Focus on Sustainable Development


By Kukul Anwal

The multilateral debate in climate negotiations is really over post-1992 ‘economic realities’ that should be recognised: economic growth in some developing countries and/or the persistence of widespread poverty. The strategic issue for us now is to move beyond legalistic debates and bring the needs of the planet and those of the poor into a single mutually-reinforcing framework.

The ‘sink’ constraints of the planet have taken natural-resource scarcity to a new dimension highlighting the interdependencies of the global society in providing development opportunities for all people within the boundaries of the natural environment.

According to recent analyses, what really matters is the total greenhouse gas budget we allow ourselves, because of the scientific uncertainty associated with emission rates and concentration targets, which cannot be accurately inferred from quantities we can observe. The shared vision of the Cancun Agreements also recognises the substantial opportunities from a paradigm shift towards building a low-carbon society and equitable access to sustainable development.

We now have to go beyond the current approach based on assessing and managing risks posed by pollutants. An analysis of trends since 1992 shows that the annual meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have only led to new institutional arrangements, expert groups and workshops serving to solve political problems, rather than the problem itself.

As part of the reappraisal of current approaches, a new poverty index recently developed by the United Nations stresses lack of services such as electricity as a key factor in determining poverty. While it is agreed that individuals’ access to electricity should be seen in incremental levels of basic human needs, productive uses and modern society needs, ‘basic human needs’ is the level that is commonly used for forecasts related to growth in developing countries emissions from universal energy access.

Consequently, the International Energy Agency assumes that 1.4 billion rural poor without access to electricity (the United Nations Development Programme computes a much larger number) will each need only 250 kwh annually – a floor fan, two compact fluorescent bulbs and a radio – for about five hours each day, which would, therefore, increase developing country emissions by a negligible 3% till 2050.

Others argue that this figure is too low, and the aim should be to achieve a higher per-capita electricity use equivalent to a mid-level developed country like Spain, with an average of 5,000 kwh – while the developed-country average is 1,000 kwh – for the 4-5 billion rural poor who will move to urban areas, and energy will also be needed for development of industry and infrastructure for the eradication of poverty.

While there is no common understanding of how the resulting increased emissions from developing countries will be accommodated in the transition to sustainable development, it is clear that peaking of carbon dioxide emissions will depend on shifts in patterns of resource use in developed countries and the availability of innovative energy technologies in developing countries.

There is also no agreement among countries on the public policies needed to establish a global regime to accelerate sharing of innovative technologies. Internationally-spurring green technological development will require a wider mix of public sector strategies, which guarantee a commercial incentive substantial enough to enable private parties through the use of subsidies and public purchases of technology at reasonable cost in their research undertakings, while constraining monopolistic practices that restrict diffusion and further development. Public policy tools could include global funding for research, to be placed in the public domain for widespread dissemination under the same modality utilised in the green revolution in food agriculture in the 1960s and 1970s.

Where exclusive private-sector rights of use to vital technology are a hindrance to the development of other needed technology or to widespread use, the technology regime must have a mechanism (such as in certain areas of public health, including in the US) for granting a ‘compulsory licence’ that places such technology in public domain.

As developing countries are taking the leadership in emissions reduction, their pledges amount to more than those of developed countries, climate change is now synonymous with sustainable development, considering both environmental damage and social transformations. Therefore, sharing innovative energy and agriculture technology should be considered as global goods, along with carbon budgets to reduce concentrations of greenhouse gases, for ensuring human well being.

The global concern is that patterns of resource use must be common for all citizens, not just access to natural resources. Such a new principle can also provide an integrating theme to promote greater coherence between the disparate entities of the multilateral system whose common objective is to support the transition to global sustainable development.

(Author is former Civil Servant)

(Sourced from Economic Times)

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