Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How Copenhagen discriminates against the West

Now let's make a series of jumps, and say the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is about a problem, attributable to human emissions of CO2 and that the best way to solve it is through agreeing by international convention, for nation states to restrict emissions.

Bear with me on this, just assume this is all true.

Let's look at what countries would be bound by this. So called "industrialised economies and economies in transition" are the ones expected to shoulder most of the burden, on the basis that they have already "benefited" from using fossil fuels, emitting CO2 and clearing forests for habitation. So called "developing countries" are expected to should a far smaller burden. They were expected to do nothing under the Kyoto Agreement. This time they are expected to contribute to emission reduction targets, but should not have "their development" hindered.

The philosophy being that it is "unfair" for developing countries to not undertake the sort of economic development that industrialised countries have.

Bear with me further, and just assume this principle is fair.

What should define industrialised vs developing countries? A reasonable measure is GDP per capita, or rather what is produced in a country in goods and services divided by the population, converted into a standard currency such as the US$. There are variants using Purchasing Power Parity, but for the sake of simplicity, let's talk about GDP per Capita. A country with double the GDP per capita than New Zealand must surely be classified industrialised, right?

The countries listed as industrialised and in transition are (geographically broadly from west to east):
Canada, USA, all European Union member states (except Malta and Cyprus), Iceland, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Yes, that's it. Almost all of Europe, the two wealthy North American states, rich Australasia and Japan.

The GDP per capita range of these countries (using the IMF listings in Wikipedia for 2008) would be from US$133,044 per person in Luxembourg to US$3,910 per person in Ukraine. A very wide range indeed. Now it would be fair to argue Ukraine, Belarus, both having GDP per capita well under US$10,000 should not be in this category, but probably are due to Russia not wanting to be disadvantaged, but that is besides the point.

New Zealand, by the way, is at US$30,030 per person, above 14 others, but beneath 21

What's a developing country?

That is far more interesting. You see the developing country with the highest GDP per capita is Qatar. A country that has benefited hugely from exporting fossil fuels. It has a GDP per capita of US$93,204. More than THREE times that of New Zealand, yet will be expected to have a fraction of the obligations New Zealand will be signing up to. Some might say Qatar is still developing. Maybe, but then who gets the US$93,204 per annum per person if many Qataris aren't wealthy already?

It isn't the only one. Here's a list of other "developing countries" that will not have their economies hindered by the forthcoming Copenhagen agreement, all of which are wealthier per person per annum than New Zealand:

United Arab Emirates US$55,028 (oil in Abu Dhabi and a couple of fast growing airlines)
Kuwait US$45,290 (oil)
Singapore US$38,972 (just quietly keeps "developing country" status)
Brunei US$37,053 (oil)

All of these countries, all of which either make a lot of money from others emitting CO2, or running businesses that do so, a lot (like airlines).

However, that's not all. There are umpteen others that also are "developing" but are still within the ballpark of industrialised countries' wealth per head that are EU member states:

Israel US$28,409
Bahrain US27,248
Bahamas US$22,359
Oman US$21,646
Trinidad and Tobago US$19,870
South Korea US$19,136
Saudi Arabia US$18,855
Taiwan US$16,988
Equatorial Guinea US$14,941 (one guess that per capita isn't helpful in this place)
Antigua and Barbuda US$14,556
Libya US$14,479
Barbados US$13,314
Venezuela US$11,388

So why is this so? Why do a bunch of oil rich Arab states and what were once the "tiger" economies of East Asia get left out?

Why do environmentalists not call for those states to be treated as "industrialised" given they have per capita wealth similar to those that are classified as such, and indeed are often profligate users of oil, with subsidised domestic fuel and the like?

Could it just simply be that this whole agenda carries with it the old fashioned anti-colonial view that "the West must pay", and so even those who are much wealthier than many in the West can do nothing in return?

If so, why is New Zealand signing up to something that does not demand the reclassification of all countries that are within the GDP per capita range of "industrialised countries" as no longer being "developing"? Mexico, for example, has a higher per capita GDP than Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania. So why are the former communist bloc countries being expected to change far more radically than Mexico?

Will any industrialised countries blast open this blatantly anti-Western (and Japanese and Turkish) nonsense?


George said...

