An equitable fix to climate change would assign the U.S. almost three times the effort of cutting carbon dioxide output as China, which in 2006 became the biggest emitter, research by the Stockholm Environment Institute suggests.
The U.S., the biggest historical emitter, would have responsibility for 29.1 percent of the greenhouse gas reductions needed in 2020 to keep the planet on a pathway that avoids the worst effects of global warming, according to the institute. That compares with 10.4 percent for China, 22.9 percent for the European Union and India’s 1.2 percent.
The research aims to quantify how the principle of equity can guide emissions targets being devised at United Nations climate talks among more than 190 nations that aim to write by 2015 a new treaty to take hold from 2020. Two weeks of discussions began yesterday in Bonn, Germany. Debate about fairness has frequently stalled the discussions as nations wrangle over who bears the greatest responsibility for tackling climate change.
“We want to identify a small manageable set of indicators that can be used to incorporate equity” into the discussion on emissions targets, Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the institute, said in an interview in Bonn. “Any one of these gives an equitable fair share that’s mostly in the developed countries.”
Kartha’s work will feed into a framework being devised by Climate Action Network, to show envoys how they can use available indicators to incorporate the concept of equity into emissions reduction targets. The network is an alliance of more than 800 non-governmental organizations around the world which lobbies diplomats at the UN talks.
“If they can sort out equity, we avoid the problems that have stalemated negotiations so far,” Ria Voorhaar, a spokeswoman for the network, said in an interview. “We want them to agree a process by the end of the year that would agree what indicators to use, ideally in 2014, to give time to consider them before a deal is reached in 2015.”
Groups including Friends of the Earth, Germanwatch, Oxfam and Christian Aid are also feeding research into the equity framework that Climate Action Network is devising.
Kartha’s analysis used a measure of economic output that only includes income above the level needed for basic survival, which he put at $20 per person per day, to calculate a country’s share of the global capacity to fight climate change. He used data for emissions since 1850 to define the share of responsibility for causing the problem, and took a simple average of the two numbers to give each nation’s fair share.
The proportions would apply to the cuts the United Nations Environment Program says are required to reduce global output of greenhouse gases to the equivalent of 44 gigatons (44 billion tons) of carbon dioxide in 2020 from a business-as-usual scenario of 58 gigatons. That would give the planet a chance of curtailing the temperature increase since industrialization to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Using Kartha’s methodology, Japan would bear responsibility for 6.6 percent of the cuts in 2020, Russia would make up 4.3 percent and South Africa’s share would be 1.1 percent.
The scientist said not all the emissions cuts needed to be done domestically, and also said other indicators and circumstances could be taken into account. While his calculation used historical emissions produced in a country, another metric that could be used are emissions used to make goods consumed in a nation, he said.
Countries such as Trinidad & Tobago, a big ammonia producer, and Nauru, which exports phosphates, could make a case that they’re producing emissions-intensive goods that others need, he said.