Eleanor McHugh (feyeleanor) wrote,
Eleanor McHugh

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Reducing CO2 Emissions in the Public Good?

The Climate Change Bill seems to be getting a bit of notice again.

Apparently by reducing our CO2 emissions sixty percent over the next forty-two years we'll be taking bold action to make the planet safe for future generations. It's a worthy goal if we accept the underlying premiss that climate change is primarily the result of human intervention, but is the Climate Change Bill a good means of achieving that goal?

The issue is less a matter of the mechanics that the bill introduces for carbon budgets, and more one of the relative effect it will have globally.

Today we produce approximately two percent of the world's CO2 emissions against the backdrop of a rapidly industrialising third world, so even now any reduction that we undertake will only be meaningful if other nations follow suit. However it's more likely that total emissions will continue to rise because there is a clear economic incentive for China and India to play fast and loose with something that by its global nature is public commons: namely the biosphere.

Even if we were only to hold our emissions at their current level, by 2050 they will be far less than two percent of total global output and therefore insignificant in resolving global environmental problems. Therefore reducing them by the envisaged sixty percent (to eight parts per thousand of current global CO2 emission levels) will make a negligible contribution to mitigating the impact of human behaviour on climate change.

The only way such a move can be meaningful is if it is part of a concerted global effort, and that means somehow bribing or shaming the large developing nations into following suit. I have my doubts about the practicality of this. Developing nations such as China and India see industrialisation as a key means of achieving economic growth and alleviating poverty (or at least making their ruling elites wealthier), and the heavy manufacturing industries which have moved to these countries are dominated by technologies with high CO2 emissions.

What's really needed isn't a commitment to specific reductions, either here or globally, but an economic incentive to use cleaner technology in the first place as that will drive pollution down to the lowest sustainable level for the global industrial base. Many different approaches have been suggest for this ranging from green taxation to carbon trading, but until these provide developing nations with a clear benefit they're unlikely to see widespread adoption.

And this of course is the problem with tackling the human component of climate change: the people of developing nations want to enjoy the wealth that their counterparts in the developed world take for granted, regardless of the potential long-term costs.
Tags: politics

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