Climate Change and Sustainable Development

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					                       Climate Change and Sustainable Development*


                                   Distinguished Fellow, TERI

        I am grateful to Dr. Yap Kok Seng, Director General of the Malaysian

Meteorological Department, for inviting me to deliver a keynote address on Climate

Change and Sunshine Development. As developing countries, Malaysia and India have

many common perspectives on climate change and I feel privileged to have this

opportunity of interacting with Malaysia researchers.

        I was in Switzerland last month for a UN meeting. Switzerland, as you know, is

renowned for its snow-clad Alpine slopes and a thriving winter sports industry. Many

scientists believe that in another twenty years, the snow cover will have disappeared from

the Alps because of climate change. This will spell the doom of the winter sports

industry. Yet the Swiss economy will survive the blow and continue to thrive. Famous

winter resorts may well convert themselves into summer resorts, where European tourists

will seek refuge from the heat of the plains! In any case, Switzerland will adapt more or

less successfully to climate change and continue to prosper.

        What about Malaysia, India, or other developing countries? In most developing

countries a large proportion of the population are engaged in the traditional farming, an

occupation that is particularly vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns

and extreme weather events. By contrast, in most developed countries, a large majority of

the population is engaged in the industrial or services sectors, which are less directly

dependent on climate stability. Moreover, farmers in economically advanced countries

will be able to adapt more successfully to climate change by switching over to new seeds

* Keyote Lecture delivered at the National seminar on Socio-Ecinomic Impacts of Extreme Weather and
Climate Change, Kuala Lumpur, 22 June 2007

or plan varieties, new agricultural practices, new crops or even new occupations. They

will not lack the financial or knowledge resource needed for investing in, say, patented

seeds, drip irrigation and other water conservation measures, or coastal protection. As a

general rule, in agriculture as well as other sectors of the economy, developing countries

will find it much more difficult to adapt to climate because they lack the requisite

resources in terms of capital, technologies and knowledge-based skills. They are severely

handicapped on account of these factors.

       It follows that, for developing countries, the key to a successful response to

climate change is accelerated development. Unless they achieve rapid development, these

countries will remain woefully lacking in the financial, technological and human

resources required for adapting to climate change in coming decades. Accelerated

development is essential to ensure that future generations in these countries are able to

cope successfully with climate change.

       While the long-term requirement for adaptation is sustained and accelerated

development, what are the immediate measures that we must implement as soon as

possible? In the first place, we must take climate change impacts into account in

infrastructure planning. For example, sea-level rise should be taken into account in site

selection and construction of infrastructure in coastal areas. Expected changes in rainfall

patterns and glacier melt may have to be taken into account in planning hydroelectricity

plants, and so on. In short, we should try climate-proof development to the extent

possible. It goes without saying, of course, that this can at best provided a partial solution

by moderating the impacts of climate change to certain extent. Therefore, a second set

of measures is required in the form strengthening our capacity for coping with disasters

associated with extreme weather events - floods, cyclones, etc. Early warning systems

have to be improved, as also our capacities for evacuation and provision of emergency

relief and rehabilitation assistance.

        If we had been living in a fair world, developing countries would have received

massive financial flows from the industrialized countries to assist their adaptation

efforts since the latter are responsible for causing climate change. As well all know,

climate change is caused not by emissions of greenhouse gases as such but by excessively

high levels of such emissions. Human activities have resulted in greenhouse gas

emissions since the dawn of history but it only in the Industrial Age, with the ever-

expanding consumption of hydrocarbon fuels, that greenhouse gas concentrations have

reached a level that has resulted in climate change. All inhabitants of our planet have an

equal right to the atmosphere but the industrialized countries have greatly exceeded their

fair per capita share of the    planet’s   atmospheric resources, thereby inducing climate

change. Generally speaking developing countries have not exceeded their fair share. If all

countries had the same per capita emissions as India, for example, humanity climate

change clearly lies with the industrialized countries; and in a just world they have

compensated the developing countries on a massive scale.

