Tag Archives: developing countries

Which Way Does Your Moral Compass Point? (Part II)

Sustainable Development: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. How do we achieve this? How do we harmonize the goals of economy, society, and environment? Some would say it is impossible; that environmental protection leads to economic destruction. Others argue that economic prosperity leads to environmental catastrophe. But, what if there is a world where we can have both? Experts here at the COP say that we can have our cake and eat it too: it is possible to tackle climate change while continuing to foster economic growth. Furthermore, we cannot continue to experience economic growth without tackling climate change.

So, how does this work in practice? Several approaches have been discussed here at the COP. Experts at a side event this week discussed 3 major areas we all need to address: 1) Decarbonization of the energy system 2) Management of lands and resources and 3) Reduce unstructured urbanization and sprawl. The mechanisms proposed to tackle these issues are:

  • Resource Efficiency – We need to properly price our resources so that they don’t get used at a pace faster than they can be replenished (Yes, this includes a price on carbon). This is also known as capturing the social cost of a resource in its market value.
  • Investment in Infrastructure – The only way we are going to move away from our current energy system that is reliant on fossil fuels is if we invest in newer sources of energy and cleaner infrastructure so that we can begin deploying these systems at a large scale. This means electric vehicle charging stations, public transportation, greener city infrastructure, etc.
  • Innovation – It all seems to come down to innovation. Innovation improves the risk/reward relationship and allows for us to continue to develop economy and at the same time tackle problems like climate change. If we don’t innovate, we can’t move forward.

The overall view here at the COP is that we can still develop while mitigating and adapting to climate change. Will there be a transition period? Of course. We go through transition periods all the time, and generally (with the right intentions) what results is a better more efficient world. We have the technologies, instruments, and will-power to move forward. We just need to continue to push ahead with the ‘New Climate Economy’ Framework in mind and the contention between economy and environment will begin to dissipate. We can expect to see a lot more of this type of discussion leading into Paris and further into the future.

So, I ask you again, which way does your moral compass point? If you are having a hard time choosing or are having a hard time seeing where environment, society, and economy differ at certain intersections, then I have good news for you! You don’t have to choose between these issues. In fact, you shouldn’t choose. Economy and environment are increasingly intertwined and should be addressed together. As we have heard multiple times at the COP: Better Growth, Better Climate.

Which Way Does Your Moral Compass Point? (Part I)

We know that climate change is a problem and we have a decent understanding of how the changes will affect us. What you may not know is that the World Bank lists 137 nations (65% of all countries in the world) as “developing countries.” Furthermore, according to the United Nations, 1.4 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. One of the major goals of the UNFCCC is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, as they are one of the main drivers of climate change. However, bringing cheap and affordable electricity to those without may require heavy use of fossil fuels and, in general, higher GDP (economic growth) results in increased greenhouse gas emissions. What this means is that we have a great conundrum: Developing nations need to develop and climate change is exacerbated by development.

With these statements in mind, I pose a few questions: How do we weigh the costs and benefits of solving each of these problems? Can we solve these problems simultaneously, and if so, how? Do we have to choose which problem is more important?

As with any conflict, this great conundrum comes with several different solutions (extremes and compromises) born from opposing arguments and viewpoints. In no way can I explain all of these in one post, but I can provide a brief overview of the major themes and explain what the UNFCCC is doing to address these challenges.

Common arguments for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (and inherently fossil fuels) include: resource depletion, pollution, climate change, and preservation for future generations. These arguments all have a long-term view that focus both on human and environmental well-being. We currently know that fossil fuels can provide affordable and reliable energy, but at a major cost in the long term because fossil fuels are a major instigator of human-induced climate change.

As you would expect, there are moral arguments for inducing economic development and providing electricity to developing countries without concern for environmental impacts. These arguments are centralized around the short-term human condition. For example: Many argue that the use of fossil fuels provides reliable energy, which actually protects us from climate.

But what about the small island nations that will be under water in the near future because of the sea level rise? What about the rapid spread of diseases, like malaria, due to the warming climate? Fossil fuels can help resolve many issues but climate change issues are not among those. It is not human nature to live without some impact on the earth, however, these impacts must be minimized so that we don’t have to sacrifice long term benefits for the short term.

So, how does the UNFCCC address the role of developing nations in the midst of climate change? Simple: Sustainable Development. Except, it isn’t that simple. ‘Sustainable development’, in the broadest sense means, “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” As you can see, this language is not conducive to any real application in a climate change agreement.

For the sake of brevity, I will pause here and let you meditate on where your moral compass points in this conundrum. Next week, I will continue to expand this idea of sustainable development and what it means for developing nations and future COPs in “Which Way Does Your Moral Compass Point? (Part II)”.


Moral Compass png
‘Moral Compass’ Image Source: http://www.premcenter.org/sustainability



Clear as Mud: Ambiguity in the Midst of Climate Change

Climate change is becoming one of the biggest challenges of our generation: average global temperature is rising, ice sheets are melting, sea level is rising, and currently, there is no real solution in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to make a difference. But, what is climate change, really? And what results are we actually after with an international climate agreement? In order to answer these questions, we need to return to the basics and examine the definition of climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines climate change as, “any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time.” The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as, “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” Notice a difference in the language?

