Poor Nations’ Emissions Driven by Exports to Rich Nations

CHINA_-_TOY_FACTORY“It’s not fair.”

That, in two words and a contraction, is the developing world’s argument for why it shouldn’t have to make the same reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as rich developed countries. So what if China is now the world’s biggest emitter of GHGs? It’s the developed countries that emitted most of the world’s pollution, historically speaking, churning out plumes of greenhouse gases over centuries of industrialization.

Well now China, India and other developing countries have more ammo for their argument. A new paper from Nature Geosciences shows that much of the developing world’s emissions comes from making stuff for the developed world and its carbon-fat consumers.

From the paper:

“In China alone, 30% of the growth in emissions between 1990 and 2002 was attributable to the production of exports from China that were consumed in other countries, and the share of the growth increased to 50% between 2002 and 2005.”

Big Trouble in Little Denmark

As the Wall Street Journal points out, the paper’s analysis further complicates climate talks in Copenhagen, scheduled to begin next week.

Chinese officials estimated earlier this year that exports contributed 15-25 percent of national GHG emissions, less than half of the new paper’s estimates. And even with the lower figures, the Chinese (along with India) have been holding firm to the position that it is the rich countries that should be making the greatest (and most expensive) efforts in global warming mitigation.

Mi Carbon es Su Carbon

U.S. emissions increased 6 percent from 1997 to 2004. Yet according to the paper, when factoring in GHG created by imports, or “consumption emissions,” U.S. emissions actually grew by 17 percent.

So how likely is the U.S. to factor such evidence in negotiating a climate treaty?

When U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke suggested this summer that American consumers pay for some of those emissions created in China but spurred by domestic demand, there was a brief firestorm, and the idea was deep-sixed by the Obama administration, according to the WSJ.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

2 responses

  1. With all the talk about increasing U.S. manufacturing jobs, wouldn’t a carbon tax help to stimulate demand for domestic products, thus increasing opportunities for American workers?

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