If you want to understand why it will be hard to get rich and poor countries to agree on how to deal with climate change, consider the reaction to a remark by Todd Stern, the U.S.’s chief negotiator, when he arrived here in Copenhagen the other day. Stern said:
We absolutely recognize our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere up there that are there now. But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations–I just categorically reject that.
In response, Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said:
Admitting responsibility for the climate crisis without taking necessary actions to address it is like someone burning your house and then refusing to pay for it. Even if the fire was not started on purpose, the industrialized countries, through their inaction, have continued to add fuel to the fire. As a result they have used up two thirds of the atmospheric space, depriving us of the necessary space for our development and provoking a climate crisis of huge proportions.
In Bolivia we are facing a crisis we had no role in causing. Our glaciers dwindle, droughts become ever more common, and water supplies are drying up. Who should address this? To us it seems only right that the polluter should pay, and not the poor.”
We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it.
There you have it. Bolivia happened to speak up, but it could just as easily have been China, India, Indonesia or Kenya.
The world’s poor countries want to get richer. Producing energy and economic growth in a cleaner way–by using wind or solar power, or nuclear energy, or electric cars–costs more than burning coal or oil. That expense, the poor countries say, should be borne by the U.S., the EU and Japan, which have emitted most of the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere. Even now, the wealthy countries where 19% of the world’s people live account for 51% of global GHG emissions.
The principle is simple–polluters should pay because they made the mess. Some people call this climate justice.
But where will the money come from to finance clean technology for China, India and the rest of the world? (Not to mention the money needed by some poor countries to adapt to climate change.) There’s talk in Europe of a global tax on financial transactions. Island countries, including the Maldives, have called for a global tax on aviation.
Today, EU leaders said that they’d come up with $3 billion for a fund next year and President Obama has said he’ll support limited funding for adaptation and clean energy, but the Euros and dollars don’t add up to what the poor countries want or even what independent experts said will be needed. Besides that, there are big arguments brewing about who would manage the fund.
Much of the debate in Copenhagen will turn on these questions of morality and money.