IPCC: The north outsources emissions to the south

A draft of the IPCC’s next report has been leaked.  As well as well-known warnings, it gives new stress to the transfer of northern emissions to the South.

by Gerardo Honty
America Latina en movimieto, January 14, 2014

[Gerardo Honty is a researcher with Centro Latinoamericano de Ecología Social. This article was translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop]

The fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as was the case with the previous four reports published in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2007 consists of three volumes.  The first was already presented in September of last year and contained an update of the latest scientific information on climate change.  The second will be released in March [2014] (on aspects of vulnerability and adaptation), and the third, referring to mitigation, will come out in April [2014].

Nevertheless, a partial draft of this third volume, dated December 17 [2013] was recently leaked to various media and merited the attention, among others, of Reuters (15/01/14), The New York Times (17/01/14) and The Guardian (19/01/14).  This is a 29 page draft of the chapter directed at political leaders; an easily digested summary that the Panel tends to release, to free decision-makers from the hard task of reading the complete technical reports.

The details of the draft appearing in the press reports are hardly new and are for the greater part updates of tendencies already revealed or data that were already foreseen by other international agencies of the UN or the International Energy Agency.  Some of the points raised indicate:

  • The emissions of greenhouse gases grew twice as fast in the first decade of this century than in the previous three decades.  The great part of this increase is due to the burning of coal, particularly the coal used for the generation of electricity in China.
  • The greater part of future scenarios elaborated indicate that world emissions will have to be reduced by 40 to 70 per cent between 2010 and 2050 in order to maintain the increase in the average temperature of the planet below 2ºC, as agreed in the United Nations.
  • To limit global warming, the report estimates that the world will have to invest 147 billion US dollars per annum in low carbon energy sources, such as wind, solar or nuclear from now until 2030.  At the same time, investment in energy produced by fossil fuels will have to be reduced by 30 billion US dollars annually.
  • Governments of the world are still spending much more money to subsidize fossil fuels than in speeding up the change to cleaner energy.
  • It is necessary to develop technologies for the capture and storage of carbon — principally in electric power plants and the sequestration of carbon in forest plantations — as a mechanism to reach a net balance of “negative emissions” by 2100.

Nevertheless, one of the principal aspects noted in the above-mentioned press articles is the recognition by the Panel of something that has already been noted by climate analysts and activists and which merits deeper analysis: the “outsourcing” of emissions.

“A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries,” states The Guardian, in quotation marks, implying that this is a textual citation from the leaked draft.

According to the English newspaper, the document states that the greatest growth in greenhouse gases comes from emerging countries, particularly China, but that a good part of these have their origin in the production of goods and services that are consumed in Europe and the United States.

Many inhabitants of the South maintain that a global policy of reduction of emissions should not only consider the origin of these gases but also the destination of the production involved, making the consumer countries of the North responsible for the emissions in the producing countries of the South. From this perspective, the transfer of industries and contaminating undertakings from the North to the South would appear to be a strategy on the part of the developed countries to escape their climate responsibilities. In part, this is true, but it is not the whole truth.

The problem is that the countries of the South readily accept this transfer (if indeed they do not actively seek it) and complacently accept the increase in their own emissions.  Not only this, they also oppose any domestic policies in the developed countries to limit their possibilities of exports.  That is to say, they do not accept the inclusion of carbon standards in products consumed in Northern countries, claiming that these are non-tariff protectionist measures.

This has arisen in international negotiations over climate change, principally in questions of hydrocarbons and agriculture, but it can be extended to all areas of export from developing countries.  Thus it is the developing countries themselves that push for the “outsourcing” of emissions from the industrialized countries.  No one is innocent in this game.

This question has become an impossible barrier to agreement within the Climate Change Convention.  The developed countries move their industries to the South because there are no restrictions on emissions and the countries in the South obtain an important amount of foreign investment as well as an increased GDP in this relocation of production. This transfer results in an increase in the emissions in developing economies, and these, sustained by the argument of combating poverty, reject any imposition of limits to their emissions. They also reject any measure on the part of the developed countries to reduce consumption on the part of the peoples of the North, since such measures are regarded as obstacles to exports from developing countries.

In addition, these exports are making way for the growth of new upper and upper middle classes in emerging countries, increasing consumption and consequently emissions in these countries.

Business enterprises are happy: they have found the perfect way to avoid limits to their own emissions, pay lower wages, obtain various exonerations, more flexible environmental standards and maintain greater buying power in the markets of the North.  All this with collaboration between governments of North and South as they continue to blame each other for the lack of engagement in the struggle against climate change.

Fortunately for the climate, “development” is very efficient at maintaining the majorities in poverty, letting them believe that they prosper or promising them that they will prosper, since if all were to develop the planet would already have gone up in smoke.

Posted in Climate Change, Featured, IPCC

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