Monday, May 25, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

“Rich nations should cut their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels as part of a new global climate change pact, China said on Thursday, spelling out its stance ahead of negotiations,” reported Reuters last week. Meanwhile, US legislation looks like (at best) the goal will be a 17% cut over 2005 levels by 2020. That is quite a wide gap! Suppose we start with the budget we have to “spend” on carbon before we reach (say) 450ppm and take history into account. (After that let’s assume we proceed on a fair share per capita basis necessary to maintain carbon output at steady state.) Then (at least by my calculation) the Developed World has already used up its budget in toto!! So on that basis, China’s position seems quite generous. But here is the rub. If we are going to play be these accounting rules, China’s own “low carbon plan” will very soon outstrip its allocation. Suppose we bracket history, and allocate a per capita share of that budget. The result is a little more generous to the Developed World but the message is basically the same. As I have written before, if you look at the prospective carbon output of the Developing World over the next 50 years. On a business as usual basis, it is going to swamp the Developed World’s output, both historic and prospective. As such, calling for drastic Developed World cuts is fine and well. But be careful what you ask for. If the same policy is applied fairly, the Developing World will have to drastically revise its own growth plans.

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