Kyoto Can Be Made to Work; 'Leapfrog' Economies Can Bypass Traditional Industrialization. India, for Example, Leads the Developing World in Low-Carbon Wind Power

Article excerpt

Byline: David Miliband (Miliband is a British Labour Party M.P. and secretary of State for Environment.)

Climate change has become a "threshold issue." Deny the evidence, ignore the problem, and you look like a Luddite. The new report of the International Panel on Climate Change confirms the scientific consensus: global warming is happening and its consequences will be severe, unless action is taken.

The European Commission proposes unilateral cuts of 20 percent in European emissions from 1990 levels. The U.S. Senate is considering four similar bills. The British government will soon present a landmark Climate Change Bill mandating CO2 emission reductions of 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. All this is welcome. But the biggest issue has yet to be confronted: how to forge an equitable global compact that sustains the development aspirations of poorer countries and contributes to the battle against climate change.

Consider the facts framing this debate. At the moment, the United States accounts for 25 percent of global emissions and the European Union 14 percent. Per capita, emissions from developing countries (accounting for 5 billion of the world's 6 billion people) are a fraction of that. But by 2020, total emissions from developing countries, led by India and China, will be greater than emissions from the industrialized world. How world leaders deal with this evolution will determine how well we cope with global warming.

In discussing these issues, developing countries have traditionally cleaved to a simple view: developed countries caused the problem, and it's theirs to solve. By the same token, developing nations have a right to develop, climate change or not. Any global agreement dealing with our shared problems, then, must acknowledge two principles. First, not only have developed countries indeed caused the problem, but it's they that possess the greatest capacity to reduce emissions. Second, by a cruel irony, developing countries will suffer the most from climate change. They therefore have a strong incentive to seek development that protects the natural environment. I call this "leapfrog economics."

For the poorer countries in the world, development is, rightly, nonnegotiable. But there's a critical choice. Will that development be high-carbon or low-carbon? A leapfrog economy will embrace the latter without passing through decades of traditional, high-carbon industrialization. That choice will, in turn, essentially be about heat, electricity and transport. …