Carbon culprits: South is fast catching up

10 December 2007
With Indian emissions rising three to four times faster than the world average, it is time to end the government policy of hiding behind the poor to defend elites who enjoy Northern levels of consumption.
NOTHING exposes the bankruptcy of “GDP-ism”, or obsession with gross domestic product growth, better than India’s and Pakistan’s performance where it matters — human development. The latest United Nations Human Development Report shows India has in one year slipped two notches in the Human Development Index to the pitiable rank of 128 among 177 countries. And Pakistan has fallen by one rank to 136. Thanks to lopsided elite-oriented growth, India and Pakistan remain firmly within the bottom one-third of the world’s nations in welfare. India’s Human Poverty Index rank has fallen — despite becoming the world’s second fastest-growing economy. This abysmal performance isn’t explained by low incomes. Tajikistan, with a per capita income 62 per cent lower than India’s, has a higher HDI rank (122). Poor people in big Southern countries like China (HDI rank 81), Brazil (70), Mexico (52) and Indonesia (107), and even in smaller Malaysia (63), Thailand (78), Sri Lanka (99), Uzbekistan (113) and South Africa (121) have better life-chances than India’s poor. The poor of Laos (130) and Bhutan (133) are better off than Pakistan’s poor. Among 100 million-plus-population countries, only Nigeria and Bangladesh are worse off than India and Pakistan. The primary cause is massive (mal)distribution of growth, and deliberate neglect of the underprivileged. We’re condemning a majority to suffer life-long disadvantage. This year’s HDR alarms us for another reason. It's devoted to climate change, the greatest menace to humanity after mass-destruction weapons. Global warming isn’t an apocalypse waiting to happen. It’s a tangible reality for millions. Between 2000 and 2004, there were an average of 326 “climate shocks” a year. These annually affected some 260 million, more than double the number in the first half of the 1980s. People in the South are 79 times more likely to suffer droughts, floods and storms. Monsoon floods and storms this year displaced 14 million people in India, seven million in Bangladesh and three million in China. In sub-Saharan Africa, 10 million were affected by drought and two million by flooding. As the world drifts towards a “tipping point”— beyond which corrective action becomes impossible — it will leave hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity and livelihood losses. Tragically, the poor, who are least responsible for global warming, are forced to bear its biggest human costs. This is doubly unjust. Unless arrested, climate change will lead to a breakdown of agricultural systems, with 600 million more people facing malnutrition, an additional 1.8 billion facing water stress, and over 330 million people in coastal areas confronted with displacement. Climate change is not only depressing crop yields, lowering food security and increasing human distress. It’s also forcing vulnerable people to adopt harmful coping strategies such as cutting back on food intake, withdrawing children from school, and reducing spending on health. Children born in Ethiopia in drought years are 36 per cent more likely to grow up stunted than those born in normal times. These trends threaten to reverse human development in entire societies. The HDR stresses the imperative of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degree Celsius over the pre-Industrial Revolution period. It also sharply criticises US and European Union policies on global warming, and argues that they cannot avert dangerous climate change. The OECD countries are failing to meet even the modest targets for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Kyoto Protocol: 5.2 per cent reduction over 1990 by 2008-2012. So meagre are these targets that it will take 30 Kyotos to stabilise the global climate. The worst culprits are the US and Australia which haven’t ratified the Protocol, but recklessly increased emissions. Even the EU has on average achieved emission cuts of only two per cent instead of its eight per cent commitment under Kyoto. The report calls for a “twin-track” approach to combat global warming, which combines stringent mitigation with adaptation to climate change. It proposes that the developed countries should cut their emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. The Southern countries should cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2050, starting 2020. The Indian and Pakistani governments bristle at the suggestion that they should accept emission cuts because historically, the North’s industrial activities are responsible for global warming. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's maximum offer is to keep India's per capita GHG emissions less than those of the North. This won't do. China and India, and to an extent, Pakistan, are imitating the North in profligate energy and luxury consumption even as they profit from the irrational carbon trading system. Chinese and Indian emissions are rising three to four times faster than the world average. China will soon replace the US as the world's largest emitter. India has overtaken Japan to become the world's Number Four. It's despicable that our governments should hide behind the poor to defend elite interests. Citing per capita emissions makes no sense in our deeply unequal societies where the rich enjoy Northern levels of consumption while the majority lives frugally. To acquire global credibility and respect, China, India and Pakistan must show moral clarity and a universal vision. At Bali, they must facilitate the signing of a successor convention to Kyoto, and join efforts to cap and reduce emissions. Global warming calls for new, radical remedies. If the world is to cut overall consumption while improving living standards for the poor, it cannot use current development models and methods, or rules governing trade, technology, investment, and finance.
Praful Bidwai, a fellow of the Transnational Institute, is a senior Indian journalist, political activist and widely published commentator. He is a co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of ‘New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament’.