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Argument: Developed emit more per capita; more obligated to cut rate

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Background for COP 8, Center for Science and Environment, October 25, 2002 - Developing countries [...] have taken the road to growth and development very recently. In countries like India, emissions have started growing but their per capita emissions are still significantly lower than that of industrialised countries. The difference in emissions between industrialised and developing countries is even starker when per capita emissions are taken into account. In 1996, for instance, the emission of 1 US citizen equalled that of 19 Indians.[1]


"What equals effective". Down To Earth Magazine. December 15, 2007 - Responsibility needs rights.

The tragedy of the atmospheric common has been the lack of rights to this global ecological space. As a result, countries have borrowed or drawn heavily and without control. They have emitted greenhouse gases far in excess of what the Earth can withstand. This was because they could emit without limits or quotas and were “free riding” on this natural capital. Some researchers have called this the “natural debt” of the North, as against the financial debt of the South.

This is the science and the politics of CO2. One tonne of CO2 emitted in 1850 is the same as a tonne emitted today. The greenhouse gases … have long lifetime in the atmosphere; these gases are still warming the atmosphere, at any given year. The ‘sinks’—forests, oceans and soils—are the only cleaners of this dirt. The net emissions add up to the space that a nation has appropriated in the global atmospheric common and therefore its responsibility for the climate change.

Calculated in terms of the total emissions of each country, since the early 1900s, we find that every living American carries a natural debt burden of more than 1,050 tonnes of C02 (see graph: Cumulative CO2 emissions). In comparison, every living Chinese has a natural debt of 68 tonnes and every living Indian, a mere 25 tonnes. Therefore, even with all the talks of India and China catching up with rich world in terms of total emissions, the fact is in terms of natural debt it will take many more decades before this happens.

This principle was accepted by the climate convention, which agreed that the rich world had to reduce its emissions to make space for the poor to grow. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol set the first, hesitant and weak, target for reduction by the rich countries. But this agreement has been more of less reneged on. The per capita emission of CO2 from fuel combustion in the US is still roughly 20 tonnes per year; between 6 tonnes and 12 tonnes for most European countries. This is not comparable to the per capita emissions of China, roughly 4 tonnes and 1.1 tonnes in India.

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