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Debate: Developed countries have a higher obligation to combat climate change

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Background and Context of Debate:

This debate is the topic of the March 2009 Global Debates competition put on by The People Speak, an Initiative of the United Nations Foundation. Global warming is the result of the massive emission of C02 and other greenhouse gasses from the burning of fossil fuels throughout the industrial revolution, beginning in the 19th century. In attempting to address and solve global warming, many have asked whether developed nations - which led the industrial revolution and are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere - should bear a greater responsibility for combating climate change.
This debate has been stimulated in large part by the Kyoto Protocol, which exempted developing nations such as China and India, from the same emissions-reductions obligations as developed countries. The principle underlying Kyoto is known as "common but differentiated responsibilities", which continues as a centerpiece principle for those calling on Developed countries to assume a greater responsibility. China, India, and other developing countries call for recognition of this principle, while many developed countries argue that conditions have changed as developing countries have begun to industrialize and pollute more rapidly in recent years. There are many questions involved in this public debate. Are industrialized nations to blame for emitting massive quantities of green house gases into the atmosphere during the industrial revolution? Does it matter that they were unaware of the consequences of their emissions and global warming throughout most of the industrial revolution? Does this make them less culpable and thus less obligated to resolve the crisis? Can global warming be effectively combated if developing nations are considered "less" responsible for fighting it? Should large developing countries such as China and India be held to a lower standard than larger developed nations? What would this mean for fighting global warming? Should all nations be expected to contribute as much as they are able to contribute, which would mean that some developing countries would contribute less but not necessarily because they are less obligated? Should the predecessor of the Kyoto Protocol be based on the conclusion of this debate - holding all nations to the same standard or holding developed and developing nations to different standards? What is most fair? What is best for planet Earth? Overall, should developed countries be more obligated to combat global warming?

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Differentiated responsibilities: Do states have a "common but differentiated responsibility"?

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Pro

  • Developed/developing have common but differentiated responsibilities The Rio Declaration from The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development states - "In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command."[1]
  • Developed emit more per capita; more obligated to cut rate Emissions per capita are much higher in developed countries (20t per capita in the US) compared to developing ones (less than 4t per capita). This means that individuals in developed nations are more responsible for causing global warming, more responsible for continuing global warming, and so more obligated to cut emissions and solve the problem. These individuals must, therefore, pressure their governments to take greater action on their behalf.
  • Contraction/Convergence equalizes per capita emissions, burdens wealthy Contraction and Convergence is a good proposal for addressing the imbalance between per capital emissions around the world. It holds developed countries responsible for cutting their per capita emissions (contraction) and meeting developing countries in the middle (convergence). Developing countries are fairly allowed to continue to develop and increase per capita emissions to a level equal to developed countries "in the middle". The obligation, in this case, falls more heavily on developed nations to reduce their emissions.


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Con

  • "Obligations"/"equality" distract from solving climate change The idea that some countries are more responsible than others to cut emissions and fight global warming misses the point - global warming is a collective, global problem that can only be successfully combated if every country puts its wits and resources fully behind resolving the crisis. Developed and developing countries are equally responsible to resolve the crisis. Developing nations should swallow their legitimate frustrations with developed nations for causing global warming, and focus their attention on helping form a collective solution.
  • Seeking equality of emissions fails to cut overall emissions. If developed nations are forced to cut emissions and developing nations allowed to increase per capita emissions - with both meeting in the middle - the ultimate result is that developing-country-increases cancel out developed-country-reductions. Overall emissions would be kept constant and not reduced. In fact, because developing nations have larger populations, meeting in the middle on per capita emissions could result in even higher overall emissions. Contraction and Convergence, while it might be "fair", would not help solve the principal issue involved - global warming.
  • Equality of per capita emissions does not work when states specialize. In modern international capitalism and free trade, states specialize in areas in which they have a comparative advantage. This may mean that some states specialize in manufacturing and some in services, industries with far different emissions. Attempting to hold these specializing states to the same per capita emissions levels, therefore, does not make sense. It would require that all states have the same share of all industries, which is neither economically or environmentally desirable.
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Blame: Are developed states more to blame for climate change, so more obligated?

