5 December, 2007
Here, that is, in our own “developed” world and not only in those countries which are traditionally being identified as “developing” countries (the now politically incorrect “third world” in the past).
As the economic growth successes and the consumption abundance of our developed countries have been bought on the back of rapid over-exploitation of the world’s natural capital (with oil as the ultimate resource driving our lifestyles), it is time to rethink development and economic growth policies. The urgency of this challenge is all the more clear when we observe the new emerging economic superpowers (India, China, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico) mirroring the same unsustainable “growth” path we have taken in the last century.
Although this message might have been heard in some circles, it does not seem to have been understood in its full implications yet, even by international organisations like the UNDP, as demonstrated during last night’s Friends of Europe debate on the development policy implications of climate change.
The debate was the first of a new series of roundtables Friends of Europe wants to organise in 2008 to “shape new thinking” on development policy issues. This “Development Policy Forum” is supported by the World Bank, the United Nations, the UK’s Department for International Development, the Agence Française de Développement and the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
Guest speaker of the first debate was UNDP’s administrator Kemal Dervis who held an introduction which was full of contradictions and surprising turns. Dervis started off well by quoting from the recent Human Development report of his own institution: “if every person in the developing world left the same carbon footprint as the average North American we would need the atmospheres of nine planets to deal with the consequences” and therefore suggesting that there are ecological limits to growth. Surprisingly, he then went on to completely contradict his own report’s conclusion by stating explicitly that he disagreed strongly that there are limits to growth, a point which he later in the debate underlined once more by pointing to the “failure” of the Club of Rome scenarios of 1972 [BTW for all those who never read the Club’s “Limits to Growth” but subscribe to the myth about it being wrong, I can recommend Matthew Simmons excellent paper “Revisiting the Limits of Growth“).
My second surprise came when Mr. Dervis referred to Nick Stern’s observation that climate change is “the biggest market failure” ever but then went on to say that in his opinion markets can solve everything ‘if accompanied by the right policies”. We only need to put a price on carbon, according to the UN chief and the markets will do the rest. He admitted, of course, that there would still be the issue of distributional justice.
Second speaker Josep Borrell (chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development) thought he knew the answer to this problem with another example of strange and old-fashioned logic. The world’s “atmospheric capacity to stock carbon dioxide” is the problem, said the former EP President. Nobody owns this atmosphere and therefore every world citizen should be given its share of this CO2 atmospheric stock capacity in the form of “carbon rights”. No word, of course, on how these individual carbon allowances would be governed on a global scale nor on the carbon rights of animals or plants to these atmospheric ecological services. For politicians like Borrell, we are still masters of this Earth to do with it what we please!
The two others speakers Stefano Manservisi (DG Development of the European Commission) and Sebastian Winkler (IUCN) did not get much further than repeating well-known and empty rhetorical phrases which come straight out of the latest book “How to bluff your way through a European climate change and development debate”:
- “development is in the middle of all these challenges”
- “investing in development is investing in our future”
- “we need to change from a ‘donor paradigm to a partnership paradigm'” (tell this to the Chinese who are buying up resources in Africa like we were doing in the worst of colonial times)
- “we need to move to a green economy” (for sure, but how?).
Remarkably absent in the debate were the following urgent issues of development policy and climate change:
- the role and form of climate adaptation strategies
- the new competition between energy (biofuels) policy and food policy for the same feedstocks: will we use the fruits of the Earth for our hungry cars in the West (and increasingly also in China and India) or for our starving populations?
- the emerging water and food crises as a result of the end of cheap oil (on this last issue, see a great recent Guardian article by John Vidal and the brilliant Lady Eve Balfour Lecture by Richard Heinberg “What will we eat when the oil runs out“)
- the need to reshape world agriculture as a result of the previous point.
Conclusion: Friends of Europe’s Development Policy Forum is a great initiative but it is to be hoped that the climate/energy debate in the development community can quickly move to the same level of sophistication as has happened for the European energy and environment community in the last two years. To end with a cliché myself: development policy deserves better!Author : Willy De Backer