The world’s fastest developing countries are doing more about climate change than we thinkby Isabel Hilton / October 21, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
Last year, David Wheeler, a researcher at the Centre for Global Development in Washington, calculated that if nothing changed, by 2075 the combined greenhouse-gas emissions of India and China would equal all the historic and current emissions of the world’s richest countries. In other words, even if we could magic away the climate impacts of all the industrial revolutions that took place before 1990, it would make little difference. Absent a dramatic change in the way India and China do business, we would only postpone the day of reckoning by a few decades; come 2060, we would be back where we are now, scrambling around against the clock to avoid catastrophe.
It was a sobering piece of work, not least for India and China. In their public postures, both countries were sticking firmly to the Kyoto-based division of the world into Annex 1 countries—those that had grown rich on emitting carbon—and non-Annex 1 countries, roughly categorised as blameless victims. At Kyoto, Annex 1 countries accepted that their historic responsibility imposed on them the obligation both to reduce their own emissions and to fund developing countries’ adaptation to the impacts of climate change, and to a less damaging, if more expensive, path to prosperity.
When the Kyoto protocol was being negotiated in the early 1990s, India and China had hardly begun their dizzying development of the past two decades. The landmark moment, 18 months ago, when China overtook the US as the world’s biggest emitter of CO2, was barely imaginable then. Both nations had been grouped with other developing countries.
Until three years ago, climate change was not a subject in China’s public debate, despite the fact that by then the world’s most populous nation had had the biggest and fastest industrial revolution in history. That only changed when the Chinese leadership began to realise that its upcoming status as the world’s leading emitter could no longer be ignored. The lea…