Personal Emissions Cap

A new study suggests that the best way to fairly divide the climate change fight between rich and poor is to base targets for emission cuts on the number of wealthy people, who are the greatest greenhouse emitters, in a country. About half of the world’s climate changing emissions come from less than a billion people, so according to the study, it makes sense to follow these people when setting national targets.

Under the Kyoto Protocol,  rich countries shoulder most of the burden for cutting the emissions that cause global warming, while developing countries, including India and China do not have to curb emissions. This is the reason that the United States gave for not signing on to the Kyoto protocol. The US argued that Kyoto gave countries like India and China an unfair economic advantage. India, China and other developing countries say they deserve this advantage because rich industrialized countries have been spewing greenhouse gasses for centuries.

The study suggests setting a uniform international cap on how much carbon dioxide each person could emit in order to limit global emissions; since rich people emit more, they are the ones likely to reach or exceed this cap, whether they live in a rich country or a poor one. So, if world leaders agree to keep carbon emissions in 2030 at the same level they are now, one person’s individual emissions should not exceed 11 pounds a year. This would mean that there will be about a billion high emitters in a world population projected to be about 8.1 billion. By counting the emissions of all the individuals likely to exceed this level, world leaders could provide target emissions cuts for each country. Currently, the world average for individual annual carbon emissions is about 5 tons; each European produces 10 tons and each American produces 20 tons.

Rich people’s lives tend to give off more greenhouse gases because they drive more fossil-fueled vehicles, travel frequently by air and live in big houses that take more fuel to heat and cool.

This study suggests that by focusing on rich people everywhere, rather than rich countries and poor ones, the system of setting carbon-cutting targets based on the number of wealthy individuals in various countries would ease developing countries into any new climate change framework.


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