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Perspectives from the Point of View of the Study
"Global yet Equitable: Combating Climate Change, Enabling Development"


From: zur debatte, 1/2011, P. 6-8
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


0. Introduction

Poverty reduction has already for a long time been a key objective of all development policy. At present one tries internationally above all to halve the worldwide poverty until 2015 by the so-called Millennium Development Goals, an ethically very modest but politically, unfortunately, a very ambitious goal. The target of "halving of poverty" namely implies that a number of at least 500 million people in extreme poverty in 2015 is seen as inevitable - and this despite growing prosperity in the world. This underlines that the gap between wealth and poverty on global scale continues growing.

However, the public attention is currently, at least at first glance, focused on a quite different topic, namely on climate change and its threatening consequences. It can now no longer be denied that global warming is caused to a large extent by man. Though it remains controversial, how it can be mastered best.

But poverty reduction and environmental protection are closely linked. This is shown e.g. by the leading theme "sustainable development" of the Conference on the Environment of the United Nations in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, which combines the objectives of development policy with those of ecology. In other words, it is about an "inclusive sustainability", in view of the sharp line dividing wealth from poverty and participation from exclusion. Primarily because of their close connection, both problems are challenges for which fair political solution must be found, taking into account the present generations as well as future generations. Precisely this was the intention of the research project, the results of which are now available in the study "Global yet Equitable: Combating Climate Change, Enabling Development." An English publication for the so-called scientific community will be released next year.


1. Interconnections between Climate Change and Poverty

1. Only briefly some key data on climate change. Over the past 100 years the global climate has warmed by 0.74° C, which is caused to a significant degree by human activities. The main cause is the emission of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. About 60 percent of the increase in CO2 emissions are caused by the use of fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas), so by energy consumption; nearly 20 percent by the changes in land use, especially by deforestation. Developed countries are responsible for almost 80 percent of the historic CO2 increase. Meanwhile, however, also some emerging countries, most notably China but also Indonesia have high absolute emissions, even if the per capita consumption of the population in these countries is still far lower than in Western prosperous countries.

Depending on whether and to what extent a further increase in emissions can be prevented, the global average temperature in the 21 century is likely to increase by 1.4 to 4.4° C. Even if we were able to stop immediately all CO2 emissions, the temperature would still rise by almost 1° C. Therefore, there is now a broad consensus that a crossing of the guardrail by 2° C above the pre-industrial level must be avoided in any case, if one does not want to risk a hardly manageable global warming in the coming decades. This is admittedly a challenging target, but it is nevertheless achievable. What is particularly worrying are the possible negative feedback effects with devastating consequences. For example, a melting of the Greenland ice sheet would make the sea level worldwide rise by seven meters.

2. Climate change is essentially the result of a model of economy and civilization that is resource- and energy-intensive, and of the prosperity grown through it; a prosperity, however, that so far only a minority of mankind can afford. If one compares the global distribution of wealth and emissions, it is evident that at least until now increasing wealth is linked with high CO2 emissions. One can therefore speak with some justification of a "carbon debt" of the rich countries. That's why many representatives from developing countries demand that the rich countries bear the brunt of climate policy - quasi as compensation.

Globalization has significantly accelerated the spread of this model of economy and civilization throughout the world. More and more countries are following this path of development with increasing success. This, however, is connected with high energy consumption and rapidly rising CO2 emissions. Losers of this process are mainly the poorest 20 percent of the world's population.

In the light of these data and trends, three scenarios are basically possible as regards the future per capita emissions of carbon dioxide:

(a) One continues the previous development, coupled with the promise to take also the poor on board - with disastrous climate impacts.

(b) By pointing to climate change, one tries to keep away from Western-style prosperity the latecomers who want to catch up with the rich countries. This would be possible at best to a very limited extent and would only slightly slow down climate change. Above all, however, this alternative is ethically in no way justifiable.

(c) One agrees on the above mentioned guardrail of a maximum warming of 2° C. Until 2050 this would require a halving of global greenhouse gases by 50 percent, related to the base year 1990. The developed countries had to reduce their CO2 emissions even by 80 percent.

3. Not only the causes but also the consequences of climate change are very unequally distributed worldwide. The poorest countries, regions and people are already today the main victims, and this will remain so. The study "Global yet Equitable" deals with this correlation under the heading of vulnerability, which comprises two closely related issues. On the one hand, these are geographical circumstances, in concrete terms those regions where the negative consequences of climate change will be particularly noticeable. For instance, there will possibly happen a decrease in rainfall in drylands which are already afflicted with water scarcity. In addition, more weather extremes, i.e. on the one hand droughts and on the other hand torrential rains and severe floods can be expected. All of this will result in agricultural yield losses and endanger food security. Recent disasters like the floods in Pakistan and India on the one hand and the drought and fires in Russia on the other hand can admittedly not directly attributed to climate change, but they confirm the long-term trend and make the above mentioned effects visible.

