World Bank vs UNCTAD

by | Sep 17, 2009


Excerpt from the World Bank’s just-published World Development Report 2010 (which this year takes climate change as its theme – overview pdf):

Enshrining a principle of equity in a global deal would do much to dispel such concerns and generate trust. A long-term goal of per capita emissions converging to a band could ensure that no country is locked into an unequal share of the atmospheric commons. India has recently stated that it would never exceed the average per capita emissions of high-income countries. So drastic action by high-income countries to reduce their own carbon footprint to sustainable levels is essential. This would show leadership, spur innovation, and make it feasible for all to switch to a low-carbon growth path.

Hey, did the Bank just endorse Contraction and Convergence? Not quite. As I explained a few weeks back, converging to equal per capita emission levels is not the same as converging to equal per capita emission entitlementsthe difference being the small matter of whether poor countries get to benefit from emissions trading markets worth, oh, a few billion dollars. Shame the Bank missed that trick. Not so UNCTAD, on the other hand, as we saw a couple of weeks ago:

… if population size were to be given an important weight in the initial allocation of permits across countries, many developing countries would be able to sell their emission rights because they would be allotted considerably more permits than they need to cover domestically produced emissions.

Interesting coda: I was having lunch the other day with a senior official from an international agency that shall remain nameless.  I was saying I couldn’t figure out why low income countries didn’t get out there and demand quantified emission targets – allocated on the basis of immediate convergence to per capita convergence in emission entitlements. His answer: because they lack an equivalent to the OECD  – i.e. a think tank that supports them as a bloc.

Back in the 1970s, he continued, UNCTAD was increasingly showing signs of fulfilling this role; but it started to get too good at it, so major donor nations deliberately scaled back its funding. All the more welcome, then, to see UNCTAD punching above its weight on the biggest development issue of the 21st century.  Bravo.

(PS. You might think that the G77 performs the role of an OECD for poor countries, on climate as on other issues. But you’d be wrong, on two counts. First, there’s the point that G77 lacks a secretariat – in contrast to OECD’s small army of extremely smart people in Paris. But second and more fundamentally, there’s the point that however cohesive G77 might look like from the outside, the fact is that low and middle income countries have increasingly divergent interests on climate change.

Partly it’s a question of where climate finance goes: middle income countries want to see lots of cash being pumped into low carbon development programmes that will help them to grow and to access clean technology, whereas low income countries are far more concerned with adaptation.

But more fundamentally, it’s about the emission entitlements issue. Pretty much all low income countries have per capita emissions far below the global average – so if emission permits were shared out on an equal per capita basis, they’d be making real money.  Not so most of the major emerging economies – above all China, which already has per capita emissions above the global average, and would hence be a net purchaser of permits from the get-go, whenever the convergence date might be.  No surprise, then, that G77 skirts around the issue, preferring to lead on the need for developed countries to cut their own emissions and cough up more climate finance…)

Author

  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.


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