80%… tell em they’re dreaming…

22 02 2008

There is a great game of one-upmanship sweeping the “Free World” politicians. They are all trying to outdo each other in how much carbon they are going to cut and how quickly. “You say 60%?, I can do 70%!” Or 80, or whatever the latest report thingy says. Strangely they are always round figures dividable by 10. It’s never 67.5%, is it?

Many countries are now on the 80% bandwagon including most of the EU.  Ever wondered which of the world’s countries already have per capita emissions level consistent with an 80 percent reduction from the world’s current total emissions? Roger Pielke, Jr. puts together a nice graph demonstrating the answer:


The answer, as can be seen above in an image that I use in lectures (data from US EIA), is Haiti and Somalia. If everyone in the world lived as they do in these two countries, we’d have the emissions challenge licked.

What about the eco-sensitive UK? Sorry, if everyone lived as they do in the UK global carbon emissions would be more than twice the current world total. What about everyone lived as they do in eco-friendly Sweden? Sorry, emissions would be about one and a half times the current world total. United States? Don’t even ask. China? just slightly below the current world total (and growing fast).

Bottom line? No country, save Haiti and Somalia, is currently producing emissions at a level even remotely consistent with levels consistent with an 80% reduction in the world’s totals. Hence, all of the finger pointing and debates in political negotiations are based on relative hypocrisy (“We’re doing relatively less bad that you are!”) or faith-based assumptions in the efficacy of future policies (“Our targets are more aggressive than yours!”).

There remains huge hurdles to achieving emissions reductions of the sort called for in current political debate. Until we see evidence of it actually occurring, somewhere, we should be very cautious about picking what policies will ultimately achieve results. Instead, we should try a diversity of approaches and see what works.





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