The short answer - a historical accident. The UNFCCC was set up in the early 1990s, and the Annexes reflect this. Unfortunately, this hasn't changed since then, not due to a conspiracy of these countries to rob themselves, but because of the difficulty of international negotiations in getting anywhere. Having the United States negotiating in bad faith in 1996-2000, and then boycotting in 2001-2008 has made it much harder. I don't think that anyone round the negotiating table thinks the current arrangement is sustainable, and any new agreement that 'works' will see it changed.

And just curious - why do the far-right hate the idea of climate change so much? They're not hostile to most areas of science, but when scientists tell them that we might be damaging the environment we live in, they very often go full bore against them.

Centrist said...

George, I don't know about the far right, but for myself I believe these things about climate change:
1) CO2 is not the culprit it is being made out to be, and reducing CO2 emissions is unlikely to have any significant impact on the climate
2) There will continue to be changes in the climate because that is nature.
3) The hockey stick graph is scientific fraud. Mann et al manufactured the outcome they sought in order to feather their own nests.

I am in favour of many things to help the ecology, such as reducing pollution (as opposed to CO2 which I still believe is overall beneficial to life) and conserving natural resources.

I am of the opinion that the IPCC are pursuing an agenda completely at odds with the overall good of the human race. They aren't looking objectively at what the data tell them, rather they are selecting data and manipulating it to support their assertion that humans are negatively impacting on the global climate through CO2 emmissions. Why? Because there's a bunch of scientists getting fame and fortune as long as they keep up the deception.

Greg said...

Disingenuous rubbish, using emotionally loaded words like "discrimation".

The reality is, the West caused the problem, so the West should clean it up. No quantity of weasel words can change that.

True liberty likes in clear thinking. Live up to your pseudonym, or remain forever a pseud.

Con said...

George - it's not hard to understand - rightists like our libertarian blogger friend deny global warming because it's a challenge to their individualist free-market ideology.

Atmospheric CO2 pollution is a market externality - the atmosphere is essentially indivisible and can't be controlled by private owners because of its very nature. Hence any attempt to address AGW has to establish a global form of social or public ownership over the atmosphere. It must be regulated with treaties and protocols and effectively a kind of world government (of carbon) established.

These things (social property, big government, regulation) are all anathema to libertarians who fancy themselves as completely free agents, answerable to no-one. So either they have to grit their teeth and acknowledge that their ideology is at best seriously deficient in a very important area (this is a difficult "cognitive dissonance" to live with), or else they have to deny that AGW is a fact (a bit easier, though intellectually disreputable). This is why any snippet of gossip that casts doubt on AGW they will fall upon with glad cries; any supposed benefit of higher CO2 concentrations will naturally strike them as hugely positive.

There are also a group of AGW-deniers who are motivated more crudely by a direct material interest in CO2 emission. Dairy farmers, coal mining interests, coal-powered electricity generators; all these groups have the cash and the material interest to hire pseudo-scientists and publicists to put forward their denialist propaganda - sowing doubt, spreading myths, and funding compliant politicians will help to delay regulatory action, minimise carbon taxes, and leave more money in their pockets. This is the exact same strategy which the tobacco companies pursued for years in their campaign against the idea that tobacco smoke caused lung cancer - they lied and deceived because their livelihoods depended on it.

libertyscott said...

George: Yes, I am familiar with another area which has a similar issue. (Government authorised) Postal operators, believe it or not, pay each other based on an international treaty, that discriminates between developed and developing countries. You can imagine the distortions that creates. The problem is that any challenge basically means confronting major oil exporters.

Your point about the "far right" (which is not me, I think the far right aka nationalist fascists are not sceptics), by which you mean libertarian capitalist is worth discussing. I think it is worth a post in its own right in due course. You'll note I don't vehemently claim it definitely isn't happening, you'll also note how quickly people will think I am.

