The taxi driver that took me from the Bali airport to my hotel in Nusa Dua, the secure “green zone” where the climate negotiations are taking place, didn’t speak much English. Just well enough to say, haltingly, that he was “too stupid” to have a better job, he didn’t drink, and he was very depressed because he was lonely, but too poor to get married. Oh, and that the Westin, where I was not staying, was the “best” place. Very “luxury.” Very “Western.”
Now, about a week later, I’ve been in lots more cabs. I can report that Third World beach resorts are very strange places. And that the negotiations are running in their usual courses: bitterness, bad faith, recriminations, pulling teeth, and rising tension. The Bush people, despite promises to play a constructive role, are making destructive interventions in a number of working groups. But the Bush people aren’t what they used to be. And — hope against hope — the developing world is rising to the occasion.
China is being very flexible, and by many accounts positioning itself as a leader for the 21st century. This is making a difference. Come this weekend, we’ll probably (knock on wood) be declaring victory. Which would mean — this is not much, but it’s still something — that we’ll have an agreement that calls for an aggressive global emissions reductions trajectory, something consistent with “IPCC science.” A trajectory that can, if we hold it, deliver a global emissions peak by 2015, or 2020 at the latest.
Then comes the hard part: building bridges to that still painfully vague future. This is where we’re all going to be have to rise to the occasion. Because if we want a crash program of global mitigation, we’re going to have to listen, hard, to the developing country negotiators who want the same, but only as part of a “package” that includes meaningful technology transfer, significant adaptation funding, and, in general, the financial assistance that will be necessary to finesse an extremely bad situation in which — surprise! — it turns out that the developing world doesn’t trust the North.
It won’t be easy. Ultimately, trust is going to require a fair global “burden sharing” deal. Such a deal — to get back to my first taxi driver — is going to have to take real account of the rich-poor divide.
Real account. It’s too late for rhetoric and promises. Too late for halfway analysis that stops at the North-South impasse. “Rich-poor” is what I said, and “rich-poor” is what I meant.
So, evidentially, did the Greenpeace India analysts who just released a new report that deserves huge kudos, and a great deal of attention. “Hiding Behind the Poor” shows that India — in claiming that its emissions, measured in per-capita terms, are too low to demand mitigation obligations of any kind — is actually relying on terribly misleading numbers, and by so doing allowing India’s elites to “hide behind” their own poor.
The authors show this in just the right way, by doing their homework. They break India’s population down into what, for lack of a better term, we might call “emission classes,” and — surprise — it turns out that there are plenty of people within India who have emissions above, and sometimes far above, the sustainable global average.
Highly recommended. Let’s hope it’s a sign of the times, and not just in India. Last time I looked we had emissions classes here in the U.S. as well.