Focus on Rich People of All Nations First: New Carbon Emission Reduction Method Proposed

private jet photo

photo: Matt Mordfin via flickr

The idea that nations with high greenhouse gas emissions ought to reduce them by a greater percentage than those whose emissions are more moderate is solidly established. However, there's a percentage of the population of every nation whose lifestyles are responsible for more emissions than their poorer neighbors—even in places where per capita emissions are low or moderate. How to account for that and establish more equitable emission reductions targets? A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes a way around the problem:In Sharing Global CO2 Emissions Among 1 Billion High Emitters researchers from the Princeton Environmental Institute say that the starting point in determining national emission reduction targets should be individuals.

Per Capita Emission Stats Hide High Emitters Everywhere
Lead author Shoibal Chakravarty explains what many in the green movement probably find intuitive: If you fly a lot, have a large home with high air conditioning and/or heating requirements, and drive countless miles in a fuel inefficient car your emissions are much higher than the average person in a poor nation, or even your neighbors in the poorer parts of town.

And people living this sort of carbon-intensive lifestyle exist in every country of the world, it's just that in some places there are more of them.

All told Chakravarty says, in 2008 the report estimates that half of the world's emissions come from about 700 million people worldwide.

This focus on individuals doesn't mean that the sharp end of the reductions would fall directly on these high emitters, only that the percentage of these people in any given country would be the basis for determining national emission reduction targets.

emissions reductions image

Image: PNAS
Only High Emitters Would Have to Reduce at First
In practice it would work like this: Based on international agreement at where global emissions would be capped (hopefully based on strong environmental science and not industrial and corporate lobbying, I'd add) a carbon cap would be established that could not be exceeded by any individual. The report uses an example of 11 tons.

At the beginning of such an agreement only nations with high emissions would have to make reductions—basically nations which have historically had high emissions. Developing nations would not have to make emissions reductions until a later date when until they had enough people pushing emissions over that cap. Once this happens they would be required to make reduction cuts like everyone else.

More: Sharing Global CO2 Emissions Among 1 Billion High Emitters
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