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Debate: Developed countries have a higher obligation to combat climate change

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Background and Context of Debate:

This debate is the topic of the March 2009 Global Debates competition put on by The People Speak, and Initiative of the United Nations Foundation.

Global warming is the result of the massive emission of C02 and other greenhouse gasses from the burning of fossil fuels throughout the industrial revolution, beginning in the 19th century. In attempting to address and solve global warming, many have asked whether developed nations - which led the industrial revolution and are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere and causing global warming - should bear a grater responsibility for combating climate change.
This debate has been stimulated in large part by the Kyoto Protocol, which exempted some developing nations, such as China and India, from the same emissions-reductions obligations as developed countries. The principle underlying Kyoto is known as "common but differentiated responsibilities", which continues as a centerpiece of this debate. China, India, and other developing countries often site this principle, while many developed countries argue that conditions have changed as developing countries have begun to industrialize and pollute more rapidly in recent years.

There are many questions involved in this public debate. Are industrialized nations to blame for emitting massive quantities of green house gases into the atmosphere during the industrial revolution? Does it matter that they were unaware of the consequences of their emissions - global warming - throughout most of the industrial revolution? Does this make them less culpable and thus less obligated to resolve the crisis? Can global warming be effectively combated if developing nations are considered "less" responsible for fighting it? Should large developing countries such as China and India be held to a lower standard than larger developed nations? What would this mean for fighting global warming? Should all nations be expected to contribute as much as they are able to contribute, which would mean that some developing countries would contribute less but not because they are less obligated? Should the predecessor of the Kyoto Protocol be based on the conclusion of this debate - holding all nations to the same standard or holding developed and developing nations to different standards? What is most fair? What is best for the planet earth? Overall, should developed countries be more obligated to combat global warming?

Contents

Blame: Are developed countries more to blame for warming, and thus more obligated?

Pro

  • Developed countries caused global warming, they must fix it Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu - "It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long-term historic emissions of Developed Countries and their high per-capita emissions...Developed countries bear an unshirkable responsibility."[1]
  • Developed countries hypocritically reprimand developing states. It is hypocritical for developed countries to complain at developing countries for polluting more heavily at present, when this is exactly what developed countries did long ago to achieve their great wealth. This overall sentiment is reflected in a statement in 2007 by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva - "The wealthy countries are very smart, approving protocols, holding big speeches on the need to avoid deforestation, but they already deforested everything [in their own countries]."[2] Furthermore, it should be noted that is is only through this heavy industrialization that developed countries are now in a position of wealth and know-how that offers them the luxury of going "green".


Con

  • Developed states did not initially know they were causing warming. Developed nations did not always know that they were causing global warming by burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This knowledge only began to form in the 1980s and 1990s, over a century after the industrial revolution had begun. It is inappropriate, therefore, to hold developed nations morally accountable for starting the industrial revolution and causing global warming; they knew not what they were doing. And, once developed economies were dependent on fossil fuels, it was not possible for them to immediately act on their knowledge and stop using fossil fuels - particularly when not everyone accepted the science behind global warming. It is, therefore, wrongheaded to "blame" the developed world for global warming and saddle them with the "punishment" of a greater obligation to combating it.

Irony: Are developed states more obligated because poorer states are harmed most?

Pro

  • Developed must protect developing from higher costs of warming The authors of a 2006 UN report warned that rich countries - especially the wealthy Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations - are driving an ecological crisis that will hit the poor hardest. These are nations living near the equator and in low-lying coastal areas most vulnerable to rising seas. This global warming "irony" creates a greater obligation on the part of developed countries to respond, and protect developing countries from the costs of their blind industrialization, mass consumption, and wealth-accumulation.

Con

  • Developed states did not plan for warming to harm poor states most. Developed nations were not even aware of the consequences of their emissions through most of the industrial revolution. Therefore, they were certainly not aware that the consequences would disproportionately fall on poor developing nations. Developed nations are not, therefore, responsible or culpable for these disproportionate consequences, so they should not be disproportionately obligated to fight global warming on this point.


Leadership: Do developed states have a greater obligation to use their leadership?

Pro

  • US is responsible to lead in fighting global warming Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. - "It is essential for the U.S. to take action. The rest of the world looks to the U.S. for leadership [but] the perception round the world is that the U.S. has not been very active in this area. [... And, this would] undoubtedly reestablish confidence in U.S. leadership on critical global issues."
  • Developing states will not go "green" before developed competitors China and India are very concerned with their development and their capacity to compete with the developed world. With significantly greater poverty and instability, they have far less flexibility to tamper with their competitiveness with developed nations on the global economic stage. They will only go "green" if the developed world goes green first, assuring them that their competitiveness will not be jeopardized. In a position of greater economic flexibility, developed countries must take the first step. Only then will developing nations follow.


