Stalemate in international negotiations on reducing greenhouse gases

September 1, 2010

Highlights of Rutgers law professor Howard Latin’s presentation

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Howard Latin, Rutgers law professor, presented both sides of the climate change issue: that of developing nations and that of developed nations. If both sides continue to approach limiting carbon emissions from their own perspective, any attempts will continue to fail. At their root, the different positions regarding controlling carbon positions are about money and power.

Latin first laid out the arguments from the perspective of developing nations. One is that developed nations are responsible for the vast majority of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since they industrialized first. Since they caused the problem, they are not in a position to tell others they cannot develop and raise their standard of living. Developing nations feel they have a right to close the economic gap, even if it means releasing greenhouse gases. They also believe developed nations must cut back the release of pollutants so there is space for developing nations to continue developing.

They argue every person in the world should have an equal right to release greenhouse gases. This makes the U.S.’s 16 times more per capita than India’s untenable.

Eighty-four percent of the world’s people live in developing countries. Most of them live on one-tenth the income of those in developed countries. Many intellectuals in Great Britain believe in contraction and convergence: cutting back on the economies of developed countries until developing countries have the same per capita income, and allowing developing countries the same level of wealth, economic opportunities and release of greenhouse gases.

Many developing countries with large populations living on flood-prone land are threatened by rising sea levels and more intense storms. Some will be covered by sea water if levels rise as expected.

For these reasons, developing countries want developed countries to pay for damages inflicted on them and the cost of the adaptations they will be forced to make. International law is on their side as no country has a right to damage another country.

The developed nations have a different take on the problem of climate change and what should be done about it.

Developing countries call for a more equitable distribution of wealth between them and developed countries. Yet, they have not made a similar effort to redistribute wealth within their own countries.

Developing nations release more greenhouse gases than they have acknowledged as a result of deforestation and agricultural practices, which reduce the capacity of ecosystems to absorb greenhouse gases.

Developed nations also think developing nations should be willing to take actions to reduce their carbon emissions, even if at a level far lower than that of developed nations. If greenhouse gases were allocated on a per capita basis, countries such as China and India would benefit. Such an allocation ignores the environmental damage resulting from large human populations.

Most greenhouse gases were released before developed nations knew it was a problem. However, they still have done little to curtail their release.

Developed countries are unwilling to give up their standard of living or destroy their economies, but are willing to assist developing countries raise theirs. They are also not willing to give up their lifestyles or stop publicizing them, which sets a model for developing countries, committing the world to an energy-intensive society.

Many developed countries fear that if they are forced to limit their carbon emissions for the same products being produced in developing countries, the goods of the developed countries would be at a competitive disadvantage.

Latin’s conclusion is that developed nations develop greenhouse-free energy sources and share them with the developing world. In his view, the only solution that will work is to continue economic development in all countries based on clean energy sources.

He feels what we are doing at the energy fair is what needs to be done to avoid a tragedy for the world.

From a presentation at the Ninth Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 7, 2010, at Ogle County Fairgrounds near Oregon, Ill.

The comments in this column will be more fully elaborated on in Latin’s soon-to-be-published book, Climate Change Policy Mistakes.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Sept. 1-7, 2010 issue

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