Global climate deal: Rich vs poor
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2015 - 9:00am

The whole civilized world is hoping that by the time this column is published, the more than 190 countries meeting in the Paris Summit on Climate Change would have finally arrived at an agreement to curb global warming. The failure would lead to a global disaster whose consequences would be worse than  all the different forms of terrorism.

Think of a world where extreme weather conditions become the new normal. Typhoons like Yolanda and Katrina will become common and droughts will last for years causing famine in areas covering several nations. Smog will become so bad that, like Beijing, factories, schools and public transportation will have to close down or allow people to suffer and die from diseases caused by breathing polluted air. Ocean levels will rise and islands will be covered by water. These are not just doomsday predictions. The world will be covered by filth and become “one big pile of dung.”

In the Paris Summit, the goal has been finally agreed by the participants. A statement issued said that “global temperature rise should be held well below 2 degrees Centigrade, with the ultimate target at 1.5 degrees Centigrade.” This target will, at least, prevent islands from being covered by rising water levels. This is especially relevant to  countries in the Pacific Ocean and to archipelagic nations  like the Philippines with more than 7,100 islands.

The reason the draft agreement was not immediately approved was because the combined promises by nations to curb emissions are not enough to meet the agreed targets. There is still a need for governments to increase their emission reduction targets.

The core obstacle  is the disagreement between the rich nations and the poor nations. In order to understand the cause of this divide, one must understand that there are two major sources of pollution in the world. The first source is from fuel used in power plants to produce electricity. The second source is from fuel used in motor transportation. The rich countries want all nations to share equal burden in curbing emissions to meet the less than 2 degree Centigrade global target. The richer nations believe that poor countries, especially emerging economies – like India, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam – must also take on the burden of cutting emissions.

Developing economies, on the other hand, believe that the rich nations are principally responsible for polluting the environment. It is the rich nations that mainly  caused  the ruinous effects of climate change.

The rich nations got rich by using low cost fuel source – like coal and fossil fuels – which are considered the biggest  sources of pollution. It is also the rich nations who were and are the principal users of automotive transportation that causes one-third of emissions in the world. Now the rich nations want all countries – rich and poor – to stop using coal and fossil fuels – and shift to renewable energy like wind and solar. But building wind and solar facilities are much more expensive. The shift from private transportation, like cars, to mass transportation, like subways, is also very expensive.

The rich nations are also condemning developing nations like Indonesia and Brazil for converting forests into agricultural and urbanized areas. But North America and Western Europe were once covered by forests which were cut down to provide more areas for farming and the building of cities. These same rich nations have never thought of converting farm and suburban areas into forested lands. They are satisfied with building parks and demand that the responsibility of providing forest cover be left to developing economies in South America, Asia and Africa.

The rich countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan used coal as their main source of power in order to industrialize. The United Kingdom once  had 200,000 coal miners. Until this year, China refused to participate in any climate change agreements which would lead to a ban on the use of coal. Now that China has finally reached industrialization stage, Beijing is willing to start reducing the use of coal.

Developing economies strongly believe that if they are forced to forego the use of cheaper power sources and shift to the more expensive renewable fuels,the rich nations should finance this expensive shift to more expensive power plants.

The Paris draft agreement is proposing that a $100 billion per year funding will be available for developing economies to help them shift to renewable energy sources and aid distressed economies due to climate change. However, the draft does not specify the sources for the fund and does not provide the mechanism for determining how the fund will be accessed by poor nations.

The second major dispute is the demand of  participants, like the United States and Western Europe, to have a single system of verification of the promises of all the participating countries.

Elina Barden, the EU’s chief negotiator said: “ We feel when parties have committed themselves to a national target that reflects the ambitions and abilities, they must be ready to tell the global community what type of progress is being made...We need to have accounting standards and principles that are common to all – otherwise you are simply comparing apples to pears.”

 Adriano Campolina from  ActionAid said it best: “Rich nations  have a responsibility to ensure a fair global deal for everyone, not just themselves, and as we move into these final hours of negotiations, poorer countries must not settle for anything else.”

The Aquino Legacy: An Enduring Narrative

The book “The Aquino Legacy: An Enduring Narrative” is a collection of essays that tells of the contributions of Ninoy and Cory Aquino to the Filipino people’s struggle for democracy. The authors hope that this book will help the public, especially millennials, to understand, value and preserve the hard fought historical gains in the restoration of democracy in 1986 .The book is now available at Fully Booked stores.


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