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Starting Over Abroad

Some of our commenters have pondered how best our civilization—or, better, our governments—can juggle the greening of developing, industrial and post-industrial countries simultaneously. Many contemporary examples (Indian car giant Tata will soon ship the $2500 “people’s car” to customers across the globe) suggest the problem of expanding access to "dirty," high-consumption living is more pressing than ever. And less-advanced polluters, it’s argued, shouldn’t be cut any slack in terms of environmentally sustainable development, in a sort of “do as I say” approach to foreign energy policy.

From my perspective, it seems unfair to ask emerging markets to bear the burden of collective prior ignorance on the danger of skyrocketing emissions. Tata’s engineers, for example, were simply improving upon an auto-centric growth paradigm enabled for decades by US and Japanese carmakers. Unfortunately, both the aspiration and its incredible success are steps backward when it comes to the environment.

Of course, Kyoto is the goat here; it inconveniences developing nations, and without American involvement, is effectively neutered (which doesn’t stop pro- and anti-green factions from flogging the bargain as the most important US decision in decades). But there are interesting models within Kyoto that address this issue of uneven greening—such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a program whose mandate was written into Kyoto in 1997. According to a United Nations blog, it

allows developed countries to meet part of their reduction targets by investing in projects to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced in developing countries. Every tonne of greenhouse gas not emitted by a CDM–approved project in a developing country is assigned one Carbon Emission Reduction credit (CER). These CERs can then be bought and sold, much like corporate stocks, and can be used by developed countries to meet their emissions targets.
wasting billionslaunderingthat leads to increased cashflows
According to researchers for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which oversees the CDM, Africa has fewer than 3 per cent of the nearly 1000 CDM-approved projects globally. In contrast, Mexico alone has 3.56 per cent of all CERs, the Republic of Korea has 7.28%, Brazil 8.97%, India 14.75% and China 48.9%.... In effect, the region is not participating in the carbon trading industry that, in just a few short years, has generated some $30 bn in investment capital for climate change efforts.

I’ve been working on a piece about China in Africa, and the spate of recent development partnerships, especially around infrastructure and energy (read: roads, oil and mines) are fascinating in their mutual opportunism. These deals are, long-term, fairly exploitative—though in the end fine with me, especially as NGOs and western companies lag behind in  badly-needed development work (the IFC is a notable exception).

This trend, and the skewed CDM numbers show that America’s unique ability to export best practices on fuel efficiency, conservation and transport subsidy has largely been squandered. But exercising influence in emerging markets, especially in Africa, is an important chance to start from scratch (or what we know now) on environmentally responsible building and civic planning. (Though Tata’s “Nano” car could rapidly replace the three-wheeled, diesel-burning “motos” that are a ubiquitous dirty transport option, and Delhi is working to complete a modern subway system that’s poised to move some 2.2 million Indians a day by 2010.)

The Center for American Progress was on the money with its work to create a climate for carbon trading in Ethiopia, for starters. American committment to Kyoto would also send a very different message to global engineers. Of course, every country is more than justified in pursuing the technology and lifestyle to which Americans have grown accustomed. I just can’t believe that the opportunities to do this right are not being seized with more frequency.

--Dayo Olopade