11th December – Climate treaty at a tipping point

The annual Climate Summit, with increasing levels of concentration of greenhouse gases, raises questions on global climate policy.

Issue –

The policy problem is that the Climate Treaty considers symptoms (emissions of greenhouse gases), rather than the causes (use of natural resources).

What drove climate change?

  • Three shifts in natural resource use have taken place in the last 400 years: from agriculture to industry; rural to urban; and, livelihood to well-being.
  • Colonialism and its aftermath of multinational corporations was the driver of the first shift, infrastructure of the second, and societal notions of progress of the third.
  • Only the first two global trends show limited convergence and stabilisation.
  • The third diverges sharply between material abundance in the West and societal well-being in India and China.

Patterns of use of natural resources –

  • Consumption patterns of primary material use for the provision of major services are driven by diverse values that include both global trends transforming human societies — for example, urbanisation, economic globalisation and digitisation, as well as national pathways to achieve prosperity.
  • At the national-level, resource use is primarily construction material and energy use in buildings, mobility and manufacturing as well as food, which together lead to human well-being.
  • More than half of natural resource use and global emissions occurred after 1950, driven by the gradual shift of three-quarters of the global population to cities.

China case –

  • China’s acceleration of natural resource use from 2000 was driven by urbanisation. It is characterised as “unprecedented growth”. Different values and the objective of increasing well-being, rather than wealth, led to China, in 2016, having the same per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide as the West had in 1885.
  • In China, electricity consumption per-capita is a third of the European Union (EU) and a sixth of the U.S. Residential energy consumption has increased at a rate less than half the increase in GDP, and corresponds to the increase in urban population, showing limited increase with more disposable household income.
  • China also has less than a sixth of the number of cars with respect to population than the EU, while the U.S. has nearly two times that number.
  • In China, nearly 40% of the distance travelled is by public transport, which is two times that of the EU. While the number of cars in China is projected to double by 2040, half the new cars are expected to be electric vehicles.
  • China has the world’s most extensive electric high-speed rail system. In Beijing, three-quarters of public transport buses are already electric. Asian household savings as a percent of GDP are two times that of the U.S.

Taking lessons from Asia –

  • Measures for global sustainability should draw lessons from India and China. India and China are global leaders in sustainability not only because of their low per-capita resource use but also because of their contribution to peak oil around 2035 as they adopt electric vehicles supported by solar and wind renewable energy. By then, India and China are expected to have half the global renewable capacity and electric vehicles.
  • By 2040 more than half of global wealth is again going to be in Asia; the low carbon social development model adopted by India and China will become the world system, ensuring global sustainability.

Conclusion –

The pattern of natural resource use adopted by western civilisation will more clearly be seen as a short-term anomaly rather than collective transformation or unified evolution of civilisation. Much before that, alternative strategies led by India and China should replace the ineffective Climate Treaty.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONDespite aggregate contribution, the per capita contribution to global warming by India and China remains low. It is therefore argued that the climate treaties should be deconstructed from the western notions to adopt an oriental approach towards climate progress. Discuss.

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