Climate change and the right to develop

By Feng Qinghu (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-10-31 07:23

At the 15th Economic Leaders' Informal Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held in Sydney last month, President Hu Jintao made proposals for tackling climate change, including ways to strengthen cooperation, pursue sustainable development and promote scientific and technological innovation. He stressed that "climate change is ultimately a development issue and it can only be addressed in the course of sustainable development".

Hu's speech was echoed and supported by developing countries in Southeast Asia.

The international community has long recognized the right of developing countries to development with regard to climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 1992 pointed out clearly that developed countries have contributed the biggest proportion of greenhouse gas emission historically and at present, the per capita emission of developing countries is still relatively low, the developing countries' emission quotas will be increased to meet the demand for their economic and social development.

As post-Kyoto Protocol negotiations continue, the right of development is being widely emphasized by developing countries, especially large developing countries like China and India. The Chinese government published its National Climate Change Program in June, which made it clear that climate change is ultimately a development issue.

Development is a necessary and irreversible process in human history. To a certain degree, climate change is irreversible too. This requires the international community to have a common understanding on emission reduction and development. Latest scientific research shows that global warming started as early as 500 years ago and human factors are not alone to blame. In such a situation, it is unreasonable to stress emission reduction while ignoring the right to development.

The fragility of developing countries shows the urgency to adapt to climate change and realize their right to development. Generally speaking, developing countries with underdeveloped economies are more vulnerable to the influence and damage of climate change. Take China for example, climate change has already caused obvious impacts on its agriculture, forests, water resources and coast areas. And the least-developed countries and small island countries are the most fragile ones.

The disparities and complementary relations between developing and developed countries have provided feasible and extensive prospects for cooperation in realizing the right of developing countries to development. Developed countries can cooperate with developing countries by helping the latter to reduce emissions. Such cooperation will help ease the contradiction between emission reduction and economic development. The Clean Development Mechanism advocated by the Kyoto Protocol has provided such a mode of cooperation.

The mechanism can help developed countries to fulfill their obligation in emission reduction and developing countries to realize their right to development. The trade in emission quotas can help realize both goals - emission reduction and development rights.

Another climate change issue which has emerged in recent years is how to guarantee the energy security of developing countries. Increased demand has led to high oil prices and developing countries have to depend more on coal, which leads to even bigger greenhouse gas emission. Past experience tell us that we cannot afford to pollute first and improve later. The most effective method to cope with climate change while guaranteeing the energy security of developing countries is to improve their energy utilization rate through technology.

One of the focuses of current negotiations is whether developing countries, especially large countries like China, India and Brazil, should shoulder the same responsibilities for emission reduction like the developed countries. This concerns the issue of giving priority to emission reduction or development.

The UNFCCC makes it clear that, on the bases of fairness, all signatory countries according to their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, should protect the climate system in the interests of all human beings, and developed countries should take the lead in reducing emissions and helping developing countries. Developing countries should also make, implement, publicize and regularly update their national programs to address climate change. This is the well-known UNFCCC principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", which sets out the major responsibilities of developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol has set the obligation of compulsory emission reduction according to this principle and has thus displeased some developed countries.

What is more, the UNFCCC said: "The extent to which developing country parties will effectively implement their commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country parties of their commitments under the convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties." This spells out the developed countries' responsibilities in promoting the rights of developing countries to development.

It is a pity that developed countries have shown insufficient sincerity and made inadequate efforts to fulfill the above obligations. The United States and Australia have rejected the Kyoto Protocol with the excuse that compulsory emission reduction will obstruct economic development and research conclusions about climate change still lack credence. So far developed countries have only committed $182 million to the adaptation fund for all poor countries. The emergency programs of the least-developed countries alone will need $1 billion to $1.2 billion.

The author is an official with the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

(China Daily 10/31/2007 page10)

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