Climate Conundrum: Chaotic Calamity Or Doable Deal? :By Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Center Former Director, UNEP

Climate Conundrum: Chaotic Calamity
Doable Deal?

By Rajendra Shende,
Chairman, TERRE Policy Center
Former Director, UNEP
3rd Dec 2011

The world is now afloat with new omnipresent words like recession, depression, bailout, bankruptcy and budget deficit. They are no longer the words that are confined to the domain of economists and finance-experts. They are now commonly used on the breakfast table.

They are also common words on the negotiating tables of the current Durban meeting on the Climate Change. They are not part of the negotiating text, per se but they are hidden in the minds of the negotiators. You can smell those words. Those are the ghost words wandering in the expansive premises of COP 17 meeting in Durban.

I am not an economist. The economists are now increasingly recalled to take over the governance of the countries going bankrupt.  But my memory takes me back to my graduate class of economics. Recession, I recall class in IIT-Bombay, is defined as the condition when "two consecutive quarters of GDP" show negative growth. And I also recall responding to the quiz on the difference between recession and the depression. Depression is a recession lasting 2 or more years!

Well when the negative outcome of the negotiations last for more than 14 years, what would that be called?  I searched the dictionaries and came across the words to sketch extreme depressions as psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, and melancholy leading to even thoughts of suicide!

Many of you would stop reading this blog further and blame me for being an  xtreme cynic and a merchant of dooms. That’s the precisely is the point.  Symptom is not a disease. Continuing discussion may be addiction, but not a disease!  But if such talking rumination continues without end in site and without any visible actions, the severe and ‘suicidal diseases’ inflicting on human mankind are not far off.

I will not exaggerate much if I say that Durban negotiations sound like Indian Parliament. The decision till now is: there is no decision!

The bones of contention in Durban is simple:

1.    Developed countries have not fulfilled their legally binding commitment in Kyoto in 1997. The world’s largest emitter, USA, has never taken any commitment, as it never even ratified the Kyoto Protocol.  The BASIC  (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries are asking all developed countries to urgently meet their commitment and even take more speedy commitment to reduce the emissions. This argument appears as not only logical but very straight forward.
2.    Developed countries are vehemently stating that the developing countries, particularly BASIC countries should also take legally commitment as their emissions are also significant (China has over taken USA and now is the largest emitter in the world.).
3.    Developing countries say: that was not what was agreed in Kyoto in 1997  (and not even in UNFCCC in 1992). Developed countries are now changing the rules of the games after agreeing to legally binding targets to escape their commitment towards their own emission reduction targets and to run away from their promise of making finance (10 billion over year from 2010 to 2012 and then increasing to 100 billion per year) available to the developing countries. Indian negotiators openly ask, where is the money you promised?
4.    Developing countries are stating that the world has changed over last 14 years, emerging economies like BASIC block are competing with the developed countries and they cannot be out of the legally binding commitment.

These bones of contention are voiced by a  block of the developing countries led by BASIC countries. These bones are being chewed year after year for more than a decade now and it appears (and I am tempted to state) that Kyoto may commit suicide! Even Japan who was so proud that this historical treaty was agreed in Japanese historical city of Kyoto does not want Kyoto Protocol to survive. The tsunami of arguments in Durban is already washing the Protocol away!

But is it difficult for the developed countries to meet their emission and financial commitment?  As a technologist I can say with thumping surety that modest reduction in emission of nearly 5 % agreed in 1997, was possible only by improving efficiency and without even use of any new technologies. 

And what about finances? Is it possible for the developed countries to meet their commitment? Again, I am not economist, but I did govern the finances in the private sector as well as in the global programmed and to me answer is resounding YES!

The private sector, or any programme when in financial crunch, the first action is to stop wasteful spending. Look at the figures released by the developed countries themselves:

International Energy Agency (whose membership is mainly developed countries) in their report released just few weeks back stated that the Governments and taxpayers subsidized the production and consumption of fossil fuels by about $409 billion in 2010, compared to $312 billion in 2009 countries. But there is wide scope for developing countries to cut down these subsidies and demonstrate to the developing countries how they can reduce theirs. Indeed, the Group of 20 (G20) major economies had committed in Pittsburgh in 2009 to phase out, over the medium-term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption. The support to fossil-fuel production and consumption in the developed countries was USD 45 – 75 billion annually during the 2005 – 2010 period. Surely such funds could be easily available to start with for “ Green Climate Fund”.

But that’s not the only solution. The State leaders in the developed countries are already in the thick of advising the austerity measures. Containing and halting the wasteful expenditure is the key for the present financial crisis. It is also the key to tackle the climate crisis by making the Green Climate Fund a reality. It is estimated that yearly, over 1.5 trillion dollars are spent on military expenditures worldwide which is more than 2 per cent of World GDP). The combined arms sales of the top 100 largest arms producing companies amounted to an estimated $315 billion in 2006. Part of this fund could be devoted to avoid the future wars related to water, food and refugees arising out of global warming.

I recall in crisis some times we have to be ruthless to save the lives.  It is important to know that estimated global spending on (domestic) pet food is about USD 50 billion; majority in the developed countries. I certainly do not want to suggest to stop feeding the pets. But there is certainly the way to save in that front. When the climate leads a deadly disaster, what would be more important: poor whose life is in danger or the pets of the rich?

These seem to be provoking arguments but I am putting them forward only to respond to the immediate need of prioritization.
And not that this is not done before. When USA went into spiral housing prime crisis, almost overnight nearly USD 700 billion were made available to ‘ bailout’ the banks. The total global bailout figure since the markets began to tumble in 2008 is almost $11 trillion. That was used to ‘stabilize the economies from dangerous consequences.’

The Article 2 of the UNFCCC  (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ) says that the main objective of the Climate treaty is "the stabilization of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system"

If we can raise almost overnight unprecedented amount of money to stabilize the economy, why we cannot do it to stabilize the GHGs, knowing well that destabilization of GHGs will lead to even greater and dangerous destabilization of economy? END 

By Rajendra Shende,
Chairman, TERRE Policy Center
Former Director, UNEP