Fairness takes center stage in the lead-up to Copenhagen

Much of the debate in the lead-up to Copenhagen will center on the topic of fairness. Rich countries have emitted copious amounts of carbon for years, and now that they are comfortable, even post-materialist, they are leading a global affront on climate change. To be sure, it is a pressing global problem, but developing countries argue forcefully that they too have a right to some of the low-cost carbon emissions that the rich countries have enjoyed for years.

This conflict played out in last week’s G8. The vision proposed by the rich countries, thought by themselves to be very generous, was that they would cut emissions by 80 % as part of a global effort to reduce emissions by half. But the five industrializing countries invited to the event thought that such a bargain downplayed the critical element of rights. Shayam Saran, who leads India’s greenhouse gas negotiations team, argues that the only agreement he will accept must allow Indians to emit the same per-person amount as Americans.

The current state of affairs ensures that nobody will get their way. Any rich-country solution will be impossible to accept domestically in developing countries—the political appeal of fighting such a proposal as imperialist is just too great. But the developing countries are also overplaying their hand—India’s assertions, for example, almost ensure that climate change will not be meaningfully limited. Innovative new proposals that, for example, redefine carbon emissions in a personal rather than countrywide basis are interesting but will ultimately face the same irresolvable conflict. So, how do we work towards a better solution?

Teach don’t preach

The best way to ensure failure is to carry on preaching moral values. The best way to resolve the issue is to both teach and learn. High-carbon lessons and their solutions must be passed from developed to developing countries in a why that carries no signs of imposition. Developing countries must teach rich countries about the realities of development in a globalized world. The two must then come together.