Caroline Boin and Alec van Gelder
International climate talks in Bonn last weekend were trying to salvage December’s failed Copenhagen summit.
But some rich countries are imposing their own carbon limits anyway, and threatening to curb imports from poor countries that are not. We believe this will cripple the rich economies and harm the poor countries without doing much about emissions.
LONDON, 9 December — Later this week, government ministers will descend on Poznan, Poland, for the UN’s COP-14 climate meeting. A new report by Prof. Julian Morris, released by a coalition of 50 global civil society groups, presents a stark warning to those ministers contemplating a global cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
Prof. Morris said: ‘A cap on emissions of carbon would do little to protect humanity against the threat of climate change but would drastically increase the threat of global economic catastrophe.’
He continued: ‘For Ministers in Poznan to agree to cap carbon emissions in the near term would be economic lunacy. It would divert resources into “low carbon” technologies and away from more productive uses – thereby slowing economic growth and harming the ability of the poor to address the real problems they face every day, such as diseases, water scarcity and inadequate nutrition.’
Prof. Morris points out that only a few European governments are now pushing strongly for a new global cap and they are doing so because their own policies are causing economic pain. ‘Some European ministers are trying to foist their own flawed climate policies on the rest of the world – in order to spread the pain. For the sakes of humanity, this EU siren song should be ignored,’ he concluded.
Undermining mitigation technology: compulsory licencing, patents and tariffs
The incentives to develop the technologies to reduce global CO2 emissions are being undermined.
Internationally, a campaign is being run to undermine the intellectual property that incentivises research and development on CO2 mitigation technologies. These technologies are vital to assist developing and developed countries to reduce their CO2 emissions based on their commitments in international treaties.
The campaign is being run by developing countries and NGOs claiming patents are reducing
the access to CO2 mitigation technologies beyond the means of developing countries.
These NGOs and developing countries are now advocating for amendments to the WTO’s
intellectual property rules (the TRIPS Agreement) to allow for compulsory licensing of CO2 mitigation
technologies. Compulsory licensing allows for the property rights to be waived on patented
inventions and the commercial return they provide. Without the commercial return there is no
incentive for investors to fund research and development into new technology.
Importantly, the industry is very much in its infancy. The stage of development of the industry
has been compared to the semiconductor industry 35 years ago, or the biotechnology industry 25
years ago. Compulsory licensing will stop the industry reaching maturity.
The campaign to undermine incentives for new research and development is not without precedent.
Advocates are using the successful campaign to compulsory license essential medicines under
the TRIPS Agreement as precedent. They are also advocating for the issue to be debated and included
in the next agreement out of the UNFCCC process scheduled to be completed in Copenhagen
By promoting compulsory licensing NGOs and developing countries are claiming that technology
will become more accessible. It won’t.
Numerous studies have found that IP rights are vital for technology transfer from developed to
developing countries. IP provides a tradeable right for an intangible good that assists patent holders
to transfer their property without fear of losing control of their technology.
Instead, studies have found that the bigger threat to technology transfer is not strong IP regimes,
but weak ones. Weak IP rules undermine both the incentives to innovate and discourages technology
transfer from developed to developing countries because the owners risk a violation of their property
Because of the importance of the private sector in developing the technologies to combat environmental
challenges, previous international treaties have explicitly acknowledged their role. The
Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Kyoto Protocol both recognise the role
of private property rights to address their respective objectives. Both agreements also recognise the
private sector’s role in promoting technological diffusion.
The importance of the private sector is also acknowledged by Governments and multilateral
institutions. Both are currently working on programs to incentivise private investment into CO2
mitigation technologies. The ultimate consequence of undermining IP rights would be to undermine
these programs, as well as commercial incentives.
Attacking patents as the main barrier to technology transfer is also a distraction from the real
barriers that exist to technological diffusion in developing countries—tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
In the top 15 greenhouse gas emitting developing nations, tariff barriers for CO2 mitigation technologies
can be as high as 30 per cent. Non-tariff barriers can be as high as 160 per cent. Only one
country welcomes the free trade of CO2 mitigation technologies.
