UN Says Developing Countries Deserve Break on Climate
DAVOS, Switzerland -- Emerging giants China and India should not be asked to cut carbon emissions as fast as rich countries, despite being among the world's top greenhouse gas producers, international officials said Friday.
Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), urged developed nations to "take the next big step" against climate change by negotiating tight new standards that may exempt their poorer neighbors.
Otherwise, he warned that rich-poor tensions could threaten diplomatic efforts to extend the U.N. Kyoto Protocol past 2012.
"If we don't have significant political momentum this year, the negotiations on a new climate change convention are going to be increasingly jeopardised," he said in an interview during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The United States, which is not a signatory to Kyoto, emits a quarter of the industrial greenhouse gases that scientists say trap solar rays in the atmosphere -- leading to warming that can cause severe storms, floods, droughts and ecological ruin.
China's blistering growth has rocketed it to the number two worldwide carbon emitter, with India in fourth place, according to World Resources Institute data. Neither face obligations under the current Kyoto accord.
The sheer size of these developing powers' economies, and their heavy consumption of carbon-emitting coal, mean they will make up an increasing share of global emissions in coming years, said Jim Leape, head of the conservation group WWF.
Balancing the right of these countries to develop with the need to avoid further exacerbating climate pressures "is what the hard work is over the next couple of years," he said in an interview in Davos.
"Ultimately, to succeed, we have to find some way for those emerging countries to meet those development needs and aspirations with a lower carbon footprint," said Leape, an American.
"The challenge is to fashion an agreement that includes the emerging economies in a way that is common but differentiated in terms of responsibility ... You can't have an effective solution without including emerging economies in some way."
Steiner, a German who took over at the Nairobi-based UNEP last year, said it was "a matter of fairness" that developing countries be given some slack on emissions limits, given the West built its modern industry by burning fossil fuels that are now choking the atmosphere.
"We need to accelerate the way we deal with decarbonising our economy radically, and the faster we move up on that process the quicker developing countries will be able to enter that process as well," he said.
Many low-income nations will need international assistance to cope with pressures on their agricultural base and water supplies, both Steiner and Leape said.
WWF is particularly concerned about sub-Saharan Africa, where millions of people live from subsistence agriculture and are highly vulnerable to water shortages.
Those who rely on fast-disappearing Himalayan glaciers for their water supply will also need help, Leape said, suggesting provisions to help the impoverished adapt to climate change should be folded into a Kyoto successor deal.
The U.N. environment chief brushed off criticism from some Davos delegates that climate change had overshadowed other key issues at the World Economic Forum, including African poverty.
"Climate change is a prism through which we are looking at the human condition on the planet," he said. "At the end of the day we are talking about how we live together."