Con

  • US and China must share lead in fighting global warming. The United States and China are the first and second largest polluters in the world. Therefore, they share equal responsibility for fighting global warming.


Solution: Does greater obligation for developed nations help solve crisis?

Pro

  • Developed states emit more; their steps have higher impact. "UN: Rich Nations Must Lead Fight Against Global Warming". eNews. November 27th 2007 - "The United States has a 'unique responsibility' to abide by international agreements on emissions reduction to protect both its economic growth and to prevent catastrophic reversals to progress made in health, education and poverty reduction for the poor. The [UN] report criticized Washington for not imposing nationwide mandatory cuts on industrial emissions. [...] Stating the fact that the world's richest countries are also the biggest carbon emitters, the report said the US has to take the lead by cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in addition to contributing to a new 86-billion-dollar annual global fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change. [...] The report said the 19 million inhabitants in New York state have a higher carbon footprint than 766 million people living in 50 least developed countries."


Con

  • High emitters, not developed countries, are most obligated. It doesn't matter whether a country is developing or developed. This is not the factor that obligates a country to take up a "higher" responsibility for combating global warming. Rather, countries that emit the most - whether developed or developing - contribute more to global warming now and so have a greater obligation to combat global warming now.
  • Large developing states have warming-obligation to cut population Developing nations, particularly China and India, are responsible for nearly catastrophic population growth. This is one of the greatest risks to global warming, as developing nations industrialize and the means to pollute disseminate rapidly and broadly across massive populations. In this regard, developing nations have a greater responsibility than developed nations with much smaller populations.


Equality: Is equal per-capita emissions a good objective?

Pro

  • Developed emit more per capita; more obligated to cut rate Emissions per capita are much higher in developed countries (20t per capita in the US) compared to developing ones (less than 4t per capita). This means that developed nations are more responsible for causing global warming, more responsible for continuing global warming, and so more obligated to cut emissions and solve the problem. An important point here is that individuals are ultimately responsible for consuming goods and emitting corresponding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Per capita emissions help capture the fact that wealthy individuals in wealthy states are emitting much more and so more individually responsible for global warming. These relatively wealthy individuals in developed states have, therefore, a greater individual culpability for global warming and responsibility to fight it now and in the future. Because developed states and governments represent these individuals and their greater individual responsibility to fight global warming, developed-state governments are collectively more obligated to fight global warming on behalf of their people.
  • Contraction/Convergence equalizes per capita emissions, burdens wealthy Contraction and Convergence is a good proposal for addressing the imbalance between per capital emissions around the world. It holds developed countries responsible for cutting their per capita emissions, meeting developing countries in the middle (convergence), which are allowed to continue to develop and increase per capita emissions to some "capped" level. The obligation, in this case, falls more heavily on developed nations to reduce their emissions.


Con

  • "Obligations"/"equality" distract from solving climate change The idea that some countries are more responsible than others to cut emissions and fight global warming misses the point - global warming is a collective, global problem that can only be successfully combated if every country puts its wits and resources fully behind resolving the crisis. Developed and developing countries are equally responsible to resolving the crisis. Developing nations should swallow their legitimate frustrations with developed nations for causing global warming, and focus their attention on helping form a collective solution. We're all in this together.
  • Seeking equality of emissions fails to cut overall emissions. If developed nations are forced to cut emissions and developing nations allowed to increase per capita emissions - with both meeting in the middle - the ultimate result is that developing-country-increases cancel out developed-country-reductions. Overall emissions would be kept constant and not reduced. In fact, because developing nations have larger populations, meeting in the middle on per capita emissions could result in even higher overall emissions. Contraction and Convergence, while it might be "fair", would not help solve the principal issue involved - global warming.
  • Equality of per capita emissions does not work when states specialize. In modern international capitalism and free trade, states specialize in areas in which they have a comparative advantage. This may mean that some states specialize in manufacturing and some in services, industries with far different emissions. Attempting to hold these specializing states to the same per capita emissions levels, therefore, does not make sense. It would require that all states have the same share of all industries, which is neither economically or environmentally desirable.

Resources: Are developed states more obligated because they have more resources?

