ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Sustainable Development Perspective of Climate Change

Global environmental problems like climate change should be conceptualised as problems of consumption and not production patterns. A consumption rather than a production-based vision for environmentally sustainable economic growth would make the design and implementation of climate protection, as well as other environmental problems, more effective. Moreover, implementation in the context of international burden sharing, where benefits are not equally shared, requires a very different organising framework that is not based on cost-benefit analysis and commitments to reduce emissions determined in international negotiations, but rather on political justice and transfer of technology.

PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 12, 200849Sustainable Development Perspective of Climate ChangeMukul Sanwalclimate change should be shared among people and nations throughout the world, given that groups have different respon-sibilities for causing the problem and dif-ferent vulnerabilities to harm caused by climate change. Current FrameworkIn this context, there are three problems with the way the issue has been currently framed. First, the paradigm makes an artificial distinction between global and local environmental concerns. It, therefore, relies on three propositions of questionable validity. Firstly, it analyses global, rather than national, gross domestic product (GDP) losses and gains to show that the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of taking action. Secondly, it lays stress on negotiation of global legal frameworks so that developing countries can be included in a comprehensive regime, incorrectly assuming that other-wise industries would locate to areas where there was no related environmental regulation. Thirdly, it seeks to establish global market mechanisms to secure effi-ciency gains, which really means reduc-ing costs in industrialised countries. This framework completely avoids the ethical question that industrialised countries that are emitting greenhouse gases above their fair share of safe global emissions have an immediate duty to reduce their national emissions without regard to global cost-benefit analyses.Second, global environmental concerns like climate change should have been conceptualised as problems of consump-tion patterns of natural resource use. Such an approach would have focused attention on, and required deep cuts in, resource use in industrialised countries. Conse-quently, the G-8 put climate change on the agenda of theUN in the run up to the Rio Conference on Environment and Develop-ment in 1992, as a problem of production patterns. Industrialisation was getting under way in developing countries, and this framework provided the opportunity for continuing attempts to shift a major share of the burden of cleaning the environment onto these countries. Global environmental problems like climate change should be conceptualised as problems of consumption and not production patterns. A consumption rather than a production-based vision for environmentally sustainable economic growth would make the design and implementation of climate protection, as well as other environmental problems, more effective. Moreover, implementation in the context of international burden sharing, where benefits are not equally shared, requires a very different organising framework that is not based on cost-benefit analysis and commitments to reduce emissions determined in international negotiations, but rather on political justice and transfer of technology. Determining the best way of deal-ing with climate change has re-mained an elusive goal. Future Gen, the first coal-based power plant in the US, to capture carbon dioxide (CO2)and store it underground, demonstrating a technology known as carbon capture and storage, is being restructured. The project was first announced in 2003, costs have almost doubled to $ 1.8 billion and the designneedsimprovement. According to recent research, ethanol, a fuel produced from crops which was expected to reduce dependence on oil, will not save carbon dioxide with the current technology. The emissions trading scheme of the European Union (EU) has now been characterised by its finance ministers only as the most efficient allocation method, “in principle”, rather than the only vehicle for cutting emissions. Non-European industrialised countries as well as industry within Europe have also not supported the approach of interim targets for reducing emissions by 2020. After more than 15 years of discussion, debate and deliberation, emissions of CO2 continue to rise in most industrialised countries.Yet, pressure also continues to mount on developing countries to take on com-mitments to reduce emissions of CO2 because of their strong economic growth. Viewing this issue through the prism of justice, rather than only through the lens of science and economics, reveals a very different picture from the popular version of polar bears on ice floes in danger of ex-tinction. The dominant view in developing countries is of one billion citizens lacking access to modern electricity. For example, even with near double-digit economic growth, the per capita availabilityofelec-tricity in India is one-twentieth that of the US. Climate change raises questions as to how the burden of reducing the threat of These are the personal views of the author.Mukul Sanwal ( has worked with the government of India, United Nations Environment Programme and in the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.
PERSPECTIVEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 12, 200851The Stern report [Stern 2007] is a case in point in illustrating the continuing problems with formulations for burden sharing for producing collective benefits. The weight given to future generations has been criticised as too high (by William Nordhaus of Yale University) and the weight given to the consumption of the poor relative to that of the rich has been criticised as too low (by Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University). Both agree that the choices made in the report are incon-sistent with each other: egalitarianism be-tween the future and the past also requires egalitarianism between the rich and the poor. The conclusions of the report lead to a redistribution from poorer to richer countries, and raises questions regarding mitigation of climate change that are political, rather than legal or technical in nature [Economist 2006].A recent study of international support for adaptation to climate change also con-cludes that the various funds are not tech-nically adequate for responding to devel-oping countries’ needs, owing both to the complex design of the funds and to the poor implementation of the guidance pro-vided by the conference of the parties [Mohner and Klein 2007].Principles included in treaties, for example equity, not only raise difficult questions and leave them unanswered, but also have reservations to these princi-plesrecorded in them in areas that deal with issues in the North-South context. The most important principles, Principle 7, referring to common but differentiated responsibilities in the Rio Declaration [UN 1992], and benefit-sharing in the Convention on Biological Diversity [UN 1993] have not been accepted by the US and the EU, respectively. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002, the US recorded an interpretative statement, repeating its position that Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration high-lights the “special leadership role of developed countries...and the United States does notaccept any international obligations or liabilities, or, any diminution oftheresponsibilities of developing coun-tries under international law”. The US goes on to add that in its view “…negoti-ation of an international regime to promote and safeguard the fair and equitable sharingofbenefits arising out of the uti-lisation of genetic resources…would not entailthedevelopment of a legally bind-ing instrument” [UN 2002]. Consequently, these principles have yet to gain a legal status, and this factor accounts for the limited progress in achieving a consensus on actions for implementation of the related agreements.The problems with the current frame-work are not limited to the Rio conventions. The development of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Move-ments of Hazardous Wastes provides another example. In the 1980s following increasingly stringent environmental standards and rising disposal costs in industrialised countries, attempts to ship toxic wastes to developing countries, led countries in the African region to call for an outright ban on the export of hazardous wastes. A multilateral agreement was achieved only on regulation rather than a ban of such exports. While globalisation increases the rewards in coordinating policies, the interests of major economies need to converge, and domestic costs should not be high, for a multilateral agreement.The continued stress on achieving a negotiated and legally binding agreement as the outcome of intergovernmental meetings has resulted in the Commission on Sustainable Development concluding its session in May 2007 without any agreed outcome. The unresolved issue centred on an international treaty on energy efficiency (pushed by the EU) and the provision of financial and technical assistance (pushed by the developing countries) [ENB 2007]. In a related development, at the Solar World Congress, in September 2007, China proposed a multilateral science and tech-nology cooperation agreement to establish international laboratories and research and development centres on renewable energy to act as a platform for transfer of technology [SciDevNet 2007]. In light of the negotiating history of multilateral environ-mental agreements and the provisions regulating intellectual property rights under the World Trade Organisation, a multilateral agreement on the issue of technology transfer is yet to find a place in the international agenda.The experience with implementation of treaties and outcomes of international conferences also shows that, in practice there has been little reliance on legally binding norms, and similar results would have been achieved without a multilateral environmental agreement. The majority of norms have developed through decisions without any subsequent formal consent by individual states. The objective of compli-ance, even under the Kyoto Protocol, is not determining state responsibility but ascer-taining why a country is not complying and providing support to it to make the regime more effective in the future, and the formal legal status is not considered important. Moreover, private standards organisations, like the International Standards Organisa-tion, are considered as integral parts of public environmental policy regimes, for example, in the development of standards for emissions trading. The distinction between “hard” and “soft” law is increas-inglybecoming blurred, and multilateral environmental agreements arerelyingon strategic plans and multi-year programmes of action – not on commitments – to move their agenda forward [Sanwal 2007].The search for innovative solutions to climate change is leading to