Notes on Climate Change: Common but Differentiated Responsibilities!

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Tanveer Ahmad Khan

Climate change is one of the most fundamental challenges humanity has ever faced. It has already shown its impact(s) which are likely to increase as climate change takes hold more vigorously and intensely. Melting of glaciers and snow cover are likely to increase the frequency of floods in the near future. It has been estimated that if emission of greenhouse gases (henceforth GHGs) continues in its present trend. Bangladesh will come under the sea level by the end of this century. Climate change has become a major hurdle in achieving the goal of sustainable development and poverty reduction. In order to combat the climate change, development needs to be environment friendly. The excessive emission of GHGS has caused a great damage to the environment. Scientists have warned the world that if immediate action is not taken, it will be costly for the humanity. Green planet may be unfit for survival of human beings.
The present high concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere is mainly due to the high pro emission growth witnessed by the Western world from last 200 years. The rapid growth of western countries mainly due to the growth of manufacturing sector brought huge opulence to them but at a titanic cost. The anthropogenic interference created fuzz in the environment making it unsuitable as a life-supporting system. The US and UK which have achieved great progress are the main contributors to this gloomy picture of world. The countries which have started their development from the late 20th century have blamed the developed nations for the climate change. They contend that since thedeveloped world is the main contributor to climate change, the responsibility for mitigation should also fall heavily upon them. GHGs are a global public bad. If one country contributes to emissions it affects all countries although in varying degrees. Individual countries, on their own , will not solve the problem.
Developed nations are reluctant to admit that they followed growth process blindly without worrying about environmental damage. The global consciousness regarding environment friendly growth (green growth) developed at a time when third world countries started their growth process. Mitigation of environmental damage and moving towards a sustainable development seemed to be very costly to the developing world. These countries assigned top priority to their growth process than to poor environment.
The relationship between economic development and environmental degradation was first placed on the international agenda in 1972 at the UN Conference “On The Human Environment”, held in Stockholm. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was the innovation of this conference which today acts as a global catalyst to protect environment. However, little was done in the coming years. Bu, t as climate change began to warn the scientist community, they began to put heavy emphasis on it and made the world leaders to think on the lines. By 1983 , the UN set up the World Commission on Environment and Development under Gro Harlen Brundtland of Norway. The commission put forward the concept of Sustainable Development as an alternative to simple growth process in 1987. It defines sustainable development as something “which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meets their own needs….”.
The most important step towards a low emission environment was taken at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It was considered to be an important rather a turning point in the history of human civilization. Worried and frustrated about what needs to be done to deal with climate change another agreement was successfully concluded in 1997, The Kyoto Protocol , which called for developed and developing nations to cut their emissions of GHGs by 2020. Recognizing that the developed world is mostly responsible for the current levels of GHGs in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol placed greater responsibility and a heavier burden on the developed countries under the principle of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’.
The latest step in this direction was taken in 2015, at Paris. The Paris agreement was concluded on December 12 and charted a new course in the direction of climate change. It sought to accelerate the world’s commitment and investment towards a sustainable and low carbon future. And, its central aim was to keep the rise in global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius at the end of this century. Under the Paris Agreement, it required the developed world to contribute $100 aid to developing world to help them to fight with the ramifications of climate change.
Under the principle of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ developed nations had more responsibility to protect the environment than the developing ones. They have enjoyed the fruits of high per capita income and have now the responsibility to contribute more to combating and mitigating the environmental damage that has been done from decades. The developing countries hold that our common resources were destroyed by the West for their petty national interests. So , they should have now have to play a vibrant role in mitigating the environmental damage especially climate change.
However, the major hurdle comes in the form of reluctance of developed world to support poor nations in adapting to climate change. The active role of the US is key to any successful international agreement on Climate change. But, it seems that developed world is escaping from their responsibilities towards the climate change. They feel no repugnance on the damage they have done to the common environment which they share with third world. Under the Bush administration, the US declined to rectify Kyoto Protocol and has taken a back seat in international negotiations on climate change. The conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bangkok last week, that was to draft a rulebook for the Paris Agreement ahead of a crucial international conference in Poland in December, ran into predictable difficulties over the issue of raising funds to help poorer nations. Several developed countries led by the US under Trump administration has taken a back seat and rejected its proposals. They dub it a historical discrimination against the developed world. India and China, The Third World leaders face heavy pressure to green their growth. Both countries are trying their best to make their growth environment friendly. But, if the developed world remains in a denial mode and will not cooperate effectively in combating climate change. The opportunity to attain the target of keeping rise in global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius will slam shut.
Dealing decisively with climate change is the need of hour. It leads to large scale desertification, warming of ocean waters, melting of glaciers and extinction of species. The increase in the occurrences of floods, storms and earthquakes might serve as a premonition for the world leaders of the great consequences of climate change. The world is not well acquainted with the means to deal with it once it occurs. So, better is to take seriously the scientific evidence and act on that immediately otherwise , window of opportunity will get closed forever.

The author is pursuing an M.A in Economics. He can be reached at:

One Response to "Notes on Climate Change: Common but Differentiated Responsibilities!"

  1. Khuram   September 20, 2018 at 9:44 am

    global cooperation is the need of an hour to combat the issue

    nice write up 👍