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Pro

  • Developed countries caused global warming, they must fix it Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu - "It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long-term historic emissions of Developed Countries and their high per-capita emissions...Developed countries bear an unshirkable responsibility."[2]
  • Developed countries hypocritically reprimand developing states. It is hypocritical for developed countries to complain at developing countries for polluting more heavily at present, when this is exactly what developed countries did long ago to achieve their great wealth. This overall sentiment is reflected in a statement in 2007 by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva - "The wealthy countries are very smart, approving protocols, holding big speeches on the need to avoid deforestation, but they already deforested everything [in their own countries]."[3] Furthermore, it should be noted that it is only through this heavy industrialization that developed countries are now in a position of wealth and know-how that offers them the luxury of going "green".


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Con

  • Developed states did not initially know they were causing warming. Developed nations did not always know that they were causing global warming by burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This knowledge only began to form in the 1980s and 1990s, over a century after the industrial revolution had begun. It is inappropriate, therefore, to hold developed nations morally accountable for starting the industrial revolution and causing global warming; they knew not what they were doing. And, once developed economies were dependent on fossil fuels, it was not possible for them to immediately act on their knowledge and stop using fossil fuels - particularly when not everyone accepted the science behind global warming. It is, therefore, wrongheaded to "blame" the developed world for global warming and saddle them with the "punishment" of a greater obligation to combating it.
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Solution: Does greater obligation for developed nations help solve crisis?

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Pro

  • Developed states emit more; their steps have higher impact "UN: Rich Nations Must Lead Fight Against Global Warming". eNews. November 27th 2007 - "The [UN] report criticized Washington for not imposing nationwide mandatory cuts on industrial emissions. [...] Stating the fact that the world's richest countries are also the biggest carbon emitters, the report said the US has to take the lead by cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in addition to contributing to a new 86-billion-dollar annual global fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change. [...] The report said the 19 million inhabitants in New York state have a higher carbon footprint than 766 million people living in 50 least developed countries." Therefore, developed countries are more obligated to cut emissions because such cuts will have such a higher bang for buck in solving climate change.


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Con

  • High emitters, not developed countries, are most obligated. It doesn't matter whether a country is developing or developed. This is not the factor that obligates a country to take up a "higher" responsibility for combating global warming. Rather, countries that emit the most - whether developed or developing - contribute more to global warming now and so have a greater obligation to combat global warming now. China and India are obvious example, and they should not be held to lower standards.
  • Large developing states have warming-obligation to cut population Developing nations, particularly China and India, are responsible for nearly catastrophic population growth. This is one of the greatest risks to global warming, as developing nations industrialize and the means to pollute disseminate rapidly and broadly across massive populations. In this regard, developing nations have, at least, an equal responsibility to cut their emissions because of their potential to emit catastrophic amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


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Leadership: Do developed states have a greater obligation to use their leadership?

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Pro

  • US is responsible to lead in fighting global warming Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. - "It is essential for the U.S. to take action. The rest of the world looks to the U.S. for leadership [but] the perception round the world is that the U.S. has not been very active in this area. [... And, this would] undoubtedly reestablish confidence in U.S. leadership on critical global issues."
  • Developed states are responsible set model of "green" economies. Developing countries are not capable, with their limited resources and know-how to develop, on their own, the best "green" model for their societies. Developed countries have a responsibility to act first and set an example that developing countries can follow.
  • Developing states will not go "green" before developed competitors China and India are very concerned with their development and their capacity to compete with the developed world. With significantly greater poverty and instability, they have far less flexibility to tamper with their competitiveness with developed nations on the global economic stage. They will only go "green" if the developed world goes green first, assuring them that their competitiveness will not be jeopardized. In a position of greater economic flexibility, developed countries must take the first step. Only then will developing nations follow.