two diverging tracks, neither of which is based on inter-national environmental law. The Kyoto Protocol marked a turning point in the development of new institutional arrange-ments based on market mechanisms to solve global problems. A “cap and trade” arrangement is being advocated by the EUto provide flexibility in meeting their commitments, but the approach is not supported bytheUS. While such mecha-nismsarebeing extended to biological diversity [PWC 2007], and to forests [Molnar et al 2004] the foreign minister of China, speaking in theGeneralAssem-bly, cautioned that “ should not lay undue emphasis on the role of the market mechanisms, still less should one attempt to shift all the responsibilities of tackling climate change onto the market” [GA 2007].A parallel development is based on voluntary processes, where countries would take actions that are legally binding at the national rather than at the international level. The US is leading an initiative where major economies would make contribu-tions to climate change consistent with their national circumstances and their
PERSPECTIVEapril 12, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly52capacities rather than responsibilities while requiring reciprocity from developing countries. The focus is on a technological transformation, and not on technology transfer [State Department 2007]. TheUS has opposed targets and timetables and transfers to developing countries right from the early international responses to climate change in the late 1980s and has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol [Bodansky 1993]. The question is periodically raised whether any legally binding agreement to combat climate change without the US would be meaningful.Global justice suggests a third approach to deal with climate change while support-ing sustainable development of developing countries. The current focus of industrial-ised countries is to reduce carbon intensity as they replace their aged energy infra-structure for electricity production. For developing countries, where electric power production is only one-fifth that in industrialised countries and more than 1.5 billion people have no access to electricity, the focus is to develop the infrastructure for economic and social development, in an environmentally sustainable manner using the best available technology.Industrialised and developing countries define the issue differently. This leads to different pathways in dealing with the challenge of climate change and its ad-verse effects. Policy frameworks in indus-trialised countries provide an impetus for accelerating technological change to drive down carbon intensity in the generation of electricity. While in developing countries, policy frameworks need to focus more on demand management as well as foresta-tion and adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change. The climate change challenge is linked not only with energy security, but also with poverty alleviation, as energy underpins every aspect of life.Framing the IssueGrowth inCO2 emissions is linked to the use of fossil fuels to meet the increasing demands for energy services. At around $ 3,000 per capitaGDP in purchasing power parity(PPP) terms, energy demand explodes as industrialisation and personal mobility take off, and beyond $ 30,000 per capitaGDP economic growth can con-tinue without significant energy increases, with the absolute level varying depending on national circumstances. According to the government of theUK, over 40 per cent of emissions of CO2 arise directly from the decisions of citizens, for example, heating and using electricity inhomesand driving vehicles. The government-funded Carbon Trust in the UKreports that leisure and recreation accounts for mostofthe current emissions for the averageBritish citizen, of which half is from transportation [Carbon Trust 2006]. Onlyonecountry– Norway, with the highest HumanDeve-lopment Index in the world, and a GDP of $ 46,000 per capitainPPP terms – has pledged that it will becomecarbonneutral from2050.Clearly, high levels of national wealth are a precondition for effective carbonmanagement; however, in the interim a lot can be achieved.Efforts of industrialised countries to reduceCO2 emissions have mainly focused on “production”, with higher prices of fuels and electricity as the key to “energy efficiency” and reduced emissions in more energy-intensive industry [Patterson 2007]. However, progressive reductions in prima-ry energy needed to produce one unit of GDP have not reduced emissions. This is borne out by the recent analysis of con-sumption trends in industrialised coun-tries conducted by the International Ener-gy Agency (IEA), in the period 1990-2004 [IEA 2007].1●Despite an improvement of 25 per cent in the energy intensity of GDP in both Europe and the US, total emissions of CO2 have decreased by only 1.5 per cent in Europe (EU-15), and have risen by 16.3 per cent in theUS, because of its higher growth rate fuelled by consumer demand. ● Energy use in manufacturing has re-mained unchanged, while final energy use, and emissions of CO2, have each in-creased by 14 per cent – even though half of the increased demand has been met through energy efficiency. ● Energy use in passenger transport increased 25 per cent, and in freight trans-port24 per cent. There has been a 31 per cent increase in passenger travel. Buses and trains account for only 5 per cent of total passenger travel, slightly lower than in 1990, while air travel has increased 61 per cent in this period. Cars used 88 per cent of energy in the transport sector, with a minimum ownership level of 0.35 cars per capita – car ownership has doubled in Greece and Ireland.