Climate change – obstacles to agreement


Copenhagen shows the great difficulty in reducing carbon emissions.

In the developed countries there appears be widespread support for reducing emission but the practical problems are immense.  A modern city is very different to the traditional village where food and most supplies are obtained locally. We have an entire infrastructure, city layout and technology based on readily available energy and transport.

Energy demand can be reduced by improving efficiency. Introducing non fossil energy sources such as solar and wind power will further help, but not on the scale required to achieve the cuts necessary.

The situation in the so called developing countries is even more difficult.  These countries do not comprise a homogeneously poor population. This is why I prefer to call them hybrid societies.  China for example leads the world in certain areas of technology, has a significant affluent middle class population - bigger than most other countries and yet has a large population who operate in a peasant economy with a low standard of living.

 China has of course long moved out of the ranks of the so called developing countries, but look at a country like Ethiopia which has a public image of being a very poor country.  It is true there are many people living in a state of poverty but there is also a significant middle class with many local owned and run manufacturing companies. They have either gained their skills by working in multi-national companies or by western companies offering a package of machinery, training and sometimes capital (or at least deferred payment).

 These countries comprise a privileged minority - who enjoy a standard of affluence not unlike the developed countries - and a majority who are at the subsistence level. These poorer people are struggling to achieve the affluence of their richer cousins.  Modern information technology is ubiquitous in even the most remote corners of the world.  The poor are informed of their poverty. In practice this creates a pressure which is impossible to resist. It would also be highly unethical.

We just have to accept that emissions from these hybrid or developing countries are going to continue to grow as more people enter the ranks of the more affluent class. The developed countries simply cannot cut back their emission sufficiently to compensate for the growth of emissions in the hybrid (developing countries).

This article is not meant to be a comment on political systems, only to discuss the obstacles to adoption of a global agreement.  For legislation to be passed in countries such as Australia and the US it has to pass through two levels, for example in Australia the house of representatives which is controlled by the Government of the day and the Senate, which is a house of review and can be controlled by the opposition.

In both Australia and America the opposition takes a short term economic position saying that legislation should not be passed if this results in the local industry being disadvantaged in comparison with the hybrid (so called developing countries) who have not as yet passed legislation to curb emissions

As these countries, particularly China, are so rapidly expanding it is virtually impossible for them to cut their absolute level of emissions.  China’s position that it will reduce emission per unit of gross national product is the only the practical option for them.

However if the opposition parties in Australian and the US feel that this is still disadvantaging the local industry they can block legislation, even though the Government of the day is trying to pass legislation.

This is a major hurdle which will not be overcome easily.