One of the common refrains at various international climate conferences has been that because the developed world is responsible for a vast majority of the CO2 added to the atmosphere through industrial processes (i.e. neglecting deforestation and agriculture) they are principally responsible for global warming; therefore, due to this responsibility the developed world should be financially obligated to help other “developing” nations transition to a cleaner energy and transportation infrastructure. While it cannot be argued that the developed world is certainly responsible for a majority of the industrial CO2 added to the atmosphere, to make the argument that they should be obligated in any way financially to other parties due to blame for global warming is suspect. There are two important points that must be made for those individuals that are intent at assigning blame for the purposes of acquiring additional financial resources.
First, the idea of developed nations and developing nations as the single delineation point separating the world with regards to responsibility for global warming is inappropriate. Instead one should add a second division point within the developing nation pool that separates advanced developed nations from their slower developing counterparts. These advanced developing nations (ADN) include: China, India, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Ukraine. ADNs have certainly contributed significant amounts of CO2 to the global warming problem for between 1990 and 2012 they contributed 46.4% of total global industrial CO2 emissions. Therefore, to presume that the global warming issue is entirely the fault of the developed world is irrational. Second, it could be argued that the ADNs should shoulder more of the blame for global warming than the developed nations because they focused on rapid energy infrastructure expansion versus global environmental stability, thus failing to learn from the actions of the developed world.
The ADN countries, especially China and India, did not have to resort to constructing of a massive number of coal and natural gas power plants to grow their economies, especially after the science of global warming was accepted by the mainstream scientific community in the late 1980s. These countries should have foreseen the future problems derived from following the developed nations down the CO2 rabbit hole and instead have constructed their energy infrastructure around nuclear and/or geothermal sources if a rapid buildup was desired. Realistically this poor planning has placed unnecessary and significant pressure on the global community to hasten CO2 mitigation and further increased the work required to do so both economically and politically. Supporting this unfortunate industrial path are CO2 emissions by specific developed and ADNs between 1990 and 2012 as shown in table 1.
Table 1: CO2 Emissions by Specific Countries between 1990 – 2012* (1)
* CO2 emission values in gigatons (billion tons);
Note: Developed World = USA, the 27 countries representing the EU, Japan, Australia and Canada;
While the developed world is responsible for a majority of the existing emissions, the problem is the change in emissions from 1990 to 2012. In 1990 the developed world was responsible for about 59.7% of direct global industrial CO2 emissions whereas in 2012 the developed world was responsible for only 41.2% of these CO2 emissions. Initially one may conclude such a change as understandable because the developing world became more modern and industrialized, thus an increase in industrial CO2 emissions would be expected. While true, the problem is not the change in the slope of the ratio, but the magnitude.
The total global emissions produced by the developed world have increased by only 0.44% between 1990 (11.19 gtons) and 2012 (11.24 gtons) thanks in large part to reductions by the EU, despite countries being added to its roster, whereas the global emissions produced by the ADNs have increased by 112.6% between 1990 (7.56 gtons) and 2012 (16.1 gtons) thanks in large part to increases of 292.8% and 198.5% in China and India respectively. Note that this increase is actually larger than the absolute percentage presented above because in 1990 the collapse of the Soviet Union lead to a large decrease in CO2 emissions that Russia has yet to recover (CO2 emissions were 27% lower in 2012 relative to 1990). If the ADNs learned from the developed world regarding the dangers of building an energy infrastructure on carbon, then their emissions certainly would have increased, but at both a pace and absolute value much lower than has actually happened.
Overall it is difficult to fault the developed nations for the Industrial Revolution. The idea behind the Industrial Revolution was to improve societal quality of life; however, with no “roadmap” to accomplishing such a task it is understandable that mistakes could be made, especially when the science behind and acceptance of global warming were not well regarded and those favoring it were in the very small minority. Therefore, CO2 emissions created by developed nations from the onset of the Industrial Revolution to the early 1980s can be regarded as “ignorant” emissions. The issue of blame becomes problematic for the ADNs because they observed how the developed nations expanded their economies and the quality of life of their citizenry, but also should have seen the eventual cost associated with the methodology of that advancement. It is akin to overcharging things on a credit card; sooner or later the bill will have to be paid.
Understand that the responsibility of those “ignorant” emissions should still be assigned to the developed nations, for the consequence of forging ahead into the unknown is a negative aspect of that unknown. However, the ADNs are at fault for not learning from those consequences. Their “ignorant” emissions are nearly non-existent because they knew the consequences associated with a fossil fuel heavy energy infrastructure forged by the developed world and accepted those consequences by mimicking the construction methodology during their own energy infrastructure advancement.
To this point ADNs cannot argue that there was sufficient uncertainty pertaining to the development and deployment of a large nuclear infrastructure because France, and to a lesser extent Sweden, created that very blueprint in the 70s. In addition Iceland created the blueprint for geothermal, thus the two major cost similar alternatives to coal and natural gas in the 80s had country-centralized examples of their widespread deployment. Note that solar and wind were incredibly unreasonable economically and technically at this time, and there is some legitimate argument that these characteristics still persist despite growing popularity, thus expecting ADNs to embark on a wind and/or solar centralized energy infrastructure would be unreasonable. However, there should have been no uncertainty regarding whether or not nuclear and geothermal were viable and cost effective sources of energy generation.
This behavior by the ADNs disqualifies them from making monetary demands from developed nations at international climate conferences to aid in the transition from a fossil fuel energy infrastructure to a non-fossil fuel energy infrastructure. They had the ability to guide that transition for much less money and refused to take the proper path in lieu of perceived faster economic growth. However, as alluded to above it is important to distinguish between the ADN and other nations like the Maldives, Bangladesh, etc. for they will bear great consequences from global warming and have contributed almost nothing to induce those consequences. Therefore, it is important to ensure that these countries receive sufficient funds from the rest of the global community to effectively adapt to global warming consequences. Overall although there should be little exchange of money between the developed world and ADNs, it is of the utmost importance for these two groups to cooperate in the goal of carbon emission mitigation to neutralize as many negative outcomes from global warming as possible.
1. Oliver, JGJ, et Al. “Trends in global CO2 emissions; 2013 Report.” The Hague: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. 2013. Ispra: Joint Research Centre.