ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Vulnerability in an Unequal World

Capitalism degrades the environment in ways that disproportionately affect the world's poor.

The release of the Human Development Report 2007-08 has been timed perfectly: it comes just as the representatives of governments around the world prepare to head for the United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, next week. Titled ‘Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World’, the report warns that if business-as-usual is allowed to prevail, global warming could “lock” the poor in the developing countries in a downward spiral, wherein hundreds of millions of people would face malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods. As negotiations towards a multilateral agreement for the period after 2012, the year the Kyoto Protocol expires, get underway, the report calls for a “twin track” approach that combines mitigation to limit global warming in the 21st century to less than 2°C (above pre-industrial levels) with international cooperation on adaptation to climate change. It makes clear that with business-asusual the world is more likely to breach a 4°C threshold than stay within the 2°C limit, threatening the very existence of humanity itself.

But will the developed countries agree to cut their carbon emissions to the extent required? And, in what manner can the developing countries be brought into a multilateral climate accord? Clearly, economic development of the developing countries would be hindered if they were obliged to significantly cut their levels of greenhouse gas emissions. After all, the fact remains that the capacity of the atmosphere to support increasing levels of greenhouse gases without higher levels of global warming has already been exhausted by the cumulative emissions of the developed countries, leaving the developing countries severely constrained in their use of fossil fuels unless the former drastically reduce their levels of emissions. What then will constitute a just and sustainable global regime of climate change? Is the report on the right track?

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