The amount of essays that I have started with the phrase “The world is on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution” is insane. Its my go to. From Information Systems (where it might actually be applicable) to Art History (where I shove in a theme into my photography essay that doesn’t really fit). I can’t believe that I can write it with absolute truth now because I am off to the 2018 World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings in Bali.
One of our delegates had the opportunity to speak while at the UN. Read what she had to say about equitable digital access for all.
I’ve now had a week at COP and I’ve come to realise that, despite the massive complexity of the talks – divided into various subsidiary bodies and workstreams, taking place in various settings from massive plenary halls to “informal informals” in the corridors (leading one to slow one's steps when passing a huddle of pink badges and try to unobtrusively point one's ears towards the conversation) – at the heart of everything are issues of equity. Everyone agrees that climate change is an issue: the talks are fundamentally about how the problem should be resolved, and, more importantly, who should do what. Equity is why these negotiations have been going on for over 20 years.
Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, held a meeting with youth to give his run down of the negotiations. He gave an eye opening perspective on the context of the negotiations. His insights demonstrate just how difficult it will be to get the required mitigation. There were two main themes I took from his discussion:
1. Politics of burden sharing through equity
The atmosphere is a global commons that we all share and have a responsibility to maintain. Given the historic pathways of industrialisation and development as well as the aspiration to have a world without extreme poverty there is general acceptance that equity rather than equality is necessary for emission reduction targets. How equity is implemented is extremely political and contentious as no country wants to have the perception of having a larger or unjust responsibility than other parties.
The debates on equity have been occurring throughout the history of COP but ultimately have made no progress. The implementation of equity is particularly difficult given the decision making standard is that of consensus, so if one party thinks the standards set are inequitable, an agreement is not reached. The typical conflict here is between the developed and developing countries where the developing countries blame the developed for the majority of climate change. Alternatively, developed countries agree they need to reduce emissions but expect developing countries to do the same as otherwise they are taking on more of a burden than they want.
2. The possibility of reducing emissions to the required target
Beyond the politics, this issue of equity gets more complicated when looking at the numbers that Martin Khor gave us on mitigation. Trying to avoid 2C warming and allowing for a 7% annum increase for developing countries which is what they want and say they need for their economies and people presents knowledge, technical and political problems which currently cannot be solved. Martin using numbers from his report said it will not be enough for developing countries to reduce emissions by 100%, it will be more in the range of 3-400% in order to compensate for the developing countries increase in emissions.
Beyond the political feasibility and popularity of reducing emissions, a country will only commit to a pledge in that is technologically achievable given the knowledge and finances available. Lowering emissions by 20% is a massive challenge for many countries and political feasibility reduces this back down to 5-10% for many developed countries. There isn’t technology out there presently that will enable 100% emissions let alone beyond 100% so this is a huge challenge going forwards.
How we go forward with these numbers is a challenging situation and suggests the discussions on equity are far from over.
(All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute. For official Institute updates, take a look here)
We are deeply privileged to have been born already and we need to check this privilege. Intergenerational equity or inteq is the principle that future generations inherit the Earth in the same state or better than what we received it in so being able to utilise the environments services for the same benefits we use constantly. This is deeply connected to sustainability and challenges the societal norm of overconsumption and ignoring our limited resources.
“We have a plan B but no planet B.”
With my working group and other supporters, I took part in an action about respecting those who have not been born yet and do not get a chance to speak at the conference. We placed tape over our mouths, and held signs with “Intergenerational Equity” and “Don’t discount our future”. The concept of inteq I believe is not very contentious, yet extremely powerful to explicitly include in the preamble to the convention which is a major objective of the inteq working group here at COP.
You would think this concept is obvious in the negotiations but it is only implicitly included and by including it explicitly, this gives principle to correcting some of the methods which are causing a distorted preference for the present rather than the future. One way inequity is embedded in policy and economics is the practice of discount rates used by economists. The discount rate is the method of giving a value of a future cost, a present value so a cost-benefit analysis can compare costs and benefits occurring at a different time. Due to the neoclassical economical belief that economic growth will be always be possible, the future costs are lower than the present.
The discount rates are distorting the effects of climate change and giving incentive for a lack of ambition. The costs and benefits of climate change don’t happen simultaneously, for example using petrol now provides a benefit immediately but a cost to the environment later on, thus giving greater weight to the benefit. Therefore discount rates lowers the cost of expected future climate change impacts and decreases the ambition of mitigation through emissions targets. Climate change without ambitious mitigation will result in big costs to national GDP so through incorporating intergenerational equity and lowering discount rates, this can rebalance the likely costs of climate change and encourage early mitigation which will then lower the costs incurred in the future thus having benefits all round.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.
For official Institute updates, take a look here.