Market News

 May 10, 2012
Balance prosperity with emissions, Asian nations warned

 Asian countries have been told a "growth first, clean up later" attitude is not an option and they must strike a balance between rising prosperity and rising emissions.

The warning comes in a new UN report and could represent a departure from the organisation's previous stance on international climate change negotiations in the lead up to global environmental talks at the Rio+20 summit next month.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol countries such as China, India and Brazil were given leeway from making immediate emissions cuts, on the basis that industrialised countries such as the US and Europe should lead the way with deep emission reductions.

This principle of "shared but differentiated responsibilities" has been central to international climate change negotiations ever since, but has faced increasingly intense opposition from industrialised nations as emerging economies such as China and India have joined the world's largest polluters.

China and India want to preserve the obligation to do less to cut emissions than the developed world, but in recent years the US and others have argued that any new emission reductions deal is pointless if it fails to include these two emerging superpowers.

Now the UN appears to have offered a tacit endorsement of the need for emerging economies to agree to emission reductions, warning that the Asia-Pacific region "will need to change the way they manufacture goods, raise crops and livestock, and generate energy" in the face of climate change.

This will mean "moving to greener, more resilient, lower-emission options that not only sustain the environment but also offer opportunities to the poor for employment and income".

The report also highlights that emissions from the region will impact the whole world. It reveals that countries in the region burn more than 80 per cent of the world's coal directly used by industry, while around 85 per cent of the region's primary energy comes from fossil fuels in the form of coal, natural gas and oil.

Asia is also home to half of the world's top 20 megacities, as well of some of the fastest growing urban areas, which not only pump out vast amounts of greenhouse gases, but also tend to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change, because they concentrate people and along low elevation areas, such as river valleys and coasts.

The report acknowledges that a number of countries in the region have adopted carbon cutting measures.

China, for example, is committed to lowering its carbon intensity by between 40 per cent and 45 per cent by 2020 compared to the 2005 level, while India aims to reduce its emissions intensity by 20 to 25 per cent by 2020 compared to its 2005 level. Meanwhile, Indonesia has committed to cutting emissions by 26 per cent by 2020, against business-as-usual projections.

However, the UN report argues more must be done to curb fast-rising emissions. It recommends that the private sector should be encouraged to invest in green technologies through regulations and fiscal incentives, while governments should shift the tax burden towards fossil fuel use and waste generation, and redirect subsidies away from fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging options.

Policies to reduce industrial emissions and more efficient agriculture are also encouraged, alongside measures to identify new sources of finance for green projects.

"The world's common future will be hugely affected by the choices that are made in Asia and the Pacific on a low carbon growth path," said Ajay Chhibber, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

"The goal is clear: reduce poverty, increase prosperity but leave a smaller carbon footprint."