Meet the ministers

So a Brit, a Frenchman and three Scandinavians walk into a bar...

So a Brit, a Frenchman and three Scandinavians walk into a bar...

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.

5 thoughts on “Meet the ministers

  1. Ranil Dissanayake

    September 11, 2009 at 6:52am

    I pretty much agree, but think this is true of a huge amount of development policy. e.g. the way we promote democracy should be:

    “democracy is a good in its own right and you may enjoy it. It has nothing to do with your material well-being”.

    maybe we should do a series of myth-busters for development?

    back on topic, I also think paying developing countries to produce less carbon is also a fail: this only corrects the first-instance loss of revenue, not the impact of the carbon-producing economic activity on the wider economy through trade links, infrastructure, multipliers and job creation. If we included the effects of these (much larger in Africa and South Asia where these things are still constraining factors), the ‘price’ of lower carbon emissions would be much higher.

  2. Matt

    September 11, 2009 at 9:12am

    Ranil, to come back on you last point – I totally agree that ‘bribing’ developing countries to cap their emissions is an awful approach. There are, as you mention, the wide-ranging effects on the economy brought by caping emissions. The other is more insidious: we already have a large number of countries who can be classified as ‘aid dependent.’

    Aid dependency isn’t always a technical reality: it’s a mindset – these are countries that are struggling between the choice of industry and growth-led development and just sitting back and living off of aid revenues. Paying countries off to slow down their economies reduces the government’s reliance on good economic outcomes and increases their reliance on foreign hand-outs. It’s the worst possible message to be sending to developing countries around the world.

  3. Ranil Dissanayake

    September 11, 2009 at 4:04pm

    most true. excellent point.

  4. Caroline

    September 15, 2009 at 9:59pm

    The other part of the equation is maybe easier. If rich people accepts to be less rich we increase the chance for poor people to get less poor faster

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