Some observations and thoughts on COP15…

Posted by Paul Chan

Many developing nations are already facing climate change threats such as chronic droughts, floods, and inundation due to sea level rise. These nations include Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Nepal, and many African countries. For them, the worst of climate change is yet to come and no end is in sight. Their view is that developed nations are responsible for the currently high atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration. Even though the governing bodies of some developed nations might have in the past refused to acknowledge and act on climate change, this knowledge has been open to them for the past 30 years. So in the view of developing nations, some developed nations’ past refusal to acknowledge climate change or refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol does not excuse them of the harm they have inflicted on the rest of the world.

Every nation recognizes that a strong economy will help it better prepare for climate change. Without assistance from developed nations, developing nations will be forced to take the Faustian choice of economic development at any cost and at the expense of the environment. Some western critics have criticized China for taking this Faustian choice. However, for many developing nations, China is in an enviable position because its strong economy allows it to prepare for climate change. So in China’s perspective, its developmental path was not a Faustian choice at all. Developed nations should take this as a lesson that without their assistance, many developing nations will all be too willing to follow China’s path because they have no better choice. For some less fortunate nations, this is not even an option; without assistance from developed nations, they will simply wither in the face of climate change.

Currently most financial assistance from developed nations to developing nations is in GHG mitigation (estimated to be 90%) and the rest in climate change adaptation. A more balanced approach is needed. Most developing nations have very low GHG emission, yet they are facing disproportionally large climate change threats. What they need is a balance of two types of assistance. The first is in climate change adaptation to help them moderate climate change threats; this is urgently needed. The second type of assistance is for sustainable economic development to help developing nations avoid the past mistakes of developed nations in reliance on fossil fuels and the mistake of massive environmental degradation in the course of their economic development.

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