08 Jun 2013
Climate change can no longer be ignored : Modify lifestyles for sharing responsibility and prosperity
2343 view(s)

The theme of this years’ World Environment Day is lifestyles and an opportunity to reflect on the central issue of global environmentalism - how a continually growing economic system can fit within a finite ecological system.

In an interdependent world the patterns, trends and drivers of global change are at the heart of the climate negotiations. International cooperation was expressed in 1992 in terms of burden sharing, and applied only to industrialized countries. The new rules for the post-2020 regime will determine aggregate emissions pathways in the context of global ecological limits, apply to all countries and burden sharing will be based on criteria considering whether the measures are fair and adequate.

Aggregate emission pathways and related national measures reflect changing patterns of energy use and evolve with economic development. In the industrial stages of development an economy largely consumes energy to produce goods. In the more mature stages of development, as incomes grow, energy use becomes more important in supporting urban living and transport based on lifestyles. For example, around two-thirds of global emissions of carbon dioxide occurred in industrialized countries in the period after 1970, and two-thirds of their carbon dioxide emissions are now coming from the services, households and travel sectors. Consequently, societal change in rich countries, particularly the United States, needs public support. Climate policy is really about standards of living and lifestyles, central to the domestic agenda of all countries.

China and India are still building their infrastructure and, according to BP’s forecasts in its latest Energy Outlook 2030, energy use per capita is predicted to increase at a similar rate to that in industrialized countries in the period 1970-2011, and despite energy intensity of GDP in 2030 being less than half of the level in 1970, population and incomes are expected to drive a 40% increase in global primary energy use. Currently, per capita generation of electricity in India is one-fifteenth and in China one fifth that of the United States and the use of cheap and widely available coal will continue because of the imperatives of growth, but they can, and are, shaping the pattern of demand, or lifestyles, as they grow.

The scope, structure and design of a fair agreement, to balance the interests of the major economies, should be based on three elements.

First, as global emissions now have to remain within an agreed limit, reductions have very different implications for economies that will continue to grow and where growth has stabilized. For example, three-fourths of the electricity produced in developing countries is used in manufacturing and any limitations on emissions will impact on economic growth, while two-third of the electricity generated in developed countries is used in buildings, and restrictions will affect lifestyles. As emissions, standards of living and global ecological limits are inter-linked, and cannot be considered in isolation, the new regime has to allow for convergence of global living standards within global ecological limits for it to have any legitimacy in developing countries.

In the face of continuing reluctance of the rich countries to modify longer term trends in consumption and production patterns, which they had committed to under the Convention, sustainable development of all countries will be achieved by temporarily over-shooting of the temperature limits, and this needs to be recognised in the new regime.

Second, an agreed global criterion for burden sharing is a precondition for national actions to be endorsed and reviewed in terms of fairness, otherwise developed countries lack of ambition will get international approval to the detriment of the others as energy use reaches the planet’s ecological limits before comparable levels in standards of living are achieved.

A focus on natural resource use should shape the multilateral reporting and assessment of national actions in terms of effects on emissions pathways over the long term, for example 1970-2060, instead of the current annual emissions reporting and short term assessments through the national communications; climate change first came on the global agenda in 1972 at the Stockholm Conference and global growth will continue till at least 2060. Considering a global carbon budget will also shift the focus to stabilization of concentration of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, and achieve the Objective of the Convention.

Third, nationally determined actions should include qualitative measures and quantitative aims. Up to now less than one billion people have accounted for three-quarters of global consumption; during the next four decades, new and expanded middle classes in the developing world could create as many as four billion additional consumers. The volume of urban construction for housing, office space, and transport services could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history.

The future health of the global economy and environment will be increasingly linked to how well countries earlier considered developing do —more so than the traditional West. As these countries enjoy an increase in the size of their economy they will have to think about global ecological limits in new ways. The international review of national actions should, therefore, consider national circumstances, or stages of development, as well as related international cooperation on sharing technological development and exchanging experiences on societal transformations – the modification of longer term trends in consumption and production activities that generate GHGs – rather than consider only the effects of those activities expressed in terms of emissions reductions.

All the analyses suggest that the most rapid growth of the middle class will occur in Asia, particularly in populous India and China over the long term. An effective agreement is important for them, for which they have to shape a new vision of lifestyles by moving away from short-term reductions in emissions pathways to long-term stabilization of concentration of greenhouses gases, as that alone determines the increase in global temperature.

In the new regime national action and global rules should consider societal and technological transformations, equitable access to the atmospheric resource and environmental risks.