Global Warming: 'Justice is inextricably bound to the future of sustainable development'

25 November 1998
Public event

Speakers:

Rt. Hon. John Gummer MP, former UK Secretary of State for the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Description

At this event, the Rt. Hon John Gummer MP looked at the issue of climate change, arguing that as a global problem, global warming requires a global solution.

1. Mr. Gummer began by arguing that the terms 'Global Warming' and 'Climate Change' are misleading because they fail to identify their crucial impact - which is increased climatic uncertainty and destabilisation. Evidence for this comes not just from a world-wide consensus of scientists, but also from insurance companies which now accept that mankind is indeed affecting the climate and that this will affect their business. Mr. Gummer felt that even if the evidence was not so strong, it would still on principle be preferable not to pollute the earth's atmosphere.

2. The reason why we should all be concerned is because the Earth is a unique environment and a fragile one. The next question posed by Mr. Gummer was what to do about it. Clearly as a global problem, global warming requires a global solution. Action would not be effective if it was left to individual states to act alone. For example, Denmark's decision to move a coal fired power station from Denmark to India did nothing to solve global warming, it merely shifted the location of the polluting factory.

3. Global issues such as this, said Mr. Gummer, raise questions of national sovereignty which are often used (by the USA for example) as an excuse for a lack of action in cutting CO2 and other pollutant emissions. This issue of national sovereignty is however, a red herring because pollution is trans-boundary (one nation's pollution affects another nation's climate) and therefore national sovereignty has to come second to the common good of the Earth as a whole.

4. On the concept of 'justice', Mr. Gummer began by asserting that global climate change has already begun, (whatever happens in the future there will be continued global warming), and that historically the cause has been industrialisation in the developed world. Furthermore, even today the largest 'culprits' in terms of absolute and relative pollution output are developed nations. The USA for example, produces 25% of the world's CO2 and yet only has 4% of the world's population. A 'just' solution would therefore be for those who caused and continue to cause the problem, to take the lead in solving it. The developed world's culpability is compounded by the fact that they are most able to deal with the consequences of climatic uncertainty, in contrast to poorer nations such as Bangladesh who are least able to adjust to the impact of climate change and increased uncertainty.

5. In the future, the developing world could be a major contributor to global pollution output. For those nations to act now to adopt cleaner production techniques, they need to see that the developed world is acting first, and taking the largest steps. That is global justice. Mr. Gummer recognised that the changes which nations would be required to make would take time to implement. To radically shift the world's production techniques would be to the detriment of the global economy.

6. The issue was therefore a seminal one in testing the ability of the world to implement a 'just' solution, not in any theological or philosophical sense, but in a very practical one. Unlike the previous 'Imperial' world, argued Mr. Gummer, it is now not political decisions which determined the fate of the developing world, but rather economic ones. The rules for global economic commerce, such as those decided by the World Trade Organisation, were being drawn up by the developed world and the developing world were forced to adhere. Even if these rules were sensible, the manner in which they had come about was not 'just', because developing countries very rarely had a voice in such global discussions.

7. This must not happen in the case of finding a solution to global warming, and developed and developing countries must come to a common agreement. Understandably, developing countries are more concerned with poverty eradication and growth than with the global environment, but it is up to the developed world to take the lead by: (1) reducing global pollution emissions first and by the largest amount, and (2) financially assisting the developing countries to adopt cleaner technologies in their quest for economic growth. For example, it is imperative that cars produced in the USA and sold to India, are fitted with catalytic converters, even if this increases costs to the manufacturer.

8. The UK was taking the lead as an 'exemplar' nation in reducing CO2 emissions, said Mr. Gummer, and within Europe the UK has played a key role in showing just how regional inter-country co-operation could work effectively to bring about significant progress. For example, the UK agreed to cut emissions by more than its relative share in order to allow Ireland (a poorer nation within Europe) to continue to increase pollution emissions. Such a model of co-operation needs to happen on a global scale and the UK needs to ensure that it keeps up its good record.

9. Mr. Gummer closed his presentation by once again reiterating the fact that global climate change requires a global solution, and a solution where developed and developing countries work together. Rich countries need to accept their role in causing the problem, and therefore to take the lead in solving it, whilst at the same time helping poorer countries to develop their economies but in a cleaner fashion.

10. Questions from the floor came in the following areas: The relative effectiveness of global summits such as in Kyoto and Buenos Aries; how best to develop new, cleaner and appropriate technologies for the developing world, and if those technologies would create unemployment; global CO2 emissions trading; and the role that the USA could/should play as a world leader. The mood from the floor was in favour of Mr. Gummer's view that the developed world must take the lead in cutting pollutants, and also financially assist the developing world to reduce their emissions without harming their prospects for development. Technical questions of implementation (technology transfer and CO2 emissions trading, productivity of labour and natural resources) were also reviewed. There was a concern expressed by all present that the USA was doing little to implement their pre-agreed cuts in emissions and this showed poor leadership by the world's most powerful nation, to the rest of the world.