Pro

  • Developed states have more available money to fight climate change Developed states obviously have more wealth to employ in combating global warming. These more able countries have a responsibility to employ their available financial resources toward fighting global warming. Developing countries also have this obligation to commit as much as they can, but because they have far fewer available resources, their obligation and commitment will simply be smaller. Developed nations are uniquely obligated to employ these greater available resources in the fight on global warming.
  • Developing states live in subsistence, lower "green" obligation Developing countries employ almost all of their resources on subsistence living, while developed countries spend much of their resources on luxury and excesses. When this is the case, developing nations cannot be expected to contribute equally to fighting global warming.
  • Argument: Developed are responsible to commit "green" technologies Developed states have more applicable technologies and know-how for the fight on global warming. They are uniquely responsible to commit these resources toward the fight on global warming. They are also responsible to transfer them to developing countries, which cannot effectively fight global warming without these technologies first.
  • Developed states have responsibility set model of "green" economies. Developing countries are not capable, with their limited resources and know-how to develop, on their own, the best "green" model for their societies. Developed countries have a responsibility to act first and set an example that developing countries can follow.


Con

  • Developed states are doing everything they can on climate change Developed countries typically are much more energy efficient than developing countries. This is an example of how they are already taking major steps to combat global warming; steps which developing countries are not taking. They have no further obligation beyond these steps.
  • Greater resources of developed countries does not obligate them. Developed countries do not have a greater obligation to combat global warming as a result of them having more resources. It would be generous of them to contribute more. But, it is not a greater obligation.

Economics: What are the economic pros and cons of this motion?

Pro

  • Developing nations need room to develop without emission restrictions. Developing nations need room to develop industry and grow, just like developed nations were allowed to do in their industrial development. Heavy emissions regulations constrain such growth and are unfair as such.
  • Going "green" in developed nations is not burden, but opportunity. While it may be the case that developed countries are "obligated" to take the lead on global warming, this should not be considered a "burden". Increasing energy efficiency and establishing technical and capital dominance in the emerging global green industry is a potentially game changing opportunity for developed nations. Developed nations should, in this manner, rejoice in any perspective taken by developing countries such as China and India that the developed world is somehow "burdened" by taking the lead in this new massive "green" industry. It would give them a head start in establishing their economic dominance in the industry. At a minimum, developed nations should not be concerned about any economic costs associated with their "higher obligation" to combat global warming.


Con

  • States should contribute equally to combating climate change. It is true that developed states will contribute more resources and money on absolute terms, simply because their wealthy is greater. But, they have not obligation to contribute more money and resources as a percentage of GDP. This should be roughly equal across all states.
  • Developed nations create demand that propels developing states. It is not economically beneficial for the world to stick developed nations with the obligation to use more of their resources to combat global warming. The reason is that the wealth in developed countries is precisely what runs the global economy and creates demand for the work performed by developing nations.

Developing world growth: Will developing world growth negate developed country cuts?

Pro

Con

China/India: Should China and India be held to lower emissions standards?

Pro

  • China is meeting its obligation to a low emissions per capita. As of 2008, China's per capita emissions of CO2 were still one-quarter that of the US. Though China continues to build emissions-intensive coal-fired power plants, its "rate of development of renewable energy is even faster". Within reason, it is doing a good job of combating global warming.
  • Developed states are exploiting standards to constrain India/China. Many developed countries nefariously see emissions standards as a means to constrain China and India's rapid development and to minimize the effect of this new competition on their own economies. The world needs to be aware of this conflict of interests when interpreting the arguments coming from developed countries to hold China and India to equal standards.


