By Ghassan Karam

The Kyoto Protocol, the only international agreement to fight climate change, will come to an end in two years, 2012. The world, including the US who is not bound by Kyoto, has been trying frantically for over a year to come to agreement on what is to replace Kyoto. The Copenhagen conference, last year, turned out to be totally unproductive. Yet the major players have not given up hope for reaching an agreement that would be legally binding to all its signatories.

Unfortunately the progress has been very slow to nonexistent. The meeting at Tianjin, China ended up last week in total disarray. The meeting which was expected to resolve a few of the obstacles preventing an agreement was described by participants as being full of bickering.  “At times it has been like watching children in a kindergarten,” said Wendell Tio from Greenpeace International.

Although the talks are scheduled to move to Cancun, Mexico, next month not many are hopeful that the level of disagreement between the US and China will diminish. Kyoto divided the world into two groups, the developed and the developing, with the former subject to strict legal limits on its emissions of carbon dioxide while the latter is subject only to voluntary restraints. And that is the rub.

Officially China has become the largest emitter of carbon in the world, replacing the US but by all conventional metrics China is a developing country and so is refusing to abide by the US demands that China and other large developing countries should be subject to strict emissions quotas also. Obviously the Mr. Su, the Chinese representative at the talks, would have nothing of these demands.  Mr. Su likened the U.S. criticism to Zhubajie, a pig in a classic Chinese novel, by saying “It has no measures or actions to show for itself, and instead it criticizes China, which is actively taking measures and actions.”

It is this inability to view climate change as a global problem that demands a global solution that has wrecked Copenhagen, is threatening Cancun and will probably doom the final resolution to a meaningless gesture that will do nothing to control climate change. As long as various players are attempting to guard their own selfish interest then no meaningful solution is to be expected. This is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons whereby individual actors believe that they are doing what is good for themselves but wind up in hurting themselves and all other players as well.

Climate change is arguably the most important challenge that civilization has faced. This is not a regional problem but one that would affect everyone and everything. No one has the right to neglect this issue , not even the Arab countries who do not think of themselves as being large emitters of carbon. The data says otherwise. The largest emitters of carbon on a per capita basis are the five Arab gulf countries and these are joined by Saudi Arabia as the 14 largest in the world and then Oman as the as number 20. The Arab states as a whole emit over 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually which amounts to around 5 % of the global footprint. The Arab League has failed to take any measures to either control or diminish the carbon footprint of emissions in the Arab world. Actually, the record indicates just the opposite. Saudi Arabia has joined forces with China in order to torpedo any agreement in Copenhagen. Isn’t it time that the Arab world demands that its governments face their ethical and moral responsibilities squarely?

What do you think: Should the less developed be exempted from strict limits on emissions so that the developed will shoulder the greater part of the burden of emission reductions? Does nature discriminate on the basis of the national origin of carbon emissions? What would be a fair allocation of the burden and how heavy shed it be?

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