On the other hand, and above all it is about the social vulnerability of people, especially of those living in poor countries and regions. In many places, the negative impact of climate change can even increase the already existing poverty. Higher average temperatures, for instance, in hot and humid regions and the diseases connected with them hit especially those people who are living in slums and can never afford air conditioning. The sea-level rise has devastating consequences in countries with dense settlements along the coast, some of them are mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants. Main victims are once again in the first place the poor living in slums on the coast or on slopes threatened by landslide. Millions of climate refugees are the result. That's why one speaks politically of "Climate Change as a Security Risk".


2. Different Perspectives and Interests

1. The problems are highly differently perceived, depending on the interests and the perspective from which you look at them. It is obvious that the economically strong countries see climate change more calmly than the poor countries which are particularly affected by the consequences and have a very limited capacity to cope with them. Some debates, however, give the impression that the ability to adaptation increases with the distance to Central European lines of latitude. Millions of climate refugees e.g. in Bangladesh seem to be less a problem than the enforcement of a climate-friendly car use in Germany.



Also the lamentations in the rich countries over population growth in developing countries have little credibility. This applies at least as long as one person in the United States causes almost twenty times, and in Germany nearly ten times more CO2 emissions than a person in India. Insofar, an increase of the population in rich countries has a far greater impact on climate change than the increase in poor countries. This does of course not mean to contradict the importance of a responsible population policy.

2. By the example of Indonesia it can be shown that also in the countries of the South massive conflicts of interest exist. They have their roots not least in a variety of linkages with global problems. In absolute terms, Indonesia is now the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, even though the per capita emissions are still relatively low. This is primarily the result of deforestation of tropical rain forests and of releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide by burning peatland. Conversely, by its impact climate change will intensify many problems in Indonesia, starting from an even hotter tropical-moist climate up to the rise in sea level. Since this island nation has a coastline of 80,000 kilometers and the most metropolitan cities are situated in coastal regions, even an increase of only one meter will affect millions of people and cost a lot of farmland.

But Indonesia is also still a developing country with much poverty. Severe bottlenecks in the supply of energy, especially electricity, were for a long time a key obstacle to economic development. For a long time the country was able to rely on its own oil, which now does not even cover the domestic requirements. Coal power stations are an alternative, because the country has rich deposits of coal. But this would of course be highly damaging to the climate. The same applies to biomass. It would require additional land for oil palm plantations, with the result of further slash-and-burn land clearance and deforestation. An alternative would be to use the country's enormous geothermal potential. But this requires heavy investment, which the country alone can certainly not afford.


3. Ethical Guiding Principles

1. The complexity of the climate problems requires a comprehensive concept of justice, where three time dimensions have to be taken into account.

(a) At present it is primarily about the global wealth gap. The situation of the poorest must therefore be the touchstone, and the fight against extreme poverty has top priority. From it, some draw the conclusion that climate policy in order to limit global warming has, at least temporarily, secondary priority. The limited financial resources should therefore rather be used entirely to reduce poverty. But this position is short-sighted, because it sees climate protection and poverty reduction as mutually exclusive alternatives.

The principle of equal rights of all people offers a way out of this tension. The study has chosen it as a preferable cross-cultural starting-point. This also affects the access to wealth and the means to achieve it. If these resources are limited, as in the case of fossil fuels and the associated CO2-emissions, an equitable distribution of such rights is particularly important. Many representatives from the South therefore demand that "everyone has the right to the same amount of emissions." To find ways of implementing this reasonable basic claim and the time frame for its realization is a difficult but indispensable task of international politics.

(b) With regard to the past, the rich countries have the moral duty to pay off their already-mentioned "carbon debt", at least partially. To do so, top priority must have for them to pursue climate-friendly development paths. Second, they must help the poorer countries to follow them on this path. The study refers here to the rich countries' financial and technical capacities which they have also thanks to the advantages of their "carbon debt". By providing their assistance at a reasonable price, they indirectly provide also a kind of compensation.

(c) However, one must not postpone the problems to the future. The present generations have no right to ignore the foreseeable consequences of their actions and thus to endanger the survival of future generations. It is likely that above all the future poor and needy will thus get into a hopeless situation. In other words, intra-generational and inter-generational equity have to be connected with each other.

