Do climate change policies hurt the world’s poor?

There’s something about what Bjorn Lomborg writes that makes me cross. He’s got an article on Project Syndicate in which he argues that environmental policy is hurting the world’s poor. He’s specifically referring to climate change policy and he thinks that what the developing world really needs is access to cheap fossil fuels. The article is called The power to develop, if anyone is interested.

I always gets annoyed when people use the world’s poor as an excuse to do nothing to combat climate change. They pretend to take the moral high ground making it hard for anyone to question their position. After all, who doesn’t want to do something about world poverty? If you try to disagree with their position, then you end up looking like you don’t care about poverty.

The idea that we must choose between combating climate change or helping the world’s poor is sometimes referred to as a false dilemma. To my mind, it’s not a choice of one or the other. We should be doing both. Yes, we should do whatever we can to reduce world poverty and yes, we should fight climate change by reducing fossil fuel emissions. The world’s poor are likely to be hardest hit by climate change and yet they are the least responsible.

If people like Bjorn Lomborg really wanted to help the world’s poor, then he would be arguing for an equitable distribution of the remaining carbon budget. This is the amount of carbon we can still burn if we’re to keep the change in global mean surface temperature from rising above 2°C. Some estimates put the cumulative total at about 1 trillion tonnes of carbon and we’ve already burned through half of this. Note that by “we” I mean the rich, developed world has already burned through half the budget. Based on our current trend, we will reach 1 trillion tonnes at around 2040.

Who gets to use the other half of our carbon budget? There are three ways it can be divvied up according to Peter Singer and Teng Fei.

  • It could be distributed on a per capita basis where countries are allocated a portion of the remaining budget in proportion to their population.
  • It could be allocated on a per capita basis but take into account past emissions. So countries that have already used up part of the cumulative total will get less while other countries – poor, developing countries – will get more.
  • It could be allocated on the basis of existing emissions. Countries that have used more of the cumulative total will get more of the remaining budget. This is essentially what is happening at the moment.

The second approach is the fairest, the last, the most unfair. My challenge to anyone who claims to hold the interests of the world’s poor in high regard, is to suggest that developing countries should receive a higher proportion of the remaining carbon budget while rich, developed nations receive less. If people like Bjorn Lomborg really want to help the poor, then this is what he should be arguing for. Climate change will hurt them more than us.

8 Comments

  1. Yes I agree. There are many red herrings. All of them perpertrated by those whose friends will benefit regardless of the affect upon others. The undeveloped world, having little prior captital invested in fossil fueled energy, is a perfect place to deploy green technology.

    Add to that; I am beginning to detect persons whoes real intent is to develope themselves as ringmasters. That is, stimulating a circle of contradictory and divisive discussion around themselves, just to feed their own sense of importance. The issue, being only something to make use of, makes them more dangerous than the sceptics.

    “Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born”. But, it never stops. šŸ™‚

  2. Add to that; I am beginning to detect persons whoes real intent is to develope themselves as ringmasters. That is, stimulating a circle of contradictory and divisive discussion around themselves, just to feed their own sense of importance. The issue, being only something to make use of, makes them more dangerous than the sceptics.

    That’s a rather scary way to look at it, Graham. I take it you’re referring to Lomborg here? There is something quite dangerous about his views. He accepts the science, unlike contrarians, but makes a case for business as usual from a moral perspective which on the surface looks reasonable and is very appealing.

  3. I refer to many who would divide us by stimulating futile argument. But, I hope it’s not so scary when taking into account that such ploys have always been with us. It’s just now beginning to show with this issue. And, and good thing that it is becoming more overt which makes it easier to defend against. The flaw in such people is their hubris. They think we are too stupid to notice.

    It does not mean that green policies cannot hurt the world. But, when we are persuaded to debate an either or situation it diverts us from considering other options. Such as, we can do better than that.

    The True Human Race pushes on as ever and continues to emerge even if slouching. I hope enjoy feeling part of it. With regards Graham šŸ™‚

  4. Sure, it does and it will hurt the poor the most, as they have few resources to deal with it. One year of unusual drought killed many poor in Malawi, the Inuit are unable to follow the traditions that have sustained them for centuries, the Sherpa are threatened by floods from lakes behind glacier melt restrained by ice dams, low lying islands are threatened by sea rise, and fires and floods floods have devastated many areas. The Cornwall Alliance says a green dragon is corrupting our churches and they urge people to resist taking action to reduce climate change, as they claim such action would hurt the poor in third world countries. The truth is that climate change will hurt the poor who live close to the land the most.

    See: http://jcmooreonline.com/2012/08/22/the-link-between-global-warming-and-extreme-weather-2/
    http://jcmooreonline.com/2011/08/22/bits-and-pieces-9-the-arctic-ice-and-the-inuit/

    http://jcmooreonline.com/2012/04/10/book-review-resisting-the-green-dragon/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s