        However, we do not live in an ideal world and it would be unrealistic for the

developing countries to expect anything more than token assistance in adapting to the

adverse impacts of climate change. We will have to rely on our own scarce resources to

adjust as best as we can.

        To sum up, it is essential for developing countries to build up their adaptive

capacity as quickly as possible. The       requires   sustained and accelerated developing,

together with climate- proofing development to the extent possible. These requirements

have to be factored into our development plans.


       Let us now turn to climate mitigation. What role should developing countries play

in the international response to mitigate climate change? What can             developing

countries be reasonably expected to do in regard to mitigation of greenhouse gas

emissions and should these countries place the primary emphasis on mitigation or on

adaptation?   Where does climate change figure in the environmental priorities of

developing countries and in what manner should poorer countries integrate         climate

change into development plans? These are question that we shall now address.

       As already noted, climate change is the result of excessive emissions

originating   from the industrialized countries. Equity requires that they should sharply

reduce their emissions so as to allow other countries access to their fair share of

atmospheric resources, while arresting climate change. Moreover, the industrialized

countries also possess the financial and technological resources required for an adequate

international response to climate change. Their role should fully reflect their

responsibility for    causing climate change as well as their greater capability foe

addressing the challenge.

       On the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities and [their] respective

capabilities”, the Framework Convention and Kyoto Protocol require industrialized

countries to stabilize and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. These countries, with

the exception of the former Soviet bloc “economic in transition” are also required to

transfer financial resources and technology resources and technology to developing

countries for mitigation and adapting purpose. Developing countries are exempted from

these requirements.

       This does not mean that developing countries have no commitments at all. All

countries, including developing countries have certain common commitments, including

a commitment to “formulate and implement …. Programmes containing measures to

mitigate climate change”. However, it is clearly recognized that developing countries are

not expected to divert scare financial resources from their development priorities. They

are only expected to implement measures involving no additional costs. Projects

involving incremental costs are required to be taken up only if the industrialized countries

meet these additional costs. Thus the Framework Convention expressly recognizes: “The

extent to which developing country Parties will effective implementation by developed

country Parties of their commitments and will fully under the Convention related to

financial resources and transfer of technology and will full take into account that

economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding

priorities of the developing country Parties”.

       Industrial countries are now pressing for a revision of this basic compact. Skirting

around the question of equity and responsibility, they       are calling upon developing

countries to accept new commitments; indeed, it is frequently asserted that at present

developing countries have “no commitments” under the convention or the Kyoto

Protocol. Powerful voices are being raised to press developing countries to strikes some

sort of a balance between development and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. The

argument runs that industrialized     countries will not be able on their own to effect

reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on the scale required to restrict climate change to

acceptable limits and it is, therefore, necessary for developing countries to curb their

rising greenhouse gas emissions, even if this entails some diversion of scare resources

from their development priorities. We are being warned that if developing countries do

not accept this prescription, future generations will suffer the adverse consequences of

extreme climate change. In this view, sustainable development implies a balance between

development and climate change mitigation, which is treated as synonymous with

protection of the environment.

       In one from or another, these propositions are being advanced with increasing

insistence in ongoing climate change negotiations. They have profound implications for

development, poverty eradication, environmental protection and future welfare of a

majority of the world’s population. For this reason, they deserve careful examination.

       In the first place, as already noted, it is incorrect to state that developing countries

currently have no commitments under the Framework Convention or Kyoto Protocol.

Article 4.1 of the convention and Article 10 of the protocol commit all Parties to

“formulate and implement …programmes containing measures to mitigate climate

change”. While developing countries are not required to implement measures involving

uncompensated incremental costs, they are implementing a wide range of measures that

involve no additional costs in the sense that they are primarily intended to promote such

development priorities     as energy efficiency, energy security, local environmental

concerns or forestry development. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions is a co-benefit

in such cases and there is no diversion of resources from development priorities. The

National Communications of many developing countries provided extensive accounts of

such measures. A Pew Center study on “Climate change mitigation in developing

countries” (October 2002) found that actions taken by six countries – Brazil, China,

India, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey – “reduced the of their combined annual

greenhouse gas emissions over the past three decades by nearly 300 million tons a year.”

