Climate change latest: the impact in China and leadership from Scotland, plus a new journal on CC and development

June 30, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

The amount of new climate change research, reports etc emerging in the run-up to Copenhagen summit already feels slight overwhelming, and the meeting is still five months away. Here are some recent bits and pieces:

China and Climate Change
An important new report from Oxfam Hong Kong and Greenpeace China unpacks the data on the impact of climate change on poor people in poverty.

‘The research finds that China’s poverty-stricken areas are also those areas that are most vulnerable to climate change-caused disasters. The proportion of the absolute poverty population that is affected by climate change reached 95% in 2005, and is expected to rise. Case studies from Guangdong, Sichuan and Gansu provinces show that global warming induces floods, snow storms, and landslides which are detrimental to ecologically sensitive areas and hamper poverty relief efforts.’

This kind of research could lead to a more productive debate within China. It places poverty at the centre of the domestic discussion on how to adapt, and once climate change is understood as anti-poverty, it becomes hard to present mitigation as simply a neo-imperialist plot to prevent China from developing, disguised in ‘China-as-bad-guy-emitter’ rhetoric. Outside China, it reminds us that the country still has 200m poor people, many of them on the receiving end of climate change.

That said, China does emit a hell of a lot of greenhouse gases (see graph) – a new analysis by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency  shows that in 2008, the developing world for the first time was responsible for over half of global emissions (mind you, it also accounts for over 2/3 of its people).

Scotland the Brave
Last week Scotland upped the ante when in a unanimous vote the Scottish Parliament agreed to cut the country’s emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels – an important detail). It also called for emissions from international aviation and shipping to be included, and an annual report on consumption-based emissions. The vote came a day after the US said that a 40% cut (demanded by many developing nations) was ‘not on the cards’.

The breakthrough is partly down to years of steady pressure from the Stop Climate Coalition Scotland coalition of 60 environment groups, development organizations including Oxfam, faith groups and trades unions, representing 40% of the Scottish population.

Scotland’s move echoes the kinds of leadership shown by Wales, the transition towns movement or those US state governments such as California that made the running while the White House was stuck in climate change denial. It’s an interesting example of how ‘power from below’ can also come from lower tiers of governance within state structures.

Can Scotland’s partly devolved government deliver? Only partly, according to the Guardian. Scottish ministers directly control only 30% of Scotland’s emissions, while the UK government has responsibility for a further 30% (via fuel taxation, low emission vehicles, VAT on energy efficiency and air taxes) and 40% is covered by the EU’s carbon trading agreement.

SCCS strongly disagrees with the Guardian’s numbers, arguing that reductions in excess of 40% by 2020 are achievable under devolved powers without altered EU or UK policies. In the last resort, achievement of an interim target of over 40% can be assisted by purchasing carbon credits. There is even greater potential for emissions reductions in Scotland if as seems likely, the EU raises its 2020 target to 30%, and amends the ETS in line with this goal. In these circumstances reductions greater than 50% become practical in Scotland.

New Climate Change and Development Journal
Finally, if you are hungry for more, check out Earthscan’s new journal, ‘Climate and Development’, edited by Richard Klein at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The first issue has a promising range of research, book reviews, and ‘viewpoint’ essays on everything from disaster risk reduction to renewable energy. Saving the planet doesn’t come cheap though – the institutional subscription is $640 a year, and the personal one $199. Wonder if they offer concessions to institutions in developing countries?

June 30, 2009
Duncan Green