In summary I think it is because:
1. There has been much lies and deception around this, witness the latest Maldives stunt and An Inconvenient Truth's litany of hyperboles. This gives anyone cause to doubt any facts that surround it.
2. There is much hyperbole around this, making indirect linkages that don't stand up to close scrutiny. Linking people taking a flight to children dying in developing countries is just ridiculous. Claiming we are all to be swamped and flooded on a grand scale is also ridiculous.
3. Solutions posited by some are very high on state intervention, very high on prohibiting, banning, taxing certain allegedly high CO2 activities (and subsidising the good), and very low on getting out of the way of letting low CO2 activities flourish. I have openly supported specific market measures that would reduce CO2 emissions.
4. Some in the environmental movement treat the prospect of global warming with almost a glee to attack industrialisation and capitalism on simplistic grounds. The food miles myth being one, which is the nonsensical idea that buying food that has travelled a long way must have a higher impact on CO2 emissions, when production is actually the issue - however it gives justification to attack free trade and promote protectionism.
5. There has been precious little hard nosed economic analysis to say what is the best solution to deal with climate change if it is a problem. Bjorn Lomborg suggested that it would be cheaper to save lives through provision of clean water, vaccinations and the like, and so many environmentalists treated it like sacrilege. There are debates to be had, but so many just say they want "action" rather than analysis.
6. All too often it has been climate change at all costs. For example, environmentalists are pushing high speed railways in the UK, despite the environmental benefits being at least questionable, and the sheer cost to the taxpayer being enormous - money that may be better used in health, education or ridding the economy of enormous public debt.
7. Some of the higher publicity advocates of "action" on climate change are wealthy high volume fliers who have a high carbon footprint. You can't look at Al Gore or Prince Charles and want to listen to them telling you what to do to reduce CO2 emissions.
8. The vehemence used by climate change "advocates" against those who question it is quasi religious and borders on the offensive. The term "denier" is heavily loaded, and is mainly used in the context of wingnuts who deny the Holocaust. This sort of language is used to close down debate.

Now there are climate change sceptics guilty of much of the above too, but two wrongs do not make a right.

libertyscott said...

Centrist: I'd add that I happily support measures that reduce real pollution, noxious pollution that kills people. For example, road vehicles have been getting ever more fuel efficient and cleaner burning for years and it keeps getting better.

For me, there is science that goes both ways, but the imagery used for the climate change "advocates" is one of armageddon. The Independent newspaper has put images of earth glowing red, to represent climate change, on its front page. Entertaining, but grotesque exagerration.

libertyscott said...

Greg: No, the problem, if I accept it as given, was allegedly caused by human beings. You're politicising it. A wealthy South Korean with two cars who flies a lot has more impact than an Arkansas shop keeper. Yet you want the former to get away with it, and the latter to pay. The world is artificially made up of nation states, and these have now almost arbitrarily been classified as "bad" and "good". Do tell why the Romanians who spent 50 years under Stalinist tyranny have to cut emissions, but the Armenians, Vietnamese and Chinese dont? Do tell why Singaporeans don't have to cut emissions, but Latvians do? Do tell why the oil rich fiefdoms in the Gulf where the local population enjoy immense wealth for doing precious little, from the sale of fossil fuels, should continue to have the highest individual carbon footprints per capital at levels that are between 50 and 300% times greater than that of the USA?

You wouldn't be bashing the West would you?

libertyscott said...

Con: The counter is that extensive state intervention to address climate change is completely consistent with and can be slotted into a socialist central government control focused ideology as well.

I'll admit freely that the two main views on this topic have given two main perspectives on the roles of the state "automatic" homes. Indeed it is probably because of this that it polarises both even more, is it just a coincidence that the environmentalist movement has been jumped upon by the left which has long advocated a stronger state?

Whilst some of what you say is true - it is damned hard to deal with CO2 emissions from a property rights perspective, some of the rest of what you say gives me cause for questioning.

1. You use the loaded term "deniers". You know what implication and context that brings with it, and it is quite vile.

2. You've suggested interventions that are the typical regulate and tax more variety. There are interventions which are the opposite that can promote lower carbon activity. For example, an end to subsidies to motorised transport, an end to regulation of electricity prices, removing trade barriers so more efficient (lower carbon) producers can compete out the less efficient.

For example, the EU spends a fortune every year propping up inefficient agricultural producers, including subsidies for fertiliser, when in many cases it would be better for the environment (and economy) to let land go fallow and to import the cheaper, lower carbon alternatives from elsewhere.

I've yet to see a single environmentalist in the UK push to dismantle the Common Agricultural Policy, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is economically disastrous for Europe and other food producing countries, and environmentally negative as well.

Could it be because it doesn't fit with the anti-capitalist, anti-free trade agenda of "localism" and the "food sovereignty" front for protectionism?

There is evidence that free inner city bus services are more likely to take people from walking than they are from driving, which is a negative - yet so many environmentalists think free buses = good for the environment. Economic analysis is treated as the enemy. Why is this?