Why Developing Countries are not the global warming threat

April 3, 2001

As the two worst greenhouse gas polluters prepare to white-out their signatures from the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries are being painted as the real threat to global warming.

It is true that if everyone in a developing country adopted an Australian lifestyle the planet would quickly become uninhabitable. Australia currently has the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions at 26.7 tonnes per year. This is 25 per cent worse than the United States, who at 21.2 tonnes per year are often criticised for having a disproportionate contribution towards the destruction of the environment.

Australia and the US are using more than their fair share of the Earth's atmosphere, and are clutching at straws to maintain that unsustainable and inequitable position. Bush has not been the first to make a mockery of the Kyoto Protocol. At COP3 in Kyoto, Environment Minster Robert Hill threatened to walk away from the negotiations unless Australia was allowed to increase its emissions.

The IPCC in its Third Assessment Report, released earlier this year, indicates that 60% emission reductions are required to avoid dangerous and unpredictable climate change. To put this another way, it is estimated that the atmosphere and associated systems can absorb 8.9 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. This is equivalent to 1.46 tonnes per person.

Eighty per cent of developing countries, including India and Brazil, are well below this sustainable emission rate. Australia is more than 18 times over it. China, at 2.1 tonnes per person, is currently reducing it's emissions and trying to deal with the 30 million Chinese already displaced by climate change. For most developing countries, climate change is directly threatening lives and livelihoods.

In fact, of the 30 countries to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, none are classified as developed.

So while China and Fiji do not have emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, they are hardly polluting at will. In Fiji, income from tourism and fisheries is already declining due to bleaching of coral reefs. In Kiribati, two islands have already been evacuated due to rising sea levels.

For developing countries without light switches, the decision to embark on a fossil fuel or renewable energy future is often made in a boardroom thousands of kilometres away.

The Clean Development Mechanism was written into the Kyoto Protocol to assist developing countries to leapfrog polluting technologies. Instead Australia is trying to export it's 'Clean Coal' to Thailand, marketed in Thai newspapers as the 'World's Cleanest Fuel'.

The World Bank, with US and Australian funding, is further pushing fossil fuels into developing countries. While the Bank acknowledges that renewable resources are the best way to serve the two billion rural poor who have no electricity, for every dollar it spends on renewable technologies it spends twenty five dollars exacerbating climate change with fossil fuel developments.

World Bank fossil fuel projects since 1992 will add 38 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, equivalent to 1.7 times the total emitted by all the worlds countries in 1996.

In Australia the fossil fuel industry also receives disproportionate support. A recent report by the Senate Environment, Communications, Information
Technology and Arts References Committee found that the Australian fossil fuel industry profited from direct and indirect subsidies of $6 billion per annum.

Carbon dioxide emissions from developing countries need to be monitored. But before we apportion the responsibility for reducing emissions, we need to look carefully at who is causing global warming and who is suffering most from its consequences. In the words of Dr Robert Watson of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "The impacts of climate change fall disproportionatey on the world's poor".

For further information contact:

Al Hoban
Friends of the Earth, Australia.
Email: [email protected]