2. From these considerations the study deduces three ethical guiding principles for a climate policy that is oriented towards the poor:

(a) Like the pro-poor development policy also the pro-poor climate policy will only then be successful and sustainable if it takes the real needs of the respective country and its people as starting-point. It has to use their often abundant human and social capital and encourage individual initiatives and active participation. Thus, a pure top-down approach is out of the question as well as a primarily distribution-oriented policy. This coincides with the demand of justice of opportunity, which is valid both for the relationship between states and in respect of each individual.

(b) Countries and people can of course only use their opportunities if they are able to satisfy adequately their basic needs. This requires often transfer payments, as they are planned in the climate policy. Ethically, it is about the needs-based justice, which is of primary importance with regard to securing one's livelihood; in development policy, however, it is of secondary importance, if one wants to avoid a permanent dependency on aid (assistencialism). This order corresponds both with the principle of subsidiarity and the basic approach of the social market economy.

(c) Equally important is the principle of procedural justice. It refers to the need for international and national framework conditions which support and promote both a climate-friendly behavior and actions oriented toward a just development. This concerns e.g. the standards of Good Governance, both in the individual countries and at international level. Such framework conditions must be negotiated fairly. This requires first and foremost the participation of all parties concerned, but also transparency and a certain balance of power. The violation of these principles was the main reason for the failure of previous climate negotiations, where no country must be excluded.

3. In the context of this project, there were intensive and controversial debates over the role of regulatory policy and to what extent the behavior of individuals and social groups and movements is of importance. More generally, it is about the relation between institutional and individual ethics. The global public good "climate protection" requires without doubt and indispensably international cooperation and global governance with international treaties and regulations as well as institutions capable of acting. For only politics is able to provide the necessary economic incentives and financial resources. The institutions have a similar primacy in the fight against poverty.

However, individual behavior remains important in several respects. First, the observance of rules always requires a certain value consensus on the moral duty that they must be observed. Second, it always needs new ideas, impulses and pilot projects, since every framework of regulations has gaps which have to be filled by self-reliant actions. Third, individual actions can have an important role model function and thus motivate others. And finally, it are people who create order and legislation.

This assignment appears most clearly in the area of tension between economic system and societal models. Climate change calls into question a purely short-term profit-oriented economic system and demands a new ethics of consumption. This also applies to the personal conduct, which is always a reflection of the economic system and of its consumption patterns, and which reinforces them. One might also speak of the "virtue of the right moderation". A certain self-restraint, even including relinquishment, is seen as opportunity for more quality of life.


4. Main Pillars of a Poverty-oriented Climate Policy

1. John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has once spoken of three options with respect to climate change: "mitigation, adaptation and suffering" and then continues, "if we do less mitigation and adaptation, we’re going to do a lot more suffering." Politically, two options therefore remain: mitigation, i.e. reducing of greenhouse gases, and adaptation, i.e. adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. The main bone of contention is the evaluation of these two options, which are no real alternatives.

A high degree of adaptation will definitely be necessary, in order to cope with the already hardly avoidable increase in temperature of 2° C. This viewpoint has meanwhile been adopted also by the international community. This position can be summed up as follows. Unmanageable impacts of climate change must be avoided and unavoidable consequences must be mastered through adaptation.

There is a broad consensus that a lengthy process of transition is needed. It must certainly be initiated immediately and be got under way until 2020. The main argument against guardrails such as the 2° C target have so far been the economic costs. Recent studies, however, come to the conclusion that in the long run an unabated climate change will lead to far greater economic losses than quick and decisive actions now. These findings have invalidated many concerns and brought new dynamism to the political debate.

2. A forward-looking fight against poverty, which at the same time contributes to a better manageability of the consequences of climate change, must in the first place strengthen the poor' s ability to act. This is the most effective approach in the fight against poverty, for it is the best way to reduce the vulnerability due to climate change, and increases the ability to cope humanely with its inevitable consequences. Basis for strengthening the ability to act is mainly an improved access to facilities which meet the needs of the poor, ranging from medical care to political participation.

3. The poor are by their own efforts only to a very limited extent able to strengthen their ability to act. They are dependent on supporting institutions and help. According to the subsidiarity principle, it is here most of all about political, legal and economic framework conditions which promote and strengthen the potential and individual initiative "from below", beginning from the people on the spot and municipalities over the states up to the global level.

A fair world economic order plays here a key role, for it does not weaken the own forces and the income of the poor under the pretext that globalization is inevitable. At present, there is e.g. the risk that a competition for land occurs between the production of vital foodstuffs on the one hand and of biomass (such as oil palm or sugar cane) for supposedly eco-friendly energy on the other hand. It is ethically unacceptable, if this has the result that the poor have less access to food, either because they have less land for own production or cannot afford imported food.

