28 July 2008

Paying the Price

One of the problems with handling the issue of greenhouse gases is getting countries to accep their responsibilities. The difficulty is that there are lots of ways of looking at things. For example, although the developing countries like India and China are clearly soon going to be the main culprits here, they can - with justice - point out that countries in the West have been polluting for longer, and have therefore already contributed far more to global warming. The obvious solution here is to use a time-integrated output, which takes that into account.

But it turns out that things are even more complicated:

Economists now say that one-third of China's carbon dioxide emissions are pumped into the atmosphere in order to manufacture exported goods – many of them "advanced" electronics goods destined for developed countries.

That is, in some sense a third of China's current emissions are "ours", and should be added to our already swelling debit.

The good news is that such things can be calculated to come up with fair ways of allocating future cuts; the bad news is that not many countries are going to be mature enough to accept them.

Perhaps the easiest way to handle this would be through economics: if a green tax were applied to every product, there would be strong incentives to reduce their carbon footprint (and environmental impact generally). In this case, China would no longer be producing pollution on the West's behalf unless it could do it as "efficiently" as elsewhere. Unfortunately, that, too, requires a certain maturity on behalf the world's nations to accept such a system. It also probably requires more time to set up than have at our disposal....

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