So I’m currently in Copenhagen and today was lucky enough to grab a seat at a brief talk by the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Sweden, Finland and Denmark on the upcoming climate change conference this December.
It was fun to see some official chatter on the importance of tackling climate change (although nothing new was said).
I was less impressed with the way the ministers repeatedly linked the fight against climate change with the one against global poverty. This is not totally absurd: climate change will almost certainty make the lives of the world’s poor more difficult, especially those that are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, or those unfortunate enough to be living on small islands.
That said, it’s my impression that attempts to sharply curb emissions in developing countries can only slow short-term growth (even if we set the world on a larger long-term growth rate by reducing the impact of the crisis). These countries won’t be able to take advantage of the cheap, carbon-intensive methods the rest of us used to get to our comfortable levels of development. China, who to date has pulled more people out of poverty than any other country in the world, will have to slow down its growth. That means less people exiting poverty every year.
It’s not surprising that both China and India are less-than-enthusiastic about signing on (although Duncan Green, one of the few development bloggers actively covering the climate change agenda, has just noted that China might be making some sort of a deal, we’ll see how effective it will really be).
Sustainable development is invariably slower development. It’s still a good thing in the long run, but we need to own up to the world’s poor that in order to really make a dent in climate change, they will have to be poor a little longer.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Michael Spence does a much better job of discussing this issue here.