CLIMATE COMMENTARY: No climate deal until 'trust gap' is bridged

Posted: 1 December 2009

Author: Lloyd Timberlake

Our partner charity, Hard Rain, will launch its latest film on DVD at the opening of the Hard Rain exhibition in Copenhagen on 6 December - the eve of the UN Climate Conference. It combines the images from Hard Rain with a rare live version of Bob Dylan performing A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall at Carnegie Hall, New York. It will be accompanied by a thought-provoking, 46-page booklet The Urgency of Now, by Lloyd Timberlake. Here we reproduce a short excerpt from its closing section.

Hard Rain DVD
Hard Rain DVD
There will not be cooperation on climate until the "trust gap" between North and South, rich and poor, is bridged. Countries do not develop until most of their people have modern energy, mostly electricity. Countries who see a climate treaty as denying them access to that energy will not agree to it. They will follow the cheapest possible route to development, which is a high-carbon path.

Developing countries - from the poorest to the richest and fastestdeveloping - want to see two things before agreeing to any cuts themselves. They want help - in the forms of money, technology, and training - in adapting to damage caused by climate change and in limiting their own emissions, and they want to see serious cuts in emissions by the wealthier countries, if only to show they take the problem as seriously as they say they do.

A bottom-line figure to keep in mind in any climate discussion is that 97 per cent of CO2 emissions growth from energy use through 2030 will come in developing countries - three-quarters of that growth in China, India and the Middle East, according to the International Energy Agency. That is, unless current trends are forced in a new direction.

So to survive, the family of nations must not only manage their climate and ecosystems, but assure the development of poorer countries and the billions who will be born into those countries in the coming four decades. Put another way, the health of the climate depends not so much on greenhouse gas cuts in Europe and North America but on the extent to which Europe and North America help the rest of the world develop along a low-carbon path. It is a daunting challenge, because while nations such asJapan, South Korea, China, India and Brazil have developed and are developing, their success owes little to "development aid" or to development agencies, certainly little to the ponderous UN Development Programme. So we rich and poor nations must work together to map out new development paths.

Global governance

Also, we have traditionally trusted our environment - at national and international levels - to the weakest and worst-funded government agencies and organizations, from environment ministries to the UN Environment Programme. Nationally, we then allow the better-funded, mainstream government ministries of industry, agriculture, finance, transport, etc. to trash our environment.

All that must change. Everything we do, all policies, will need an environmental screen. They also require a development screen. Europe and the US offer aid for African agriculture while subsidizing European and US farmers so that African farmers cannot compete against them.Managing these issues needs a new form of global governance that is probably not going to be global government. The United Nations has largely failed to provide such governance because the nations that founded and fund it do not want it to play a governance role.

Many suggestions for a new governance organization and ways of organizing are being floated, such as having the G20 group of the wealthiest countries set up a permanent secretariat to work on issues such as climate and development. This would bring in China and India and much better reflect current political and economic realities.

As with climate change, encouragement toward new international unity will not come first from governments. It must come fi rst from people, using all the communications tools to develop a new sort of international solidarity that will set an example for governments. What happens to people in Myanmar or Mali happens to me, and I want my senator or MP to know about it. Our planet has been globalized. Goods, disease, terrorism, ambitions, guns, technology, knowledge: all flow almost unhindered across borders. Governance must also be globalized.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech in June 2009 laying out a "roadmap" to the key December 2009 UN climate meeting that is supposed to set out the next global climate framework. The man who as Chancellor of the Exchequer focused on economic cycles and as prime minister focuses on political cycles said:

"Success will require two major shifts in how we think aspolicy-makers, as campaigners, as consumers, as producers, as a society. The first is to think not in political or economic cycles; not just in terms of years or even decade-long programmes and initiatives. But to think in terms of epochs and eras - and how our stewardship will be judged not by tomorrow's newspapers but by tomorrow's children.

"And the second is to think anew about how we judge success as a society. For sixty years we have measured our progress by economic gains and social justice. Now we know that the progress and even the survival of the only world we have depends on decisive action to protect that world. In the end, without environmental stewardship, there can be no sustainable prosperity and no sustainable social justice."

However, without global social justice, there can be no successful environmental stewardship and thus no sustainable prosperity.

Lloyd Timberlake
Lloyd Timberlake
Lloyd Timberlake writes on environment and development issues. A former science editor for Reuters and writer-in-residence at the International Institute for Environment and Development, he is the author of Africa in Crisis, Only One Earth and When the Bough Breaks, among other books.