One of the long standing grudge matches in climate talks has been between developed countries, like the US, who believe greenhouse gas emissions should be curbed in every country across the board, and developing countries, like China and India, who argue it’s unfair to make them drastically curb pollution as they grow, something rich countries never did.
A study published Monday (PDF) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests a work-around: capping the emissions of “high CO2-emitting individuals,” aka the global wealthy, aka the majority of the people reading this blog, wherever they live, Beijing or Buffalo, London or Lagos.
No More than $39,000 a Year, Please
The study relies on a basic rule of thumb: the richer you are, the more you tend to consume, and thus the more CO2 you tend to produce.
In order to cap global CO2 emissions at 30 gigatons by 2030 (approximately 2008 emissions), each individual on the planet can emit no more than 10.8 tons of CO2 a year, according to the study. This translates to about $39,000 a year in income on average, though the actual income threshold would vary by country.
In other words, anyone making more than their national threshold would be a high CO2-emitting individual, and thus subject to caps. In 2030, this would be about 1.1 billion people out of a total population of 8.1 billion.
The advantage of this formula is that, as countries get richer, their CO2 reduction obligation would automatically grow, bringing them into the climate treaty fold gradually.
Taxation Without Representation?
The authors of the study dodge the question of how countries would actually cap the pollution of their rich polluters. But by linking pollution directly to personal income, they indirectly suggest an obvious solution: increased taxes on the high-emitting wealthy, which in the US would be the majority of the population.
Penalizing a country for generating wealthy people could be a tough sell, especially if it’s seen as the sort of “foreign meddling” that opponents of climate treaties fear. And then linking that to higher income taxes, well…
Shoibal Chakravarty of the Princeton Environment Institute, one of the study authors, told Reuters they’re not suggesting increasing taxes on the rich — but they’re not not suggesting it either. “We are not by any means proposing that. If some country finds a way of doing that, it’s great,” he said.