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Climate Sensitivity Index of Countries

As we have argued in Chapter 2, dividing the world into developed and developing countries, and using that categorization as a basis for addressing climate change, is too simplistic. The effects ofclimate change will not be distributed on this basis, the financial and technological endowments of countries are not distributed on this basis, and neither is static. It makes more sense to categorize countries on a scale, based on objective criteria that are in accordance with the economic impacts of climate change and the capacity to address the cost of mitigation and adaptation.

These criteria could be used to create an index of countries that evolves as conditions change, what we shall call the “Climate Sensitivity Index” (CSI). Our proposal is to include (1) current per capita annual GHG emissions; (2) proportion of population who are subsistence farmers; (3) population of the country who are poor in absolute terms. Other criteria such as the per capita GDP, some measure of technological capacity, and historical GHG emissions can also be added.

The WTO recognizes as least-developed countries those countries that have been designated as such by the United Nations. There are currently 50 least-developed countries on the UN list. A country like Maldives does not qualify as a leastdeveloped country as it graduated from the list in 2011. Nevertheless, 0.49 meters rise in the sea level will leave most of the islands of that country under water. In addition, a rise in sea level of 1.46 meters will submerge the country entirely.[1]

Least-developed countries are officially designated as such by the United Nations General Assembly on the basis of a number of criteria, including: low national income (per capita GDP under USD 900 for countries now joining the list); low levels of human development (a combined health, nutrition, and education index); and economic vulnerability (a composite index based on indicators of instability, inadequate diversification, and the handicap of small size). The population of countries that meet all the other criteria for admission into the category must not exceed 75 million inhabitants.

This definition provides an inadequate measure for countries that need help in the ambit of climate change. Consider the case of the Maldives. Using the foregoing criteria, the Maldives would not qualify as it “graduated” from the list of leastdeveloped countries in 2011. Therefore, we propose that a different index be used (somewhat similar to the Human Development Index) to categorize countries, and to determine their need for help, on a country-by-country basis. Like the list of leastdeveloped countries, the construction of the index would have to be revised on an annual basis so that a country does not stay in one category or another indefinitely.

It is important to emphasize that we are not proposing that this index be used regarding other matters such as eligibility for general foreign aid. Nor are we proposing that this index be used to justify the erosion of core nondiscrimination obligations in WTO law and international investment agreements. Rather, we propose that this index be used for the narrow purpose of assistance with climate change mitigation and adaptation. The current methods of defining developing and least-developed countries in international law are inadequate. The legal rights and obligations that flow from the concepts of common but differentiated responsibilities in international environmental law and special and differential treatment for developing countries under WTO law are far from clear. However, we are by no means suggesting this index as a general solution to these highly controversial issues.

Here, we discuss in some detail the following criteria: (1) current per capita annual GHG emissions; (2) proportion of population who are subsistence farmers;

(3) per capita GDP in the bottom 20 percent of the population.

  • [1] James G. Titus, “Rising Sea Levels: The Impact They Pose” (1986) 12 EPA Journal 17, 18. Seefurther Alasdair Edwards, “The Implications of the Sea-Level Rise for the Republic of Maldives”Report to the Commonwealth Expert Group on Climate Change and Sea Level Rise, June 1989 (accessed March 15, 2013).
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