Climate change or poverty?


In The Australian today Alan Oxley, chairman of the US based NGO World Growth, outlines why he thinks the Copenhagen climate summit failed. For him the core reason is due to the presence of severe poverty in developing countries.

In the article, the leading American climate change economist William Nordhaus from Yale is cited as saying: “if developing countries cut emissions too sharply and too soon as advocated by Greenpeace, WWF and the European Union, they would further impoverish their people". This makes commitments to emission cuts contradictory to the political interests of politicians in developing countries, since immediate poverty clearly should overrule any real or perceived climate change. Perhaps a rather rosy view of democratic accountability in action, but it might just be true.

Mr. Oxley’s point is to “fight poverty first then tackle emissions". However, do we really need to tackle emissions at all? Emissions comes from the use of fossil and organic fuels, therefore the most efficient way of decreasing the use of those would be to find a more cost efficient way of producing energy. Making innovation affordable instead of taxing it would certainly help the governments to reach their political goals of decreasing the use of oil and coal.

Regarding the fight against poverty, the solution advocated for by environmental activists of increasing developing aid is simply unsustainable. Instead, breaking down trade barriers and government subsidies to agriculture and industry would be by far the most effective and sustainable way of fighting poverty.It is not the whole solution, but it is the best place to start.