The FT has a very illuminating article on the politics of climate change. It is illuminating because it brings a perspective to the debate that has sadly been lacking so far – one of pragmatic international relations. Taking that perspective explains why the US, China and other major polluters have not signed on to any international emissions control treaty; and how their cooperation may be forthcoming:
Nations usually enter treaties to help themselves, not others. In 1987, the US pushed hard for the Montreal Protocol, which restricted ozone-depleting chemicals. It did so not out of altruism but after a cost-benefit analysis convinced President Ronald Reagan that the US would gain far more than it would lose. Bans on ozone-depleting chemicals were not burdensome for US companies. By contrast, developing nations strongly resisted the protocol. They demanded and received a large side payment from the rich nations.
These side payments are not unusual. When a group of nations needs the co-operation of another nation in some area of international relations, and that nation does not gain through the proposed agreement, then some kind of payment or exemption is typically arranged. With its explosive emissions growth, China is by far the world’s biggest problem for climate change. Like it or not, the only way for other nations to ensure Chinese co-operation is through a special inducement, such as cash or extra emissions rights…
The debate about climate change has finally produced an understanding that the world as a whole would benefit from an emissions control agreement. The next stage is to recognise that a warmer planet presents much greater problems for some countries than others; that emissions controls would cost some nations much more than others; and that no nation is going to spend a lot in return for a little.
It is time for the world to take steps to pay China for its participation in an agreement. The richer US is unlikely to receive such payment or even to ask for it. Even so, we fear that if the world does not persuade the US that it has more to gain than to lose from a deal on climate change, an effective agreement will prove to be impossible.
This perspective, however, presents a huge dilemna for India. Climate change is a much greater problem for India than for other countries. Yet, emissions controls would also cost India much more than others. In essence, India stands on the loosing side of both issues – the cost of climate change, and the cost of climate change action. India should be pushing for international action on climate change, yet it stands to loose significantly by adopting stringent emission standards.
How is this contradiction to be solved? India can ask for monetary compensation – yet if it wants or needs climate change action more than others it has a weak bargaining position. Ethical concerns notwithstanding, it will not be compensated any more than it benefits other rich countries. But there is a way out if one sees that India’s emissions pose not a current but future threat to the global environment. Simultaneously, climate change is very much a current threat to India, that must be adapted to now.
This means India needs to take adaptive action now, and mitigating action in the future. Nevertheless, to spur other major polluters into action, India must establish a roadmap for increasing emission regulations, while being compensated not directly for migitation, but for adaptation. In this manner, the rich countries pay mostly to reduce their own and China’s emissions now, while India signals its moral and practical commitment to the international process – thus encouraging US action.
I have previously discussed why India must embrace climate change action and push for an international treaty, on the IEB and Pragati. An upcoming article will discuss further what India’s negotiating strategy needs to be.