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MUMBAI, CITIZENS NEWS NETWORK — The economies and resultant emissions of low-income countries are growing at a rapid pace. China and India are already among the top five greenhouse-gas emitters. The rest of the world may strive to stabilize its emissions at 1990 levels, but if China and India continue to grow as expected, world emissions won’t stabilize anywhere close to 450 parts per million in this century.

India and China have so far argued, with reason, that the high-income world is responsible for most of the historic rise in greenhouse-gas emissions. Despite high growth, per capita emissions of the lower-income nations will remain much below that of high-income nations for several decades.

In addition, they argue, that more critical domestic economic imperatives of growth and poverty reduction will be compromised by aggressive climate change mitigation efforts. These concerns are also valid.

This raises the question: What kind of strategies and commitments can lower-income countries make that will satisfy the two sides? It is now widely accepted that even if these countries do not make reduction commitments in the near future, they cannot escape the responsibility to undertake drastic emission cuts in the longer run, say, after two decades, when, by conservative estimate, their per capita gross domestic product will be more than three times greater and emissions more than two times greater than current levels.

In the absence of any commitment in the next two decades, their economies would become locked into a trajectory of high emissions and unsustainable development, while the cost of reversing the trend will become prohibitively high. On the other hand, it would be foolish if we do not learn from past follies as well as the current but belated corrective efforts of the West.

Therefore, the practical questions are: Even if the lower-income countries do not make a direct greenhouse-gas mitigation commitment in the short run, what preparatory actions can they commit to that will lay the platform for their transiting to a drastic mitigation path in the longer run?

And what support can the high-income world guarantee them to facilitate such a platform and smooth transition?

There are two interlinked parts to the solution: (1) to identify near-term strategies and an implementation road map for the lower-income countries that will enable them to move to a drastic mitigation path in the longer term without compromising domestic development goals, and (2) to work out a package of support from high-income countries for this purpose. The near-term (say, 2020) post-Kyoto targets for the lower-income countries must derive from such a solution if the targets are to be acceptable to all parties.

In the next couple of decades, countries like China and India must meet the domestic goals of economic prosperity and poverty eradication, and local pollution control and sustainable use of natural resources. The government, nongovernment organizations and private agencies are going to invest significant resources toward various economic and social ends. The policy challenge is to channel those investments in such a way as to meet the above two sets of goals simultaneously with the third one: to put the economy on a low-carbon path in the longer run.

The strategies that lie at the intersection of these three goals — economic, local environment-ecological, global climate change — will meet the challenge. The following paragraphs illustrate such strategies with examples relevant for India.

As one example, government spending for infrastructure, especially for road and rail (as part of public transport systems), decentralized water supply and decentralized electricity supply systems in the rural areas can meet multiple objectives of rural employment generation, economic recovery, sustainable resource use and greenhouse-gas mitigation.

Laying road and rail transport infrastructure to rural areas will facilitate the supply of modern products and services to rural markets. Simultaneously establishing services of installation, maintenance and financing of clean and efficient technologies in rural areas will remove barriers to the diffusion of such technologies.

Using such infrastructure and services to push efficient end-use technologies like energy-efficient architecture, compact fluorescent lamps and efficient electric pump sets, and decentralized and clean energy supply systems such as solar (photovoltaic and thermal), wind, small hydro and biomass gasifier can benefit both the economy and the environment.

As another example, planning new and expanding urban areas in such a way as to build in features like managing waste and recycling waste and water, using solar systems for houses and commercial buildings, using eco-friendly architectural designs, expanding public transportation, creating pedestrian and bicycle-friendly pathways, and co-locating workplaces with residences can cut energy use drastically besides improve the quality of life.

Training and engaging the urban poor in the management of resultant new services like waste management and recycling and the supply of solar energy systems and public transport systems can simultaneously create employment opportunities. Such economy- and environment-friendly urban designs can be easily planned and implemented from scratch in the new urban concentrations that countries like India and China will witness as part of rapid urbanization in the next few decades.

As yet another example, building R&D and innovation capability in the lower-income countries in new technology systems that are radically efficient and environment friendly will add a competitive advantage to their industries besides help mitigate climate change. The governments of these countries have a major role to play in catalyzing such innovative capability creation; for instance, by supporting initial R&D investments in both public and private organizations, creating initial demand and helping establish the supply chains for enabling new innovations to reach the markets efficiently.

However, the rich countries and the international agencies have the responsibility to put in place certain mechanisms that facilitate transfer of not only technology but also innovation capability to the lower-income countries.

Although several clean development mechanisms (CDMs) have been implemented in countries like India and China, they have led mostly to incremental efficiency improvement. That’s because CDMs have been passive instruments of technology transfer and do not offer opportunities for building real innovation capability and core competence in industries in the lower-income nations. For them to be meaningfully acceptable and contribute to drastic mitigation, CDMs need to be integrated with active international industry collaborative arrangements.

These examples are merely to illustrate the feasibility of innovative strategies that can help lower-income countries meet domestic economic goals as well as environmental and global climate change mitigation goals. The workable strategies must be specific to each country depending on its domestic policy imperatives and resource endowments. Both high- and lower-income countries need to jointly work out these strategies for the latter’s implementation road map, measures of performance, periodic (post-Kyoto) targets and monitoring mechanisms.

The implementation road map must include actions on the part of both domestic (lower-income nations’) governments and high-income nations. The measures of performance, in order to be comprehensive, need to cover both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the implementation process. These are the hard challenges of the post-Kyoto negotiations. The sooner the nations realize these realities, the better it will be for everyone and for the humanity.

Rahul Pandey, Ph.D., is a former faculty member of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow. He is a founding member of a startup venture that develops mathematical models for planning and policy analysis. Some of the key points of this article were presented in a workshop on climate change organized by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan in Tokyo in late February. E-mail: rahulanjula@gmail.com

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