The existing Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming comes to an end in 2012, and major greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting countries around the world are being asked to commit themselves to cutting emissions.
India, China and other developing countries have said they should not be asked to make mandatory cuts, as global warming today is almost totally due to the developed world, and the per capita GHG emissions in developing countries are still way below those of developed countries, especially the US.
"But all major GHG emitting countries have to understand there will be real quantitative targets at Bali," said Kevin Watkins, lead author of the 2007 human development report (HDR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This year's HDR - the 17th in the series - has climate change and human development as its theme.
"India must make mandatory cuts in its GHG emissions after 2012," Watkins told IANS on the sidelines of a workshop on the subject organised by the UNDP here for journalists from 12 Asian countries. Many developing countries, including India in the past, have said they have a right to emit greenhouses gases because it was the only way they could reach the level of industrialisation and standard of living enjoyed in developed countries.
But the "right to emit does not lead anywhere", Watkins said. "Everyone needs deep cuts." He pointed out that climate change caused by GHGs affected everyone, especially the poor people in developing countries, and therefore it was important for developing countries to combat global warming rather than apportion blame.
On his part, Watkins was highly critical of developed countries - especially the US and the European Union (EU). "I am happy that the era of denial of climate change is over and G7 (group of seven industrialised countries) has acknowledged its historical responsibility and expressed the urgency of the problem," he said.
"Now, suddenly, EU and the US cannot tell India it has to start cutting greenhouse gas emissions," Watkins said. "That will be iniquitous. What they can tell countries like India and China is - you have an interest in energy efficiency; for the sake of the globe and because we have been responsible, we will cover the extra cost to help you achieve energy efficiency.
"Multilateral properly financed technology transfer has to be the entry price that developed countries have to pay." Watkins pointed out that many technologies for energy efficiency that would help combat global warming existed already but added that more money had to be put into more research and development in this area.
Watkins was very clear that "The era of business as usual has to stop". He added that the Bali conference gave all countries a "critical opportunity" to do so. He pointed out that scientists at the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said an average temperature rise of over two degrees Celsius would be catastrophic.
"To keep the rise within two degrees, the world has to halve its GHG emissions by 2050. But at the current rate, the world is going to double its GHG emissions by 2030 instead," Watkins pointed out. He said that rich countries had contributed over three-fourths of the GHGs so far. "So they have to be responsible for about 80 percent of the cuts by 2050. But developing countries do have to be responsible for the other 20 percent. They cannot go on with business as usual."
Humanity had to combat climate change due to global warming for two fundamental reasons, according to Watkins. "First, we have to say what is our commitment to the poor today, what are we doing about it. Because the poor are the ones worst affected by climate change. "Second, how are we expressing our ethical and moral responsibility to future generations? Remember that greenhouse gases emitted in 2007 will still stay in the atmosphere in 2107."
In response to a question, Watkins said that future benefits of combating global warming were so huge that their value should not be discounted at all when taking decisions today. "I am for a zero discount policy." How do countries actually cut greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide? This year's HDR suggests that governments raise the price of carbon to reflect the fact the earth's atmosphere becomes more valuable as the concentration of GHGs increase, Watkins said. In practice, he said, this could be done through a combination of carbon taxation and carbon trading programmes, though he was quite critical of current efforts in this direction.
"The EU emissions trading scheme is a farce," Watkins said. "They set the limit above the actual emissions. The only thing that has happened is a windfall gain for power generators."
Watkins suggested market-based instruments for GHG reduction in a much stricter regime, plus far more stringent regulations by governments around the world. He warned that governments were still trying to get out of making real commitments to fight climate change. "We need to cut greenhouse gases overall, not greenhouse gas intensity as governments are promising to do now."