ENVIRONMENT: Nations Urged to Share Low Carbon Development Costs

  • by Larry Jagan (bangkok)
  • Inter Press Service

Globally, all countries need to have reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 below 1990 levels for the world to stay below two degrees Celsius warming of the earth’s surface. There is a growing international consensus that this target is essential to avoid the most dangerous effects of global warming.

'Climate change is happening now,' said a senior energy analyst with the World Wide Fund (WWF), Stephan Singer, in an interview with IPS. 'The storms that have devastated the Philippines and are now wreaking havoc in the rest of South-east Asia are a further wake-up call. Inaction is not an option if we are to save jobs, lives and nature,' he said.

But action as the only option must be based on a fair distribution of the costs of low carbon developments between rich and poor nations, said the environmental lobby group during the launch of its latest report, ‘Sharing the Effort Under a Global Carbon Budget’ in this Thai capital on Oct. 2 on the fringe of a 12-day United Nations climate change conference in Bangkok that opened on Sep. 28.

Only the total carbon budget approach -- the amount of tolerable global emissions over a period of time, set at 1,600 gross tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq) between 1990 and 2050 — will make sure that the devastating effects of global warming are avoided, said the organization.

CO2eq is a universal standard of measurement against which the impacts of releasing (or avoiding the release of) different greenhouse gases can be evaluated.

As the world has already emitted a considerable part of this target, the budget from today until 2050 has been reduced to 970 Gt CO2eq, excluding land use changes, said the WWF.

'In order to avoid the worst and most dramatic consequences of climate change, governments need to apply the strictest measures to stay within a tight and total long-term global carbon budget,' said Singer. 'Ultimately, a global carbon budget is equal to a full global cap on emissions.' The WWF report, which was based on the research and analysis of leading energy consultancy group ECOFYS, presents different pathways to reduce emissions in line with a global carbon budget. It specifically describes different methodologies that could be applied toward a fair and equitable distribution of the costs and the benefits of the budget. Part of these is for all countries to reduce emissions below business as usual based on their per capita emissions, poverty thresholds and GDP per capita.

WWF, along with other members of the Climate Action Network (an international network of non-government organisations), has urged the adoption of a legally binding mid-term emissions reduction of at least 40 percent by 2020, below the 1990 levels, for developed countries, but that these rich nations, with ‘high’ per emissions per person, must also ‘pay back’ their ‘atmospheric debt.

Reducing greenhouse emissions is equally the responsibility of developing nations. 'We need to make investments in low carbon development throughout the developing world,' Keya Chatterjee of the WWF in the United States, told IPS. 'We can prosper without using fossil fuels — we have the technology -- all we need now is the political will,' she stressed. 'It’s a bad idea to build economic development on bad foundations.'

Investment in carbon-reducing technologies is already beginning to happen, especially in countries like Brazil, China and India, according to Shirish Sinha, head of the WWF in India.

In India the big push is to introduce more solar energy to replace old-fashion methods of power generation and to make the country’s power plants more efficient. The Indian government has already commissioned the building of four solar energy terminals in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu.

In six major towns in the country — Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai and Pune — solar energy production integrated into rooftops with solar panels has also begun. Right across India, including Delhi, rooftop solar hot water systems are being introduced to replace electricity.

India’s power plants will also go through a massive programme of improving their efficiency.

'Most Indian generators are very inefficient — under 30 percent — so are big carbon producers,' Sinha told IPS. New plants are replacing the old ones, with 40 percent for ‘super critical’ plants and 50 percent for ‘ultra-super critical’. Two pilot projects are being built at Mundar in Gujarat and Sassan in Madhya Pradesh. These two projects are the result of a private enterprise initiative by the major Indian conglomerate Tata.

One area that has received substantial attention recently is the disposal of solid waste. Harnessing methane gas has become a major market, according to Adnan Aliani, head of the sustainable urban development unit at the U.N. office in Bangkok. Methane is worth 21 its value as a greenhouse gas. So capturing untreated waste and refining it is very lucrative. That fetches between 15 and 20 U.S. dollars a tonne of solid matter, which is worth 21 times this as a carbon credit, a permit that allows the holder to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide.

One project in Bangladesh that is reaping the benefits of this scheme is Waste Concern, a non-government organisation promoting waste recycling in the country. It currently treats waste at a Dhaka vegetable and fruit market to produce 130 tonnes of solid compost a day. The group aims to boost this to 700 tonnes in the near future.

'Not only are these investments good for the world as a whole — as they help reduce the carbon emissions globally — but they are hugely profitable ventures for the private enterprises involved,' said Chatterjee. European governments are committed to supporting the global carbon budget, according to the European Commission’s Ambassador to the region based in Bangkok, David Lipman. 'The EU has already put 15 million U.S. dollars on the table, and that could easily grow to 100 million U.S. dollars if there is a global deal worked out,' he told IPS. 'The EU understands that global warming is the responsibility of all countries, and we are prepared to show the way.'

But while the WWF’s campaign seems to have convinced many that this is the way forward, whether a firm agreement and deal on an equitable carbon budget will be forthcoming, only time will tell — though as WWF poignantly points out, time is running out — if the dramatic effects of climate change are to be stalled or even prevented.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service