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Con

  • Largest states are responsible to lead on climate change. US, Japan, China, Germany, India, and Brazil are among the largest and most powerful countries in the world. This list, and a larger list of G20 states, includes both developed and developing nations. China, India, and Brazil are the most notable large developing nations in the G20. Due to their size, economic power, and emissions (now and in the future), they share an equal responsibility to fight global warming. For the same reason, they share an equal responsibility with developed nations to apply their leadership role in their respective regions to lead the fight against climate change. If they do not, surrounding countries - fearing a loss of competitiveness in particular - will not take strong actions to combat global climate change. Therefore, it is important that all of the most powerful nations in the world - developed or developing - lead their regions in the fight on global climate change.


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Resources: Are developed states more obligated with more resources?

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Pro

  • Developed states have more available money to fight climate change Developed states obviously have more wealth to employ in combating global warming. These more able countries have a responsibility to employ their available financial resources toward fighting global warming. Developing countries also have this obligation to commit as much as they can, but because they have far fewer available resources, their obligation and commitment will simply be smaller. Developed nations are uniquely obligated to employ these greater available resources in the fight on global climate change.
  • Developing states live in subsistence, lower "green" obligation Developing countries employ almost all of their resources on subsistence living, while developed countries spend much of their resources on luxury and excesses. When this is the case, developing nations cannot be expected to contribute equally to fighting global climate change.
  • Developed are responsible to commit "green" technologies Developed states have more applicable technologies and know-how for the fight on global warming. They are uniquely responsible to commit these resources toward the fight on global warming. They are also responsible to transfer them to developing countries, which cannot effectively fight global warming without these technologies first.


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Con

  • Developed states are doing everything they can on climate change Developed countries typically are much more energy efficient than developing countries. This is an example of how they are already taking major steps to combat global warming; steps which developing countries are not taking. They have no further obligation beyond these steps.
  • Large developing nations are wealthy enough to lead on climate change. China, India, and Brazil are all part of the G20, as mentioned in the above section. This means they are among the twenty wealthiest nations in the world. As a result, it is wrong to assume that they do not have enough money to spare in the fight on climate change. They have plenty of resources, through a broad tax base, to make major state investments in "green" technologies. They are just as obligated as developed states to commit these significant, available resources.
  • If poor are most effected, they should be willing to invest. Poor states are indeed disproportionately effected by global warming. Investing available resources in combating global warming is, therefore, an imperative of developing nations. It goes hand-in-hand with - instead of taking away from (as argued by the affirmative side) - efforts to combat poverty, disease, and social disruption.
  • Greater resources of developed countries does not obligate them. Developed countries do not have a greater obligation to combat global warming as a result of them having more resources. It would be generous of them to contribute more. But, it is not a greater obligation.
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Economics: What are the economic pros and cons of this motion?

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Pro

  • Developing nations need room to develop without emission restrictions. Developing nations need room to develop industry and grow, just like developed nations were allowed to do in their industrial development. Heavy emissions regulations constrain such growth and are unfair as such.
  • Going "green" in developed nations is not burden, but opportunity. While it may be the case that developed countries are "obligated" to take the lead on global warming, this should not be considered a "burden". Increasing energy efficiency and establishing technical and capital dominance in the emerging global green industry is a potentially game changing opportunity for developed nations. Developed nations should, in this manner, rejoice in any perspective taken by developing countries such as China and India that the developed world is somehow "burdened" by taking the lead in this new massive "green" industry. It would give them a head start in establishing their economic dominance in the industry. At a minimum, developed nations should not be concerned about any economic costs associated with their "higher obligation" to combat global warming; it's a good investment in a promising industry.


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Con

  • States should contribute equally to combating climate change. It is true that developed states will contribute more resources and money on absolute terms, simply because their wealth is greater. But, they have no obligation to contribute more money and resources as a percentage of GDP. This should be roughly equal across all states.
  • Developed nations create demand that propels developing states. It is not economically beneficial for the world to stick developed nations with the obligation to use more of their resources to combat global warming. The reason is that the wealth in developed countries is precisely what runs the global economy and creates demand for the work performed by developing nations.
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Irony: Are developed states more obligated because poorer states are harmed most?

