March 27 in Berlin that industrialised countries are prevented from passing on the carbon dioxide buck to them, and to ensure that they get the agreed upon environmental space for their economic growth. How this space is utilised is the legitimate business solely of the developing countries. On this international issue, the pusillanimity of the North's green NGOs has also been a matter of amazement.