Lord Stern Calls for New Conditionality -- On Climate and from Developing Countries this Time!

June 30, 2008

Lord Nicholas Stern of Stern review fame delivered CGD's Richard H. Sabot Lecture last week. It was superb, as Joel Meister reports. Nick managed the trick of combining technical clarity on the economic issues -- economists can turn to his Ely lecture at the American Economics Association meeting in January of this year for the details -- with passion and a compelling argument for non-economists. New this time was his insistence on the development imperative of addressing climate change, now and urgently.

Lord Nicholas Stern speaking at CGD's Third Annual Richard H. Sabot Lecture

First he said that in effect the development and climate change issues are joined at the hip; managing one without the other is impossible. Time for the development community to get on board that climate change matters for development prospects, and for the environmental community to get on board that climate change is a development issue. For my taste, Nick could actually have said much more about the massive costs of climate change in the developing world (see, for example, recent CGD work on the disturbing impacts on agriculture and sea level rise.) He did mention the massive migrations of people and the potential for conflict under the so-called "business as usual" scenario.

Second he made the point that only with development and growth will societies in the developing world have the political and economic resilience to adjust to and manage the changes climate change will impose--and to undertake the emissions reductions needed to avert even more catastrophic changes. Developing countries' willingness and ability to cut emissions is crucial to avoiding planetary disaster, as CGD senior fellow David Wheeler has shown in his working paper Another Inconvenient Truth: A Carbon-Intensive South Faces Environmental Disaster, No Matter What the North Does.

Most memorably, Nick addressed the issue of the so-called "grand bargain" between rich and poor countries on climate change. He said that the task of reducing per capita emissions has to fall sooner and more on the rich world. Indeed. Annual CO2 equivalent emissions are about 20 tons per capita in the U.S., 10 tons per capita in Europe, 5 tons per capita in China and in India and other low-income countries, less than 2. What makes sense is for the developing world to present the U.S. and other rich countries with their own conditionality China and India will commit to emissions caps if and when the rich countries have committed to reduce their own emissions, shared their technologies to do so, and helped to cover the costs of adaptation.

Washington development practitioners will understand the allusion to conditionality.

Kemal Dervis, head of the United Nations Development Program and a former CGD visiting fellow who wrote our book A Better Globalization: Legitimacy, Governance, and Reform on collective action problems and UN reform made a similar point in his remarks at a small dinner afterward. China, India and other developing countries cannot be asked to do more at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen than to "commit to commit later." For Kemal's own compelling argument as to why the next step on emissions caps must be a commitment from the U.S. and the other rich countries, see his March 6th lecture at the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER).


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