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Pro

  • Developed must protect developing from higher costs of warming The authors of a 2006 UN report warned that rich countries - especially the wealthy Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations - are driving an ecological crisis that will hit the poor hardest. These are nations living near the equator and in low-lying coastal areas most vulnerable to rising seas. This global warming "irony" creates a greater obligation on the part of developed countries to respond, and protect developing countries from the costs of their blind industrialization, mass consumption, and wealth-accumulation.
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Con

  • Developed did not plan for emissions to harm poor most. Developed nations were not even aware of the consequences of their emissions through most of the industrial revolution. Therefore, they were certainly not aware that the consequences would disproportionately fall on poor developing nations. Developed nations are not, therefore, responsible or culpable for these disproportionate consequences, so they should not be disproportionately obligated to fight global climate change on this point.


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Developing growth: Will developing world growth negate developed state cuts?

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Pro

  • Even with lower obligation, developing states are going "green" Both India and China are already establishing very strict emissions standards, largely because they are so vulnerable to the local effects of their large emissions. Reducing smog in their own cities is enough of an incentive for them to make such emissions reductions. Therefore, even with a lower "obligation" for developing nations, they are still taking strong actions to combat climate change.


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Con

  • Developing country exemptions negate developed country leadership Kyoto Protocol exempted developing countries such as China from meeting certain key emissions standards. The problem is that the new emissions from China would offset all emissions cuts from developed nations. As a result, the world, under Kyoto Protocol, would/will emit roughly the same amount and make little progress to cutting emissions overall. This is unacceptable. Developed countries cannot be expected to lead on climate change under such circumstances. They are forced into a situation in which they must ask, "what's the point?", for which there is no reply.
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China/India: Should China and India be held to lower emissions standards?

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Pro

  • China is exceeding expectations/obligations to lower its emissions As of 2008, China's per capita emissions of CO2 were still one-quarter that of the US. Though China continues to build emissions-intensive coal-fired power plants, its "rate of development of renewable energy is even faster". Within reason, it is doing a good job of combating global climate change.
Kevin A Baumert and Nancy Kete. "Will Developing Countries' Carbon Emissions Swamp Global Emissions Reduction Efforts". World Resource Institute. 2002 - One of the concerns regarding the Kyoto Protocol has been that it exempts developing nations from targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, many people worry that developing country emissions will skyrocket as they develop economically, effectively swamping the expensive efforts of developed countries required to make large investments in lowering their emissions. However, evidence has shown that this is not likely. [...] developing countries are already taking substantial actions to reduce emissions growth, even in the absence of international commitments (Biagini 2000). [...] China's actions are nothing short of remarkable. The world's most populous country reduced its emissions, in absolute terms, 19 percent between 1997 and 2000. This is simply unprecedented, especially considering that China's economy grew by 15 percent over the same period (EIA 1999). Although the exact causes of the emissions decline are not certain, China has been engaged in sweeping energy policy reforms over the last two decades to promote energy efficiency and conservation (2). Measures taken include the following: reductions in fossil fuel subsidies; research, development and demonstration projects; a national information network with efficiency service and training centers; tax reforms; equipment standards; and special loan programs, among other initiatives. These measures represent emission savings equal to nearly the entire U.S. transportation sector, about 400 million tons per year (Zhang 1999)."
  • China/India can't bare same costs as developed states on warming China is not able to take up the same responsibilities in fighting global warming, mainly because it would entail much greater economic consequences for them. This is the case for the entire developing world, which is more vulnerable to any external financial burdens.
  • Developed states are exploiting standards to constrain India/China. Many developed countries nefariously see emissions standards as a means to constrain China and India's rapid development and to minimize the effect of this new competition on their own economies. The world needs to be aware of this conflict of interests when interpreting the arguments coming from developed countries to hold China and India to equal standards.


