Engaging low-income countries in climate change mitigation: Dr Rahul Pandey


With Obama administration adopting a progressive outlook toward climate change, a consensus seems likely this year among the high income countries about post-Kyoto mitigation commitments. With growing realization that drastic and early greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cut will be necessary in order to achieve Carbon di-oxide (CO2) stabilization level of 450 ppmv (or 550 ppmv CO2 equivalent of total GHG), CO2 mitigation targets of 20-30% by 2020 and 50-70% by 2050 (compared to 1990 level), besides the call for ‘low carbon society’, are being heard in the various international forums for more than a year now. Several countries of the European Union and Japan have already begun taking serious actions. The next Conference of Parties, to be held later this year, will most likely witness a formalization of this consensus.
As the high income world is coming out of its internal differences, the focus of heated international debate on climate change is now shifting to the lower income world whose countries are often referred by ideologically loaded labels of ‘less-developed’, ‘developing’ and ‘emerging’ economies. The uppermost concern on everyone’s mind is to figure out a way to get the lower income countries, especially the major ones like China, India and Brazil, to make concrete commitment. The reasons for this overarching concern are simple – Economic growth and resultant emissions of these countries are growing at a rapid pace; China and India are already among the top five GHG emitters; and even if the rest of the world stabilizes its emissions at 1990 level while China and India continue to grow as expected, the world emissions cannot stabilize anywhere close to 450 ppmv in this century.
India and China have so far argued, with reason, that the high income world is responsible for most of the historical rise of GHG emissions. Despite high growth the per capita emissions of the lower income nations will remain much below that of the high income nations for several decades in the future. In addition, they argue, that more critical domestic economic imperatives of growth and poverty reduction will be compromised by aggressive climate change mitigation efforts. These concerns are as valid as those outlined in the previous paragraph.
This begets the question: what kind of strategies and commitments can the lower income countries make that will satisfy the two sides? It is now widely accepted that even if these countries do not make reduction commitments in the near future, they cannot escape from the responsibility of undertaking drastic emissions cut in the longer run, say, after two decades when, by conservative estimate, their per capita GDP would be over three times and emissions more than twice the current levels. In the absence of any commitment in the next two decades, their economies would become locked into high emissions and unsustainable development trajectory. On the one hand, the cost of reversing the trend will become prohibitively high then. On the other hand, it would be foolish if we do not learn from both the past folly and current but belated corrective efforts of the West.
Therefore, the practical questions is: even if the lower income countries do not make direct GHG mitigation commitment in the short run, what preparatory actions can they commit to that will lay the platform for them to transit to a drastic mitigation path in the longer run? And what support can the high income world guarantee them to facilitate such laying of platform and smooth transition?
These are two interlinked parts to the solution. First, to identify near-term strategies and implementation roadmap for the lower income countries that would enable them to move on to a drastic mitigation path in the longer term without compromising domestic development goals. Second, to work out a package of support that they would receive from the high income countries for this purpose. The near-term (say, 2020) post-Kyoto targets for the lower income countries must derive from such a solution for them to be acceptable to all the parties.
In the next couple of decades, countries like China and India have two sets of domestic goals to meet – (i) Economic goals, like economic prosperity and poverty eradication, and (ii) Environmental-ecological goals, like local pollution control and sustainable use of natural resources. The government, non-government and private agencies are going to invest significant resources towards various economic and social ends. The policy challenge is to channel those investments in such a way as to meet the above two sets of goals simultaneously with the third one, i.e. to put the economy on to a low carbon path in the longer run.
The strategies that lie at the intersection of these three goals – economic, local environment-ecological, global climate change – will meet the challenge. The following paragraphs will illustrate such strategies with examples relevant for India.
As one example, the government spending for infrastructure, especially the infrastructure of road and rail (as part of public transport systems), decentralized water supply and decentralized electricity supply systems in the rural areas, can meet multiple objectives of rural employment generation, recovery from economic downturn, sustainable resource use, and greenhouse gas mitigation. Laying of road and rail transport infrastructure to rural areas will facilitate supply of modern products and services to rural markets. Simultaneously establishing services of installation, maintenance and financing of clean and efficient technologies in rural areas will remove barrier to diffusion of such technologies. Using such infrastructure and services to push efficient end-use technologies like energy efficient architectures, compact fluorescent lamps and efficient electric pumpsets, and decentralized and clean energy supply systems like solar PV, solar thermal, wind, small hydro and biomass gasifier can benefit both the economy and the environment.
As another example, planning new and expanding urban areas in such a way as to build in features like waste management and recycling of waste and water, use of solar thermal and PV systems for houses and commercial buildings, use of eco-friendly architectural designs, expanding public transportation, creating pedestrian and bicycle-friendly pathways, and co-locating work places with residences, can cut energy use drastically besides improving the quality of life. Training and engaging the urban poor in the management of resultant new services like waste management and recycling, supply of solar systems and public transport systems, can simultaneously create employment opportunities. Such economy and environment friendly urban designs can be easily planned and implemented from scratch in the new urban concentrations that countries like India and China will witness as part of rapid urbanization in the next few decades.
As yet another example, building R&D and innovation capability in the lower income countries in new technology systems that are radically efficient and environment friendly, will add to competitive advantage of their industries besides helping to mitigate climate change. The governments of these countries have a major role to play in catalyzing such innovative capability creation, for instance, by supporting initial R&D investments in both public and private organizations, creating initial demand, and helping establish the supply chains for making new innovations reach the markets efficiently. However, the rich countries and the international agencies have the responsibility to put in place certain mechanisms that facilitate transfer of not only technology but also innovation capability to the lower income countries. Although several CDMs have been implemented in countries like India and China, they have mostly led to incremental efficiency improvement. This was because CDMs have been passive instruments of technology transfer and do not offer opportunities for building real innovation capability and core competence in industries in the lower income nations. For them to be meaningfully acceptable and contribute to drastic mitigation, CDMs need to be integrated with active international industry collaborative arrangements.
These examples are merely to illustrate the feasibility of innovative strategies that can help the lower income countries meet both domestic economic and environmental goals and global climate change mitigation goals. The workable strategies have to be specific to each country depending on its domestic policy imperatives and resource endowments. Both high and lower income countries need to jointly work out these strategies for the latter, implementation roadmap, measures of performance, periodic (post-Kyoto) targets and monitoring mechanisms. The implementation roadmap must include actions on the part of both domestic (lower income nations’) governments and high income nations. The measures of performance, in order to be comprehensive, need to cover both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the implementation process.
These are the hard challenges of the post-Kyoto negotiations. The sooner the nations realize these realities, the better it will be for everyone and for the humanity.

(The author is a former faculty member of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow.
He is currently a founder member of a start up venture that develops mathematical models for planning and policy analysis. Some of the key points of this article were presented by the author in a workshop on climate change organized by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan in Tokyo in late February 2009. He can be contacted at rahulanjula@gmail.co

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