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Robert J. Shapiro
Chairman, U.S. Climate Task Force

Robert J. Shapiro

Robert Shapiro, Under Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, is chairman of the U.S. Climate Task Force and Sonecon, an economic advisory group. ALL POSTS

Cost sharing

Q: Almost every key question at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen comes down to how should rich and poor countries shoulder responsibility for climate change. What would be a way of reconciling these differences?

Much of this issue is moot, or ought to be, since none of the world's major greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting nations is truly poor. Poor countries simply don't have enough electricity generation, factories, capital-intensive farming and automobiles to produce significant volumes of GHGs.

Climate change is almost entirely the business of the world's developed and large, fast-developing countries. In fact, the world's three most economically-dominant places -- China, America, and the European Union -- account for 55.5 percent of all emissions. Add in 12 more nations -- Russia, India, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Iran, Mexico, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil and Indonesia -- and you cover 85 percent of global emissions. Among those 12, the only barely plausible cases for assistance are India and Indonesia, although both are on sharply rising growth and development paths that should soon generate the incentives and the resources required to become much more climate-friendly on their own. Ensuring that the world's 120 or so other countries, most of them small and many of them poor, share some responsibility for addressing climate change is properly a secondary issue.

The developing nations, led by China, have argued that most of the GHGs already accumulated in the atmosphere came from the advanced world's activities, mainly over the last 70 years - so they should pay. They're correct about the source of past emission - but China is already the world's largest GHG emitter, and most of the emissions that will accumulate over the next 20, 50 and 70 years will come from the large and fast-developing nations. On balance, we handful of large emitters are all in this together.

It's also clear that at this moment, virtually no country seems prepared to shoulder the cost of making even its own economy truly climate friendly, much less pick up the bills to make some other country less carbon-dependent. The best course is probably a business form of technology sharing, in which governments support the formation of joint ventures between developers in the United States, the EU and the other 12 or so large GHG emitting nations -especially, of course, China and India - to develop, produce and sell climate-friendly fuels and technologies. Then saving the planet could end up being good business for everybody.

By Robert J. Shapiro  |  December 15, 2009; 11:55 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Since we can no longer trust what climatologists say, where do these figures come from anyway? What happens when the developed nations divert aid away from the poor in order to fight this mythical global warming threat? You climate change fundamentalists are losing your religious crusade against the infidels; polls show that now at least half of Americans do not believe that climate change is a real threat. Robert is right on one thing--this is all moot. Even if the nations were to find their draconian agreement, it would do next to nothing to change global temperatures.

Posted by: vanhook99 | December 22, 2009 11:36 AM
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The statement "Poor countries simply don't have enough electricity generation, factories, capital-intensive farming and automobiles to produce significant volumes of GHGs." ignores the fact that 33 percent of GHG emissions come from agriculture and land use and most of those are in the developing world. Substantial GHG reductions in many developing countries will be needed.

Add to that the fact that the world will need to increase food production by at least 70 percent between now and 2050 AND reduce GHG emissions from agriculture (while dealing with growing water shortages) and the seriousness of the challenge becomes more obvious.

Fortunately, relatively modest investments in agricultural productivity enhancements could contribute greatly to the solution. Our research at IFPRI suggests $7 billion annually is a good starting number. But the investments need to begin now because of the time needed to develop new varieties and management techniques, and get them into farmers' fields.

Posted by: IFPRIgcn | December 17, 2009 7:01 AM
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When we count how much GHG countries generate we only look at where the GHG is emitted. But, others benefit from our (US) production. What fraction of our GHG are emitted in growing food that is exported? And we pay others for much of our oil. I am not trying to get the West off the hook, there is a lot that we need to change, but I do think we let others scape goat us more than they should.

Posted by: mike_midwest | December 16, 2009 3:58 PM
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