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Chocolates, diapers and Durban
By Sudhirendar Sharma

Notwithstanding the rigid stance of the rich industrialised countries in climate negotiations, the economic meltdown, rather than climate crisis, may eventually transform their citizens' carbon-intensive consumptive pattern.


Cocoa production and consumption will be affected by climate change

By strange coincidence two unrelated developments had surfaced at the time when environment ministers from several countries were mulling over reams of text to resolve the climate conundrum at the port city of Durban in early December - one, that the branded chocolates were getting costly and two, diapers sales were plummeting across all categories. The huddled dignitaries had no clue that chocolates and diapers were getting dearer at the same time.

No kid stuff this but the world is indeed kidding, playing like a child with carbon dice as if the 2 degree Celsius threshold in global temperature has been a work of science fiction and not hard research. Had that not been so, industrialized countries would have abided by the Kyoto Protocol to restrict current emissions to their 1990-level emissions by 2020? Instead, a majority chose not to compromise on their luxurious lifestyles and delayed a fresh climate deal beyond 2020.

No wonder, chocolate shall have to suffer on account of the impact of global warming on cocoa plantations in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, which contribute half of the world’s coca output towards making chocolates. Researchers argue that chocolate will certainly become more expensive if demand continues to rise and climate change causes shortage of cocoa, making it a luxury item. The prices have already shot up by 10 per cent, trading at 2,000 pounds for a ton.

Researchers argue that chocolate will certainly become more expensive if demand continues to rise and climate change causes shortage of cocoa, making it a luxury item. The prices have already shot up by 10 per cent, trading at 2,000 pounds for a ton.

Should price of Cadbury or Kitkat matter in the climate discussions? Isn’t it a luxury for the upwardly mobile urban population? Yet, cocoa connects least developed countries like Ghana which have negligible emissions to developed countries like France that belch out more than their share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For no fault of theirs, livelihoods of over 28 million people engaged in cocoa cultivation in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire would be affected.

If livelihoods of the poor in these countries were to be protected, the developed economies must continue to buy chocolates at whatever price! Conversely, however, to protect the world from the catastrophic global warming there ought to be a compromise on the consumptive pattern of the rich. Chocolate is one example of how complicated climate negotiations indeed could be, with each country or block of countries trying to protect their respective interests.

It isn’t easy to strike a climate deal when the South is insistent upon the North to fulfil its historical obligations and the North has been raising serious concerns on increase in per capita emissions by growing economies like China and India. It is a case of cognitive dissonance! Climate consensus has further been compounded by segregation of countries into many interest groups viz., BASIC (Brazil-South Africa-India-China), AOSIS (alliance of Small Island States), LDC (Least Developed Countries), the EU and the US-led opportunist coalitions.

Indian Environment Minister Jayanti Natarajan may claim to have wedged a ‘climate breakthrough’ but her insistence on climate equity a’la ‘the right to develop’ hasn’t gone well with many least developed countries. If development of the North has been at an enormous climate cost to the South in the past, the ‘right to develop’ for countries like India and China shall lead to speeding up of the Venus Syndrome on planet Earth, they argue.

Largely held a non-negotiable, American lifestyle today has been at the receiving end of the economic meltdown. Crucial however is the fact that the lifestyle changes must have positive impact on carbon footprints.

Although a new climate deal, to replace the beleaguered Kyoto Protocol, has been seriously delayed, the developed world is now insisting on reinterpreting the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ on account of shifting of economic goalposts from North-to-South and the emergence of top emitters in China and India. However, in an attempt to isolate the emerging economies the EU is attempting to woo poorer countries through financial promises.

Such sinister moves smirk of backdoor hobnobbing among political allies as the science of climate changed has long been ‘closed’. It is the political victory that is paramount for interest groups; tackling the impact of global warming seems incidental. As it stands today, it is clear that rich polluters continue to evade responsibility as underprivileged suffer the effects of climate change for which they are least responsible. Has the world given up on tackling climate calamity?

So it may seem but amidst this rather gloomy scenario the ubiquitous diaper offer a ray of hope. In fact, America’s trickle-down poverty is refraining people from buying even the most basic of their household requirements – a diaper. In the post Wal-Mart era, diaper has been recognized as potentially one of the most sought after luxuries. But now it is a choice between diapers and paying for food and heat, indicating that the economy is worse than many perceive.

With the US economy under a record $15 trillion debt and the European Union reeling under worst economic crises, economists predict that the condition will get much worse before it gets better. The positive side of this otherwise dismal picture is that this generation ‘will have a lower standard of living than their parents’. With unemployment so high, and wages that haven’t budged in a decade, cutting back on diapers will be the least of people’s worries.

Isn't it a surprise that the economic meltdown, rather than climate crisis, may eventually end-up shaping lifestyle and consumptive pattern? Largely held a non-negotiable, American lifestyle today has been at the receiving end of the economic meltdown. Crucial however is the fact that the lifestyle changes must have positive impact on carbon footprints. The sooner it is impacted, the better it will be for the world to tide over the Durban dilemma!

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

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