There are a lot of moral problems linked to the issue of climate change. One of them shows itself clearly in a recent report published by international development agency Christian Aid. Its 19-pages “Truly Inconvenient” report looks at ways to “tackle poverty and climate change at once” and concludes that developed countries like the US and the EU will have to pay a huge “carbon debt” and that the developing countries (or better their citizens) have a right to move to a “global ‘middle class’ development level” (defined as an individual development treshold or income of $9000 per year).
Starting from the calculations of the Stern report and taking into consideration an index of historical responsibility and capacity to deal with the problem (a “responsibility and capability index”), the report says that the EU will have to pay 164 billion dollars per year to help fix the global warming problem (372 dollars per ‘average taxpayer’). The United States bill would be 212 billion dollars per year.
The starting principle for Christian Aid’s paper is the following:
“The North can’t stabilize the climate without the full commitment of the South, and the South can’t make that commitment if doing so would threaten to undermine its development. In practice, this means that a global alliance to stabilize the climate can only arise, and survive, on terms that honor the poor world’s right to development. The wealthy countries must not only cut their own emissions, deeply and soon; they must also create developmental space for the poor, and help them to leapfrog to a lowemissions, high-adaptation future“.
This principle is also established in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as the “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”.
What Christian Aid has done together with EcoEquity and the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation is to create a Greenhouse Development Rights framework which should make this principle more operational.
The problems I have with this impressive study which I can recommend to anyone interested in the climate change debate are twofold:
- will developed countries like the US and the EU have the political will and courage to convince their citizens to shoulder this costly burden?
- what is the ecological footprint of allowing China’s and India’s exploding populations to move to this kind of global middle class development level? Can our planet sustain this? Do they have a moral right to make the same economic mistakes as we have made in the past 150 years and therefore help speed up the world’s ecological and economic collapse?
- EcoEquity et al: The right to development in a climate-constrained world. The Greenhouse Development Rights framework.