Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Per capita emissions, not 1990 levels, should determine needed CO2 reductions

There is an equity problem with the Kyoto Protocol approach of looking at the 1990 CO2 emission levels and having each nation reduce its emissions from those levels. If it were applied to the developing world, it would punish them for not polluting as much in the past as the developed world, and make them unable to compete with developed countries that are allowed higher per capita emissions. This is the obvious reason why the Kyoto Protocol wasn't and shouldn't have been applied to the developing world, but it gives conservative wing nuts the stupid argument that they had been using incessantly ever since ("poor countries are allowed to pollute - that's not fair!").

A better approach would be to figure out on a worldwide basis what the total emissions can be, and divide that up to the nations of the world on a per capita basis. The nations that are above their per capita limit will have to reduce their emissions or trade with countries that are below the limit, which almost certainly will be the poorest countries in the developing world. This would allow all nations to participate in the reduction strategy and not be an unfair limitation that gives high per capita limits for developed nations and the reverse for poor nations.

Two refinements could improve this strategy. First, population growth should not be rewarded, nor should population decline be punished. The per capita emissions allocation should be based on a nation's percentage of the global population but fixed at a certain time period, so that unrestrained growth or responsible decreases in population face the correct incentives. A couple of dates are possible but I think the three best are 1960, when overpopulation first became obvious; 1980 when global warming theory became a strong possibility if not likely based on what was understood at the time; or the 1990 target date fixed by the Rio global warming convention.

The second refinement would be to adjust for immigration and emigration. The adjustment would be that the emissions allocation follows the immigrant. Nations should not be punished for taking on immigrants.

Both of these refinements should make this proposal somewhat more palatable to the developed world. And all other respects, I think it is just a matter of fairness.

One final idea - Third World nations could just pledge that they will never produce as much CO2 emissions per capita as the US or Australia. That SHOULD shut up a lot of Kyoto critics (but in fact would not).

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