Now, imagine a world where three adjacent cities are trying to reduce vehicle accidents and all three cities use the same stop sign design at intersections. However, each city associates a different rule with the stop sign. In City A, the stop sign means that cars should immediately stop. In City B, the stop sign means that cars should slow down at the intersection. In City C, the stop sign means that cars only need to stop when the drivers have the time to wait. To further complicate the issue, City A decides that the enforcement and policing of its intersections is becoming too expensive, and is revising its stop sign rule.

Can you imagine what kind of chaos would ensue if this scenario was real? It would almost be impossible to drive through all three cities without being extremely confused about what a stop sign actually means and what you, as a driver, are supposed to do. This scenario also poses unnecessary and otherwise avoidable dangers to the drivers. The different stop sign regulations across cities hinder any sort of joint agreement or goal to decrease accidents at intersections. Even though the individualized rules are favored by each city, the resulting barriers to cross-city cooperation and effective policy creation are so great that a universal rule for stop signs would be a much better strategy to reduce accidents.

The same is true when trying to find solutions to the complex issue of climate change. The UNFCCC discusses many facets of climate change that are constantly changed and debated (and even undefined) among member states. Just to name a few: ‘Adaptation’, ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, ‘developing nations’, and ‘climate justice’. The ambiguity relating to climate change poses major challenges when trying to develop an international agreement. For one, it is difficult to come to a consensus on a solution to a problem that isn’t clearly defined. Secondly, the language currently used in the UNFCCC is vulnerable to manipulation for the benefit of some countries over others. This means that the language is subject to corruption when used out of context, which creates loopholes in the agreements. Thirdly, the more time spent on solidifying and changing the language in the UNFCCC is less time spent on forging an actual agreement with real solutions to climate change.

I come from an economics background, so in general, I am a number-oriented person. But when I began to write this post, the first thing that came to mind was language and how it affects decision-making. My hope is that we realize how important language is in the creation of a successful international climate agreement. Numbers and targets carry little weight if the associated language is so ambiguous that it can be manipulated and tailored to specific parties and interests. This year, in Lima, we need to make hard decisions, reinforce language, and solidify definitions to be temporally, geographically, and politically robust so that we can develop a successful agreement in Paris, 2015.

Addressing the Needs of Traditionally Developing Countries is Key to Future Negotiations

Responsibility for action on climate change has traditionally been more portrayed as a burden for developed, industrialized countries. The Kyoto Protocol requires only the Annex I countries–which at that time were the more advanced economies–to commit to legally binding mitigation targets. In addition to that, UN organizations and the early COPs are also focused more on developed countries. However this approach is challenged as the world economy landscape has dramatically changed in the recent years. Although the initial COPs only required Annex I countries to commit to mitigation targets, recent negotiations have placed more responsibility and pressure on developing countries as new mitigation frameworks such as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions become promulgated in more and more countries. One key rationale for letting traditionally developing countries commit more, is that emerging economies like China and India are taking over the developed countries as the major carbon polluters.

The changing role of emerging economies has quickly become a large obstacle for the climate negotiations. Although both the American and Chinese delegations claimed that their countries are committed to addressing global warming at the Climate Summit hosted by the UNSG in September, it is also known that President Obama implied that the US will not fully commit if China does not. China, on the other hand, emphasized the historical responsibility of industrialized countries. It is unquestionable that to fill the 2020 emission gap, the commitments from emerging economies are vital despite the fact that they do not belong to the Annex I category.

In addition to large emerging economies like China and India, the Convention also has the responsibility of negotiating mitigation and adaptation plans for smaller developing countries. Two of the most critical groups are the least developed countries (LDCs) and small islands states (AOSIS and CARICOM). These countries either have limited capability to mitigate (or even should have no responsibility to mitigate) or are very dependent on mitigation. Addressing the needs of them will also be critical in the upcoming negotiations.

Today, 80% of the fuel burned globally are fossil fuels. The developed countries might achieve their mitigation targets relatively easily, either because they have the technological capacity or because they have more transitioned and more advanced economy. The developing countries will still depend on fossil fuels for the near future and actually in the meantime suffer more from global warming. Among the developing countries, they are the most vulnerable group and also the ones who wish to protect their growing economies. They will need assistance from developed countries and the UN for both mitigation and adaptation purposes. The UN system should play a more constructive role in this.

This summer I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do an internship at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in New York City. UN organizations today play an important role in addressing issues like climate change. UNEP, together with other UN agencies like UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UNFCCC will inevitably become more involved in the scientific investigation of climate change, the organization of the negotiations and the implementation of climate change adaptation policies. However, for a variety of reasons, the UN is not fully addressing the needs of developing countries especially in terms of climate change negotiations. For example, from my own experience, I found that the staff from developing countries are somewhat underrepresented. As the negotiating process for setting targets and adaptation becomes more important,  UN organizations need to focus more on the developing countries, by directing more resources to help both mitigation and adaptation. And in my personal opinion, the convention of dividing Annex I and Annex II is no longer appropriate.