Sunday, April 06, 2008

Carbon Emissions in Developing Countries: Producer vs Consumer Responsibility

“Developing countries, whose economies and populations are growing fastest, [will] contribute 74% of the increase in global primary energy use [until 2030]. China and India alone account for 45% of this increase.”
World Energy Outlook 2007, IEA

So three quarters of all new power production capacity will be in developing countries. Close to half of it in India and China. And according to the same report:

China, with four times as many people, overtakes the United States to become the world’s largest energy consumer soon after 2010. In 2005, US demand was more than one third larger.”

And...

“In the longer term, [in China,] demand slows as the economy matures, the structure of output shifts towards less energy-intensive activities and more energy-efficient technologies are introduced.”
This last sentence is the most interesting. It sounds like the basic assumption of the report is that China will make a typical progression towards a more advanced economy: As the country becomes richer, not only will it care more about the environment and prioritize more energy efficient technologies, but the economy as a whole will become more service oriented, much like that of the US. Of course, this does not mean that the world will consume fewer goods. It just means that those goods will be produced in a new generation of up and coming developing nations – and those nations would account for the ~30% of the total increased energy use until 2030.

One could imagine that, like China today, those countries will want to use the cheapest (and thus potentially the dirtiest) fuels. They might also argue that it would be unfair to impose environmental restrictions on them since they too have a right to grow their economies. Just as China points to Europe and America’s growth and how they were fueled by dirty coal, those countries may point to China along with Europe and America and make the same argument.

And from their perspective, they would be right, just as China is “right” in its argument today.

The problem is the paradigm upon which the argument relies. It is a “producer responsibility” paradigm of CO2 emissions, looking at emissions based on where they were produced or emitted, not on why they are produced, and for whom. The "producer responsibility" world view ignores the "end-user" or consumer of the products which were created using those emissions.

Many developing countries, especially in their early stages of development, rely heavily on exports. In effect, they are using much of that new energy capacity to produce goods which are consumed in the more advanced economies. A “consumer responsibility” approach to carbon emissions could create a paradigm shift. It could give consumers the leverage to make decisions on whether they want to buy products which were produced using say, a new coal fired power plant. And it would shift the debate away from esoteric arguments about the "right" of government bureaucrats to pursue their nations' best interests.

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Blogger Indicator Veritatis said...

And from their perspective, they would be right, just as China is “right” in its argument today.

The problem is the paradigm upon which the argument relies. It is a “producer responsibility” paradigm of CO2 emissions, looking at emissions based on where they were produced or emitted, not on why they are produced, and for whom.
====================

The problem with the paradigm goes much deeper than that. The real problem is that that 'perspective' is itself so very lacking in perspective. It sounds more like the excuse whiny kids use to wheedle their parents, saying things like "But Janie's mom let her get her nose pierced"!

Nor can the deep lack of perspective be explained solely by "producer responsibility paradigm". Rather, the reason we are so concerned about China and India developing using the cheapest fuels is that we know: once they build all that energy infrastructure to use coal and oil, it will be impossible to get them to switch to cleaner fuels. In the meantime, the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere will just get worse and worse; by the time they switch to other fuels it will be too late. It is already so late already! The danger of runaway warming is very real.

After all, it was said in a different context, about a very different problem, but the words still apply very well here: "It is later than you think".

March 05, 2009 5:57 PM  

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