● Appliances account for more than half of the electricity used in households, with a 48 per cent growth – half of which is in the newer small appliances, like computers.● Electricity consumption in the services sector increased 50 per cent, and in house-holds by 35 per cent. Oil with a share of 47 per cent and electricity (22 per cent) dom-inate total final energy consumption. Current approaches to climate change do not address the essential drivers of the emissions – the individual citizen. In fact, by framing the issue in terms of responses to international commitments for burden sharing, such negotiations not only lead toinconclusive debate, but also serve to stifle innovative solutions based on national circumstances.Organising DialogueThe patterns of energy use provide impor-tant insights into the role of governments in influencing the demand for electricity and oil, and consequent emissions of CO2. Buildings, including households andserv-ices, at present account for 40 per centof energy use in industrialised countries, driven by growth of the services sector and higher incomes – more households, bigger apartments and more appliances. Two-thirds of the increaseinelectricity demand in theEUbetween1978 and 2003 was accounted for by appliances.Smallappli-ances are becoming the largest source of emissions from households – personal computers, mobile phones, personal audio equipment. Also, improvements in vehicle and engine technology have been offset by consumer preferences for larger and heavier vehicles. Developing countries can be expected to follow a similar path.It is the daily decisions by individual consumers that drive economywide emis-sions of CO2. Clearly, a different metric, than the current approach of focusingon industrial emissions, is needed insetting public policy priorities worldwide for deal-ing with climate change. Modifying Consumption PatternsMeasures to improve energy efficiency, without affecting the service, stand out as the cheapest way to curb energy demand
PERSPECTIVEapril 12, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly54Consultant/Researcher: Commissioned Study on ‘Water EducaƟon Policy in South Asia’ SaciWATERs, HyderabadThe Crossing Boundaries Project of SaciWATERs, Hyderabad invites bids from experienced professionals to prepare an inventory study on the state of the art of higher water resources educaƟon in South Asia. The study assesses the demand for ‘new water professionals’ with a broader interdisciplinary profile than the ‘convenƟonal’ engineering and hydrology focused profiles, and will provide ideas on how to facilitate reform of higher educaƟon on water resources in this broader direcƟon. The geographical focus of the study is: Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, being the countries where the project has acƟve collaboraƟon with partner insƟtutes. The study will look at Bachelor and Master level educaƟon programmes, and policy regarding this. The objecƟves of the study are:1. Assessmentof incorporaƟon of IWRM-type approaches in exisƟng water resources higher educaƟon programmes or through the establishment of new programmes. a. Checking curricula of a select number of programmes in the countries under study b. IdenƟfying policy decisions on water resources higher educaƟon since 2000, and assessing their implementaƟon c. IdenƟfy new water resources educaƟon iniƟaƟves and describe and analyse their approach d. Search and analyse literature assessing or commenƟng on water resources educaƟon in South Asia (focus post-2000) 2. Assess demand for water professionals with an IWRM-type profile. This assessment can be undertaken by (not excluding other sources of informaƟon and methods): a. Interviews with leading water professionals to collect their views on the demand for IWRM-type water professionals. b. Interviews with senior representaƟves of water resources professionals’ employers in the countries of study (including government, NGO and private sector) c. Collect and analyse job adverƟsements for water professionals in countries studied in the pastfive years d. IdenƟfy and assess recruitment policies for water professionals of water resources professionals’ employers e. Interview IWRM-type water professionals on demand for their experƟse f. Inventory and assess short-term training programmes for IWRM-type skills and knowledge, and interview organisers and parƟcipants on trends and experiences3. Make suggesƟons regarding strategic steps that could be taken to further water educaƟon programme reform in the direcƟon of IWRM/broader approaches. Such recommendaƟons can be based on (not excluding other sources of informaƟon and methods) a. Interviews with (water resources) educaƟon policymakers on trend and prospects for reform of water resources educaƟon b. IdenƟfy and analyse naƟonal and regional iniƟaƟves regarding water resources educaƟon reform (including CapNet, etc.)The study has to be completed in four months starƟng from June 1, 2008. Researchers/consultants with a water resources background and IWRM experƟse; visible experience and interest in higher educaƟon on water resources; excellent interview skills; excellent report wriƟng skills are invited to submit bids. As part of the bid please send:– Your CV– A sample of your wriƟng– A one page note explaining your competency for this task– A work plan for execuƟng the study– A Ɵme budget with expected remuneraƟon Travel and other material costs do not have to be budgeted.Bids need to be sent by May 12, 2008. Details of the terms of reference will be available on request. TentaƟve date of interview is May 22, 2008 at the SaciWATERs office, Secunderabad, India.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top