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Con

  • China is worst contributor to climate change; has equal obligations In 2006, China's CO2 emissions surpassed those of the US by 8%, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, making it the largest contributor to global warming. This means that, in the era of knowledge regarding the effects of greenhouse emissions on global warming, China has at least an equal responsibility as developed nations to cut emissions.
  • China is basically "developed", with higher "obligation". While many presume that China is a "developing" country, many others, particularly in the much poorer parts of the Third World in South East Asia, consider China to be in the "developed" category. China was, after, the third largest economy in the world at the beginning of 2009. As a "developed" nation, China would certainly have a greater obligation to fight global warming. Emissions exemptions would violate this obligation.
  • China and India emissions will increase over time; cannot be exempted. India and China are two of the worst polluters on the face of the earth. As they industrialize, their contributions to global warming will become astounding and far exceed the emissions from other countries. Compared to 2005, China's total emissions increased by 9% in 2006 (to 6.2 billion tons of CO2), while emissions in the US decreased by 1.4% (to 5.8 billion), compared to the previous year. China's increasing rate of CO2 emissions is heading toward a 50-100% increase above the current world total for CO2 emissions, by 20 years from 2008. The scientists warn that if China continues to increase its GDP at a rate of at least 7% per year, it will by then be emitting as much CO2 per year as the whole world emitted in 2007, -- 8 gigatons per year. China has a unique obligation to cut this high and dangerous emissions growth rate. Holding them to lower standards with emissions exemptions would exacerbate this already disastrous prospect.
  • China's emissions harm neighbors/world; exemptions are unfair. Japan has complained about the dramatic local effects of China's pollution on Japans forests and people. Exempting China would condemn Japan to even greater consequences from Chinese pollution. In a world in which the consequences of a single state's pollution affect its neighbors and the entire world, exemptions are irresponsible and unfair.


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China/India outsourcing: Are exemptions justified in context of outsourcing?

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Pro

  • Developed state demand drives emissions in developing states It is true that China is a manufacturing behemoth, and emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases as a result. But, who is consuming the majority of the goods made in the factories in China that is causing their huge carbon footprint? Developed countries are the chief consumers and drivers of this manufacturing and emissions. They have, therefore, a certain responsibility for the manufacturing and emissions that are occurring in China and India. This is where exemptions for parts of their emissions help compensate for the fact they they alone are not responsible for this manufacturing and emissions - the world is responsible.
  • Developed outsource manufacturing/emissions to developed. Developed countries frequently outsource manufacturing/emissions to developing countries. For this reason, developed countries should not be treated on equal terms, and developing countries should be given exemptions for the dirty outsourcing for foreign countries. China has complained, on this point, that it is "the place where the US effectively outsources much of its pollution." It has called for joint international responsibility for at least part of China's emissions, and has made public, in Jan 2008, 130 violations of Chinese environmental law committed by multinationals in China. Other developing countries have a similar problem, in which they are accused of polluting too much, when they are merely the manufacturing engine of developed countries that outsource to them.


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Con

  • Emissions exemptions for China/India will inflate outsourcing to them By holding developed countries to a greater obligation to fight global warming and by exempting China and India from certain emissions requirements, developed countries will be put at an economic and job-market disadvantage. It will be even more likely that jobs are outsourced to China and India, leaving the middle class of developed countries suffering.
  • World's manufacturing is in China, emissions must be cut there. It is true that much of the world's manufacturing and emissions are occurring in China. But, this is not a cause for exempting these countries from the emissions standards present in developed countries. This would effectively mean that the world and all the nations that outsource to China get an exemption, so long as they are outsourcing to China, which would be unfortunate on many levels. The world should not allow for such an emissions loophole, and must act to fully constrain emissions in China without exemptions.
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Sectoral standards: Are global sectoral standards a bad/good idea?

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Pro

  • Sectoral emissions standards risk causing protectionism Shyam Saran, special envoy for the Indian Prime Minister on climate change, said in Mumbai in April, 2008, "There is a very real danger that in adopting sectoral standards among themselves, the developed countries would use the competitiveness argument to put up protectionist tariffs against products from developing countries."[4]


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Con

  • Developing nations should be held to global sectoral standards. These are standards set across a specific industry, most importantly manufacturing, for the purpose of ensuring that similar factories around the world are held to the same emissions standards. This is important because measuring the total emissions of a nation does not provide much useful information. What is more important is that the most polluting industries around the world are held to the same standards. They are also important because they prevent the shifting of production to countries with lower standards for specific factories in an industry. On this point, Ian Rodgers - director of the trade association UK steel - said that a European carbon limit alone "is not going to curb emissions. It will just move the emissions elsewhere."[5]


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