Hope the West isn't heading towards climate colonialism

  • Rais Akhtar, None
  • Updated: Apr 14, 2014 21:55 IST

I agree with the assessment of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that increased temperature and increased frequency of extreme weather events will have an impact on economic activities, including agricultural production, infrastructure, and health.

While India is vulnerable to climate change because of its population, poverty and economic inequalities, I disagree with the report’s assessment that the country and China will be the worst sufferers.

Climate change will impact both developed and developing countries equally. The impact of flooding and destruction of roads in Colorado and in Uttarakhand in 2013 are reflection that disasters affect all regions.

The 2003 heat wave in Europe killed nearly 52,000 people within a fortnight in August. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated southern US; last year, Hurricane Sandy devastated eastern US; and the bushfires in Australia and California, are examples which show that even developed countries are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Given this, it appears that there is a political motive in identifying India and China as the most vulnerable — to hasten the process of industrialisation and economic development. Both nations are emerging economies and while the economic slowdown of 2008 affected the US economy, India and China were not severely affected by the crisis.

In The Global Financial Crisis and Short-run Prospects for India, R Jha says India’s economic growth has been rising and has become more stable for the past 25 years, fuelled by higher savings and investment, the demographic dividend of a younger, a more educated labour force and accelerated productivity growth.

Another dimension is that developed countries depend on China and India for a large number of their manufactured products. In the IT sector, the US is dependent on South Asian countries.

Regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions, developing countries — including India and China — demand that developed countries accept the Kyoto Protocol, which recognises developed countries as responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, and places a heavier burden on them under the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.

In the case of emerging economies, reduction in CO2 emissions means a reduction in the level of income and a decline in GDP. Thus, it is not possible for developing countries to reduce their emissions.

According to The Guardian, based on the CO2 emission during 1900-2004, the US has emitted 314,772 million metric tonnes compared to India’s 25,054 and China’s 89,243 million metric tonnes.

With a share of just 4% of global emission, any amount of mitigation by India will not affect climate change. So a substantial commitment by the major industrialised nations to reduce emissions will be required. However, it seems that the western world is envious at the pace of economic growth registered by India and China.

The discussions on the IPCC assessment report provide another opportunity for industrialised nations to create a fear psychosis among emerging economies that they are most vulnerable and thus have to heavily cut down on CO2 emissions which will impact development.

Climate change affects all nations, developed or developing.

It appears that less scientific evidence and more political motives are behind isolating India and China as the most vulnerable countries in the report. I hope developing countries are not heading towards climate colonialism.

Rais Akhtar is the lead author of the third and fourth IPCC assessment reports. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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