Climate change: An ‘inequality of responsibility’?

22 09 2009

In an apparent rebuttal to attempts made by the Obama administration to ensure the primacy of domestic rather than international law in any forthcoming treaty over greenhouse gas reductions, emissions and carbon credits, Vandana Shiva wrote in the NewStatesman:

In a globalised economy, addressing pollution by setting emissions levels for each country is inappropriate for two reasons. First, not all the citizens of a country contribute to pollution. As a result of China becoming the world’s factory, its CO2 emissions outstrip those of the US, putting it in first place worldwide. In 2006, China produced 6.1 billion tonnes of CO2; the US produced 5.75 billion tonnes. But in the US, emissions were 19 tonnes of CO2 per capita, compared with 4.6 tonnes in China. And much of China’s CO2 could be counted as US emissions, because China is producing goods for US companies that America will consume. Wal-Mart, for example, procures most of what it sells from China.

In relation to the UK, Shiva highlights the fact that:

.. while only 2.13 per cent of the world’s emissions emanate from the UK’s domestic economy, CO2 is created on the UK’s behalf in China, India, Africa and elsewhere. The global carbon footprint of UK companies is not known, but estimates suggest that emissions associated with worldwide consumption of the top 100 UK products accounts for between 12 and 15 per cent of the world total.

According to Shiva, attempts to ‘offset’ the impact of climate change have so far penalised the poorest countries. In place of light touch regulation, she urges governments and the UN to impose carbon tax on corporations, both for production – wherever their facilities are located – and for transport, which the Kyoto Protocol does not account for.

In the same issue of the NewStatesman, political correspondent James Macintyre also advocates an urgent commitment from rich countries to cut emissions by at least 40% by 2020 to prevent a global warming increase of 2° or more. He asserts there being a clear ‘inequality of responsibility’ for carbon emissions across the world.

The spectre of natural disaster looms largest over poor countries. The total number of floods, cyclones and storms has quadrupled in the past two decades. Over the same period, the number of people affected by disasters has increased from roughly 174 million a year to more than 250 million on average. Environmental threat is acute in countries such as Bangladesh, where 119 million of the population subsist on less than $2 a day. For them and millions of others, talk of climate change is not a fad or fashion, a label to help “modernise” a political party, or the subject of dinner-party self-justification; it is literally a matter of life and death. For their sake, long-standing green campaigners and late-coming progressive converts alike must pray for a deal in December.

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