Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis,” wrote the 15th century Italian writer and political strategist, Niccolò Machiavelli.
The world today has to come to terms with not one but two crises—the economic one and the environmental one. So, global leaders have a splendid opportunity if they can devise policies to deal with both crises at the same time.
But that will be a tough task, which is something that green enthusiasts—who have pinned their hopes on a new global climate change deal by the end of the year—do not seem to adequately appreciate. A new round of talks began on Monday in Bonn, Germany, with negotiators from 181 countries in attendance.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Hammering out a deal with so many participants will always be a problem. There are already many known fault lines, especially between the rich countries and developing ones such as India and China.
The latter quite rightly argue that they are neither responsible for the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere till recently, nor are their per capita emissions anywhere near the levels in rich nations. So, they should ideally have fewer commitments on emission reductions, at least till they abolish mass poverty and deprivation. This does not mean that these two developing countries can avoid bearing some of the costs of the negative externalities that growth has imposed on the environment; it is merely a question of what their commitments should be.
But even as that debate plays out, there is another point to ponder. The economic crisis forces governments to douse the fires that are already raging rather than thinking about the prospect of a hotter and drier world five decades later.
A comprehensive climate change deal will most likely mean that countries will temporarily have to sacrifice some growth, which is a tough choice at a time when many economies are shrinking and millions of jobs are being shed.
A policy to limit energy use and restrict emissions would necessarily entail higher costs to consumers (through tax increases on petrol) or on producers (through the auction of limited pollution permits). Consumption and investment will likely suffer in the short run.
But there is a way out.
Governments should embed green goals into the stimulus packages that they are busy announcing to prevent the worst recessions in at least 25 years from worsening.
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