4. The crucial point of a successful climate policy is a wise energy policy, which must lead to a strong reduction of CO2-emissions. However, such a policy must not be at the expense of the poor. Lack of energy and unsecured access to energy, by which still 1.6 billion people are affected, are namely a major obstacle to overcoming poverty. An ethically justifiable climate strategy must therefore try to break the close link between energy consumption and CO2 emissions.



Today there are many possibilities for appropriate alternative energy policy, ranging from greater energy efficiency and technological innovation to renewable energies. Nuclear energy remains controversial, because on the one hand it does not produce greenhouse gases, on the other hand, with it a development path is taken which involves many risks and remains irreversible for a long time.

5. Cooperation and solidarity across national and similar borders can just as little as respect for the environment be achieved with appeals to the mind alone. People live in cultural and often also in religious traditions with their respective world views and values. If one really wants to win them for a change of thinking and a behavior that is both socially acceptable and environmentally sound, then one must build on these traditions - in spite of their ambivalence - and pick people up there. Especially religions contain helpful ideas about the relationship of man to his fellow men and environment, and the responsibility that is grounded on it. Respective examples, such as solidarity or "preservation of creation" can be a strong motivation for their followers to behave socially and climate-friendly. This has e.g. become apparent at a dialogue forum on "Climate Change and the Religions in Indonesia" with many Muslim representatives.

6. In order to achieve all these goals and to win all actors over to them, we need concrete proposals for action. For this purpose, the study proposes a Global Deal:

(a) The first pillar is a global trading system with CO2 emission allowances. This would make it possible that the necessary global reduction of emissions is accomplished effectively and also accurately. The concrete form of such a system, however, is still very controversial. Many of the arguments speak in favour of trading in emissions, which contains the two elements "Cap and Trade". The permitted total amount of emissions would be limited (cap), so that only as many emission allowances would be distributed as the 2° C target allows.

By the trading of emissions allowances, countries with high reduction costs would be allowed to purchase emission allowances from countries that can reduce their emissions at relatively low costs. This would make the transition to a low-emission economy easier for the industrialized countries. Poor countries could thus receive substantial financial resources, which would far exceed today's development aid. Such a system, however, requires effective global institutions with transparent decision-making structures, where the weaker countries must be involved appropriately - in accordance with the principle of procedural justice.

(b) Second, a global forest policy is needed, because about one-fifth of global greenhouse gases are caused by the rapid progress of deforestation - particularly of tropical forests. The necessary reduction of greenhouse gases can only be achieved if this trend is stopped. In addition, deforestation does not only jeopardize biodiversity but destroys also the habitat and economic area of many poor people, especially indigenous populations. Since the export of timber and agricultural products, which are often grown on deforested land, is an important source of funding for the affected countries (particularly Brazil and Indonesia), they have to get a financial compensation if they refrain from it.

(c) A third pillar consists in much higher public investments in research and development of low-emission technologies above all in the energy sector, and in the transfer of such technologies to developing countries. This necessarily includes the adaptation of such technologies to the needs of local people. What is necessary for technology transfer is its promotion through trade policy, not least by revising the Patent Law of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

(d) The fourth pillar has already been addressed, namely the adaptation to the no longer avoidable impacts of climate change. The appropriate measures must be adapted to each specific problem and therefore be taken regionally or locally. Only in this way they can be of direct benefit to the affected areas and people. International cooperation is necessary also in this field, not least in terms of considerable international transfers and targeted government action.

(e) These measures should be closely linked to development policy as the fifth pillar of a global deal. The respective states and their governments bear the primary responsibility for it. In view of progressive global interdependence, an international development policy and global structural policy is additonally needed, in order to create development-friendly framework conditions. Development policy as a separate field of action is important, because development processes have their own weight and cannot be reduced to climate policy.


4. Conclusion

In the article "Die Globale Apartheid Überwinden" Jan Pronk has put the core of the problem into a nutshell. With reference to the book "An Inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, he speaks about six 'Ds', which do not only dominate the climate debate but also the poverty debate. It is here about "... [a] state of mind resulting from denial, doubt and disinformation, a targeted disinformation about climate change. These three 'Ds' have caused a fourth one - delay, delay in action that is both preventive and remedial. What should have been done was not done. It was this delay, this complete lack of consequences, that has brought people into a state of despair. They see there are many talks, many conferences, many UN resolutions - but no action. This leads to a sixth 'D' - distrust.

The research project "Global yet Equitable" had the goal to break this negative and pessimistic chain and to point out prospects for a "fair climate and development policy". This requires some rethinking and a close and trusting partnership and cooperation between the actors in the North and South. To this end the report expounds at the end some suggestions for reciprocal obligations.



Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'