       Second, there is logical confusion in the argument that since emission reductions

in industrialized countries will not be sufficient to arrest climate change, it follows that

developing countries should also accept      a   commitment      to moderate their growing

emissions. No one questions the need to       moderate to the extent feasible the growing

emissions originating in the developing countries. The real questions is, who pays for

it? Under the Framework Convention and the Kyoto Protocol all incremental costs are to

be met by industrialized countries through the GEF or the Clean Development Fund,

Developing countries have been cooperating, on this financial basis, in international

initiatives that moderate their growing emissions. What they oppose are attempts to shift

the financial burden on to their shoulders by making these measures mandatory without

corresponding financial offsets. This is the real issue. It is clearly inequitable to require

developing countries to meet any part of the costs of mitigation a phenomenon caused by

wealthy industrialized countries. Even     if we leave aside the question of equity, it

must be pointed out hat diversion of scarce resources from their development imperatives

will inevitably cripple the long-term adaptive capacitive of these countries.           The

proposals      being    made      by    industrialized countries are, therefore, a highly

inappropriate to climate change, not to speak of equity, development or poverty


       Finally, it is necessary to consider the environmental priorities of developing

countries. Climate change undoubtedly poses a very serious environmental threat. Yet, in

most developing countries, water and air pollution and lack of adequate sanitation pose

environmental challenges that are just as serious as climate change – and much more

immediate. These local environmental problem take a heavy toll in human lives today.

While climate change is largely a middle –and long - threat, these local pollution

problems constitute a critical present threat, crying out for an urgent solution. Not

surprising, they    are accorded correspondingly high priority in development plans of

poorer countries. Diversion of the scare resources of a developing country to limiting

greenhouse gas emissions might distort its proper environmental priorities.

       To sum up these observations on mitigation, developing countries can and should

continue to implement no-cost measures with mitigation co-benefits, as well as measures

involving incremental costs provided that industrialized countries meet these costs. It

would be inequitable as well as being counter-productive, in terms of economic growth,

adaptive capacity    and local environmental priorities to reduction of greenhouse gas



       Having looked at both aspects of the response to climate change – adaptations and

mitigation – we are now in a position to consider the overall relationship of climate

change to sustainable development.

       Like most concept that gain universal acceptance, the term “ sustainable

development” is not notable for it is rigorous definition. The most commonly cited

definition, taken from the Report of the World Commission on Environment and

Development (1978) entitled Our Common Future is as follows: “Sustainable

development is development that meet their own needs of the present without

compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” On a superficial

reading this definition deals only the question of inter-generational equity but, in fact. It

expressly covers also intra-generational equity. Thus, the Report goes on to elucidate the

“concept of “ needs ”, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which

overriding priority should be given”. Thus, “ sustainable development addresses the

question of a balance between economic growth and protection o scare environmental

resources as also the questions of equity between, and within, present and future


       I now come to the conclusion. The argument develop in this lecture may be

summed in the form of three propositions concerning the relationship between

development and climate change:

       (1)     In the context of climate change, rapid development is sustainable

development. Unless they develop rapidly, developing countries will be unable to adapt

to climate change with any degree of success. Future generations will have to pay a heavy

price for tardy development.

       (2)     In order to make their fair contribution to mitigating climate change,

developing countries should implement all feasible no-cost measures delivering

mitigation co-benefits. They should also seek opportunities for implementing additional

measures if industrialized countries meet the incremental costs involved.

       (3)     It would be counter-productive for developing countries in terms of

economic and social progress as well health –related local environmental goals, to divert

scarce resources from these priorities to mitigation measures involving uncompensated

incremental costs.