Con

  • China is worst contributor to climate change; has equal obligations In 2006, China's CO2 emissions surpassed those of the US by 8%, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, making it the largest contributor to global warming. This means that, in the era of knowledge regarding the effects of greenhouse emissions on global warming, China has at least an equal responsibility as developed nations to cut emissions.
  • China is basically "developed", with higher "obligation". While many presume that China is a "developing" country, many others, particularly in the much poorer parts of the Third World in South East Asia, consider China to be in the "developed" category. China was, after, the third largest economy in the world at the beginning of 2009. As a "developed" nation, China would certainly have a greater obligation to fight global warming. Emissions exemptions would violate this obligation.
  • China and India emissions will increase over time; cannot be exempted. India and China are two of the worst polluters on the face of the earth. As they industrialize, their contributions to global warming will become astounding and far exceed the emissions from other countries. Compared to 2005, China's total emissions increased by 9% in 2006 (to 6.2 billion tons of CO2), while emissions in the US decreased by 1.4% (to 5.8 billion), compared to the previous year. China's increasing rate of CO2 emissions is heading toward a 50-100% increase above the current world total for CO2 emissions, by 20 years from 2008. The scientists warn that if China continues to increase its GDP at a rate of at least 7% per year, it will by then be emitting as much CO2 per year as the whole world emitted in 2007, -- 8 gigatons per year. China has a unique obligation to cut this high and dangerous emissions growth rate. Holding them to lower standards with emissions exemptions would exacerbate this already disastrous prospect.
  • China's emissions harm neighbors/world; exemptions are unfair. Japan has complained about the dramatic local effects of China's pollution on Japans forests and people. Exempting China would condemn Japan to even greater consequences from Chinese pollution. In a world in which the consequences of a single state's pollution affect its neighbors and the entire world, exemptions are irresponsible and unfair.
  • Large developing states have warming-obligation to cut population Developing nations, particularly China and India, are responsible for nearly catastrophic population growth. This is one of the greatest risks to global warming, as developing nations industrialize and the means to pollute disseminate rapidly and broadly across massive populations. In this regard, developing nations have a greater responsibility than developed nations with much smaller populations.


China/India outsourcing: Are exemptions justified in context of outsourcing?

Pro

  • Developed state demand drives emissions in developing states It is true that China is a manufacturing behemoth, and emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases as a result. But, who is consuming the majority of the goods made in the factories in China that is causing their huge carbon footprint? Developed countries are the chief consumers and drivers of this manufacturing and emissions. They have, therefore, a certain responsibility for the manufacturing and emissions that are occurring in China and India. This is where exemptions for parts of their emissions help compensate for the fact they they alone are not responsible for this manufacturing and emissions - the world is responsible.
  • Developed outsource manufacturing/emissions to developed. Developed countries frequently outsource manufacturing/emissions to developing countries. For this reason, developed countries should not be treated on equal terms, and developing countries should be given exemptions for the dirty outsourcing for foreign countries. China has complained, on this point, that it is "the place where the US effectively outsources much of its pollution." It has called for joint international responsibility for at least part of China's emissions, and has made public, in Jan 2008, 130 violations of Chinese environmental law committed by multinationals in China. Other developing countries have a similar problem, in which they are accused of polluting too much, when they are merely the manufacturing engine of developed countries that outsource to them.


Con

  • Emissions exemptions for China/India will inflate outsourcing to them By holding developed countries to a greater obligation to fight global warming and by exempting China and India from certain emissions requirements, developed countries will be put at an economic and job-market disadvantage. It will be even more likely that jobs are outsourced to China and India, leaving the middle class of developed countries suffering.
  • World's manufacturing is in China, emissions must be cut there. It is true that much of the world's manufacturing and emissions are occurring in China. But, this is not a cause for exempting these countries from the emissions standards present in developed countries. This would effectively mean that the world and all the nations that outsource to China get an exemption, so long as they are outsourcing to China, which would be unfortunate on many levels. The world should not allow for such an emissions loophole, and must act to fully constrain emissions in China without exemptions.

Sectoral standards: Are global sectoral standards a bad/good idea?

Pro

  • Sectoral standards constrain developing nations via back door. Fred Pearce. "Rising nations face 'back door' emissions limits". New Scientist. April 26, 2008 - "Developing countries are hostile to global standards, which they see as a way of imposing targets by the back door on countries which have far lower emissions per head of population than most developed nations. 'India is opposed to all sectoral global standards,' said Malini Mehra of India's Centre for Social Markets at the Royal Society meeting."
  • Sectoral standards risk leading to protectionism. Shyam Saran, special envoy for the Indian Prime Minister on climate change, said in Mumbai in April, 2008, "There is a very real danger that in adopting sectoral standards among themselves, the developed countries would use the competitiveness argument to put up protectionist tariffs against products from developing countries."[3]


Con

  • Developing nations should be held to global sectoral standards. These are standards set across a specific industry, most importantly manufacturing, for the purpose of ensuring that similar factories around the world are held to the same emissions standards. This is important because measuring the total emissions of a nation does not provide much useful information. What is more important is that the most polluting industries around the world are held to the same standards. They are also important because they prevent the shifting of production to countries with lower standards for specific factories in an industry. On this point, Ian Rodgers - director of the trade association UK steel - said that a European carbon limit alone "is not going to curb emissions. It will just move the emissions elsewhere."[4]


Pro/con sources

Pro


Con


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