The upcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen have highlighted an interesting dilemma. Nations worldwide are trying to shirk their responsibilities around emissions and their economies.
So called “developed” nations like the U.S., U.K., and Australia are having a difficult political time getting industries to swallow the fact that big changes need to happen. Industry needs to clean up its act. Of course, then the political dance begins:
- “But what about xyz country? Are they going to do it too?” Yes, yes, always point the finger somewhere else. Someone else should be the leader, start things off, too risky for us.
- “Developing countries should do their bit!” Undoubtedly the case, but perhaps those who have been polluting in droves since the start of the industrial revolution should take the first step.
- “But it will RUIN industry! It will be a calamity! Jobs destroyed! Lives ruined! We simply cannot afford to change!” Unfortunately, the same logic was used at one point to justify slavery, and many other sad practices. It is a classic technique used to frighten and scare people away from the real issue at hand. In this case, the cost of climate change will pale all other costs by comparison. Can we really take that risk?
Of course for “developing” nations like India and China, the “Hey, it’s OUR turn guys!” excuse gets some pretty significant tread. And it is pretty hard to object to trying to raise the living standard of people, especially those living in abject poverty. However, by what means they are raised from poverty… that deserves some scrutiny.
What developing nations have in their favor is the presence of technologies, techniques, and abilities that simply did not exist at the beginning of the industrial revolution. There are many ways to leapfrog past the dirty, polluting industries we need to avoid, and still give people a chance at a better life. Development this time need not follow the same dirty learning curve. With some investment and ingenuity, it shouldn’t have to.
A case in point: rather than laying scores of telephone lines, countries including India have improved communication by having people go directly to mobile phones. In essence, that’s the logic we’re after.
So how do you move both developing and developed countries forward and end this stalemate?
Perhaps give them something to aspire to. Rather than a two tier, there vs. here approach, why not a third choice? Why not an “evolved” nation status, a better way?
Criteria could be set around all manner of what it means to be an advanced society: economic, environmental, social, and cultural traits would be looked at holistically. These criteria might include points for:
- Investment in renewable energy infrastructure (a country like Scotland would win points)
- Advanced public healthcare and preventative care (Sweden would do well)
- Low political corruption (Singapore has done a great job)
- Progress with organic, low-impact agriculture (Cuba is a fantastic case study)
- Attention to general public well-being and progress (Such as in the case of Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness”)
- Strong banking and financial regulation (New Zealand would do well)
… and the list could go on and on. The point is that each country would inherently have some points in their favor, and with a chart set on advancement, could have a solid direction to move in. An “evolved” nation would have reached a minimum threshold of criteria, and a timeline for implementing the rest. It would be an aspiration to genuine progress and a departure from old mindsets.
The catch of course would be to make sure that these are robust, and that nations stay on track. It would likely take some external review and oversight by a third party to determine genuine progress.
But of course, if you could say on a worldwide stage that your nation had “evolved” past the many historic problems facing other countries, there would be some strong political interest in supporting these initiatives. Humans simply like being competitive.
So rather than frame the climate negotiations in the developing/developed nations stalemate, perhaps the time has arrived for a third, more enlightened option—one that actually offers the opportunity for progress, and something for people to aspire to.
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