14 November 2021   Leave a comment

The COP26 in Glasgow ended on Saturday and it is difficult for me to now assess its level of success. There was clearly a strong effort by major parties (including the US, which was a relief) to reach an agreement, but in the end it came down to a last minute compromise which fell short of a dramatic success. Both the US and China finally agreed to submit a resolution that called for a “phase-out” of coal-fired power. The US has moved clearly in that direction, (no thanks to Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)), but the Chinese, despite their rhetoric, still rely heavily on coal: “About half of the world’s coal plants operate within China, and it has plans to add around 100 gigawatts of new capacity. Last year, it built over three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries in the world combined, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.” Nonetheless, the Chinese seem sincere in their desire to move away from coal.

But the Indians blocked the resolution. According to Reuters:

“After a huddle between the envoys from China, India, the United States and European Union, the clause was hurriedly amended to ask countries to ‘phase down’ their coal use.

“India’s environment and climate minister, Bhupender Yadav, said the revision reflected the ‘national circumstances of emerging economies.’

“‘We are becoming the voice of the developing countries,’ he told Reuters, saying the pact had ‘singled out’ coal but kept quiet about oil and natural gas.

“‘We made our effort to make a consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice,’ he said, alluding to the fact that rich nations historically have emitted the largest share of greenhouse gases.

“The single-word change was met with dismay by both rich countries in Europe and small island nations along with others still developing.”

Coal currently supplies 70% of India’s electricity and the country is currently in the midst of a serious energy crunch which makes political concessions difficult. But its appeal to climate justice needs to be scrutinized more carefully.

The Yale University climate program called “Climate Connections” defines climate justice in these terms: “‘Climate justice’ is a term, and more than that a movement, that acknowledges climate change can have differing social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations. Advocates for climate justice are striving to have these inequities addressed head-on through long-term mitigation and adaptation strategies.”

It is hard to disagree with the Indian position: rich countries polluted heavily in earlier times and poor countries should have the ability to follow similar paths in order to achieve higher levels of economic development. But the level of greenhouse gases in the earlier period was much lower then than it is now, so the comparison misses an important dimension. It all depends on whether one looks at the climate crisis as a national issue rather than an international issue. It also depends on how one values the future over the present. The perspective of a citizen living on an island in an era of rising seas is quite different from the perspective of a citizen living in territories far from the ocean.

Climate justice should be taken very seriously, particularly as it affects disadvantaged peoples in both rich and poor countries. But it should also never lose sight of the fact that we live on a single planet.

Posted November 14, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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