Why no country should sign up to Climate Mitigation at Paris 2015

The blog “the eco experts“, has produced a map of the countries most likely to survive climate change.

The most populous country with a high risk is India. In fact it has more people than the 50+ nations of Africa, or nearly twice the population of the OECD – the rich nations club. It is determined not to constrain the rapid growth in emissions if it means sacrificing the rapid economic growth that is pulling people out of poverty. Is this sensible when rapidly increasing its emissions create the prospect of dangerous climate change?

Look at the pattern of vulnerability.

Why is Mongolia more vulnerable than Russia or China?

Why is Haiti more vulnerable than Guatemala & El Salvador, which in turn are more vulnerable than Mexico, which in turn is more vulnerable than the USA?

Why are Syria and Iraq more vulnerable than Iran, which in turn is more vulnerable than Saudi Arabia, which is in turn more vulnerable than the UAE?

Why is Madagascar more vulnerable than Tanzania, which in turn is more vulnerable than South Africa, which is in turn more vulnerable than Botswana?

The answer does not lie in the local climate system but in the level of economic development. As with natural extreme weather events, any adverse consequences of climate change will impact on the poorest disproportionately.

In the light of this, should India

  1. Agree to sacrifice economic growth to constrain emissions, having a significant impact on global emissions and maybe encouraging others to do likewise?


  2. Continue with the high economic growth (and hence emission growth) strategy knowing that if catastrophic climate change is real the population will be better able to cope with it, and if inconsequential they will have sacrificed future generations to a trivial problem?


  3. Continue with the high economic growth (and hence emission growth) strategy and invest in more accurately identifying the nature and extent of climate change?

Now consider that any Government should be first and foremost responsible for the people of that country. If that can be best progressed by international agreements (such as in trade and keeping global peace) then it is the interests of that country to enter those agreements, and encourage other nations to do likewise. Global peace and globalisation are win-win strategies. But climate change is fundamentally different. It is a prospective future problem, the prospective harms from which are here clearly linked to stage of economic development. Combating the future problem means incurring costs, the biggest of which is economic growth. Technologically, there low-cost solutions are in place, and there is no example of any country aggressively weeding out ineffectual policies. Even if there were effective policies in in theory, for costs to exceed benefits would mean every major country either drastically cutting emissions (e.g. the OECD, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa) or drastically constraining future emissions growth (India, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, plus dozens of other countries). If some countries fail to sign up then policy countries will be burdened with the certain actual costs of policy AND any residual possible costs of policy. Responsible countries will duck the issue, and, behind the scenes, help scupper the climate talks in Paris 2015.

Kevin Marshall