Leaders of developing countries walked out of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen yesterday to protest what they called an attempt to kill the Kyoto Protocol.
Rich nations are trying to reach a new climate agreement that includes emissions targets for the developing world. Developing countries are not legally bound by Kyoto emissions targets and support its extension beyond 2012, when the protocol's first commitment period ends.
Let's look at this for a moment from the perspective of a developing country, say Bangladesh. Bangladesh stands to lose a lot as sea levels continue the rise. The country has a large, open, unprotected delta that is proximal to the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh is already hit regularly with devastating cyclones that kill thousands and thousands of people. But what has Bangladesh contributed to global warming? The country is listed as number 144 on the list of CO2 emissions per capita per country.
The average Bangladeshi emits 0.2 metric ton per capita. By comparison: the average Western European country emits 10 metric tons per capita and the United States tops the list (if we exclude a few small oil states in the Gulf) with about 20 metric tons per capita. In other words an American emits 100 times as much CO2 per capita that a Bangladeshi.
If I were a Bangladeshi, having a conversation about global warming with an American, I would say: "This is your problem. You created it. You should solve it. Don't expect me to support you with this."
Not only has Bangladesh not be complicit in contributing to the problem of global warming, but the country has also not benefited from the huge economic gains that the rich world has reaped in the process. The fact that we speak today about a rich "developed" world and a poor "developing" world has a lot to do with this. The process of development goes hand-in-hand with the process of global warming.
I only wonder how any self respecting delegate from a rich country in Copenhagen can reasonably propose to the developing countries that they should share in solving the problem of global warming. Because what applies to Bangladesh as number 144 on the emissions list, applies as well to the Third World leaders India (113), Brazil (91) and China (80). They just haven't created this problem.
One could argue that this will change as for instance, China continues its current path of economic development. China is building two coal power plants a week and if that trends continues China will quickly rise on the list. Still it will take a long time before China surpasses the United States. But more importantly: there are clear signs that China is aware of the future problem it is creating if it continues with fossil fuels based power generation. China recently announced that it would cut emissions of carbon relative to economic growth by 40% to 45% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.
If the rich countries change the conversation from, "How can we discuss CO2 emissions with you?" to "How can we make clean technology more successful sooner?", developing countries like China would quickly join the trend as they have a strong competitive position when it comes to the introduction of new technology.
The talks in Copenhagen should be about the opportunities that global warming present for economic development and the creation of jobs, not about how we can prevent losing vested interests. New clean energy technology enables power generation at a small scale, widely distributed way without the same need of big powerful multinational corporations that the current power supply requires. That change is to the advantage of the developing world too. It would be only right if Bangladesh after centuries of colonialism and an unfair fossil fuel competition could participate in the world economy in a way that all Bangladeshi as fellow citizens of planet Earth truly deserve.