In comparison to campaigning against patents, if developing countries are serious about reducing
the cost of CO2 mitigation technologies, they can start by reducing the tariff and non-tariff
The World Health Organisation claims that climate change is responsible for all manner of health threats – from malaria to storms– and is calling for global caps on emissions. But experts contradict these claims:
- The geographical incidence of malaria has very little to do with climate, and is more related to economic, ecological and political factors. Malaria existed in Siberia as recently as the late 19th century and was present throughout Europe for most of history. Economic development and changing land use led to its eradication from the continent.[i]
- Deaths from climate related natural disasters have fallen dramatically since the 1920s, as a result of economic growth and technological development. With continued economic growth, the death rate is likely to continue to fall regardless of climate change.[ii]
- Overall human mortality from heatwaves caused by global warming is not likely to increase. In fact, cold weather causes far more deaths than hot weather. The effects of warmer temperatures are generally beneficial in the medium term and for most of the world[iii]
Global emissions caps would harm the poor by retarding economic growth and technological development. As the majority of the disease burden in developing countries is caused by poverty – particularly by the effects of poor sanitation and indoor air pollution – the WHO is undermining the very process that will make the biggest improvement to global health.
Neither is giving aid in return for emissions caps the solution. Studies show that aid-financed public health spending is particularly ineffectual – it is estimated that the average child death could be averted for as little as $10, but the average amount spent to achieve this in the health systems of developing countries is $50,000 to $100,000.
Philip Stevens, director of the Campaign for Fighting Diseases said:
‘If the WHO is serious about improving the health of the poor, it should stop trying to push emissions caps and focus on the real barriers to good health, such as taxes on medicines. For example, the Indonesian government increases the manufacturer’s price of certain drugs by ten times. Why does the WHO not advocate against these taxes on the sick, instead of promoting global poverty via carbon caps?’
“Could global warming bring mosquito-borne disease to Europe?” Prof Paul Reiter in Environment & Health
[ii] “Death and death rates due to extreme weather events,” Dr Indur Goklany in the Civil Society Report on Climate Change (2007)
[iii] “Illness and mortality from heat and cold: will global warming matter?” Prof William Keatinge in Environment & Health (2004)
A new report* to be released on Monday December 3rd, produced by 42 institutes from around the world, concludes:
- Cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the coming two decades is not a cost-effective way to address climate change.
- Deaths from climate related natural disasters have fallen dramatically since the 1920s, as a result of economic growth and technological development. With continued economic growth, the death rate is likely to continue to fall regardless of climate change. (The number of reported natural disasters has increased continuously since 1900 for various reasons, including population growth and improvements in communication; climate change is most likely not one of them.)
- There is no evidence that climate change has caused an increase in disease. If the main causes of diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria are properly addressed, climate change will not increase their incidence.
- Agricultural production has outpaced population growth in the past 50 years. With continued technological improvements, this trend will continue to 2100, even if the global mean temperature rises by 3°C.
- Water scarcity is a problem in many countries, but with better management and modern technologies, more water can made be available to all.
- Millions of people in poor countries currently die unnecessarily due to a lack of wealth and technology. These problems have generally been exacerbated – not alleviated – by foreign aid, which has supported unaccountable governments that have oppressed their citizens, denying them the ability to improve their lot.
- Global restrictions on greenhouse gases would undermine the capacity of people in poor countries to address the problems they face today as well as in the future by retarding economic growth and general economic development.
- Instead of pushing emissions restrictions and failed ‘aid’ policies, governments should focus on reducing barriers to economic growth and adaptation – e.g. removing trade barriers and decentralising management of water and land.
*The Civil Society Report on Climate Change (ISBN 1-905041-15-2, 100 pp.) published by the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change (www.csccc.info). IPN is a member of the CSCCC.
The Civil Society Report on Climate Change comprises:
- Summary and Policy Recommendations
By the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change
- “Human Ecology and Human Behavior: Climate change and health in perspective”
By Paul Reiter
- “Death and Death Rates due to Extreme Weather Events: Global & U.S. Trends, 1900-2006″
By Indur M. Goklany
- “Weathering Global Warming in Agriculture and Forestry: It can be done with free markets”
By Douglas Southgate and Brent Sohngen
- “The Political Economy of Global Warming, Rent Seeking and Freedom”
By Wolfgang Kasper