Climate Change Action in Developing Nations: Lessons Learned from Wealthy Nations or Idealistic Thinking?

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  • Author: Brandon Peterson
  • Date: 26 May 2016

Climate change is an increasingly important issue in national and international policy. G8 nations (among others) have committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They have also committed to financially support developing nations so they can build economies where growth is not intrinsically tied to greenhouse gas emissions. The question is, how have G8 nations performed when it comes to reducing emissions and growing their economies?

thumbnail image: Climate Change Action in Developing Nations: Lessons Learned from Wealthy Nations or Idealistic Thinking?

No matter what one’s viewpoint is on climate change, it continues to play a major role in shaping national and international policy. On April 22, 2016, leaders and representatives from countries around the world gathered at the United Nations to sign the Paris Agreement.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to mitigate climate change and reach a “net-zero” greenhouse gas emission future. A major sticking point throughout the Paris Agreement negotiations was the impact of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets on developing nations. The concern was that developing nations would require financial and technological assistance to make renewable energy viable while continuing to make progress in improving prosperity and quality of life.

The solution? Wealthy nations committed to a goal of providing US$100 billion per year to developing countries by 2020 to support climate change action.

The premise of wealthy nations providing money to developing nations to combat climate change raises the question of wealthy nations’ successes in mitigating climate change while continuing economic growth. In other words, have wealthy nations demonstrated an ability to further develop their economies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a way that works for developing nations?

Comparing the year-over-year change in CO2 emissions [1] to GDP growth [2] in G8 countries from 2000 to 2014, shows GDP growth in half of G8 countries is more often than not accompanied by an increase in CO2 emissions (top right quadrant of the graphs below). These countries include the U.S., Germany, Japan and Russia.

Since the year 2000, the U.S. has only seen four years of CO2 emission decreases accompanied by GDP growth. In fact, the U.S. has had more than double the number of years in the top right quadrant of the graph below (positive GDP growth, increase in CO2 emissions) than the bottom right quadrant (positive GDP growth, decrease in CO2 emissions). Even Germany, a country recognized as a leader in renewable energy, saw more years of CO2 emission increases than years of CO2 emission decreases during years of GDP growth. There is a similar relationship between CO2 emissions and GDP growth in both Japan and Russia.

   

  



While none of the G8 nations have had a particularly consistent record of decreasing CO2 emissions during years of GDP growth, Canada, France, Italy and the UK have done marginally better. These countries have had just as many or more years of CO2 emission decreases with GDP growth as years with CO2 emission increases with GDP growth.

 

 


Has there at least been an improvement over time? Apparently not. The graphs below show the year-over-year change in CO2 emissions per percent GDP growth for years of positive GDP growth. Red bars show years where CO2 emissions increased while GDP increased, and green bars show years where CO2 emissions decreased while GDP increased.

Using this metric, there is no clear trend over time that shows a consistent move toward reducing CO2 emissions while increasing GDP (for any G8 country). Worth noting is France’s large decrease in CO2 emissions during a year of economic growth and Italy’s large increase in CO2 emissions during a year of economic growth. These large changes in CO2 emissions per percent GDP growth were primarily influenced by a very small increase in GDP growth (<1%) rather than a drastic change in CO2 emissions.


In any case, it is evident that many wealthy countries have not consistently reduced greenhouse gas emissions while growing their economies, and are not moving in that direction either. Perhaps this has motivated leaders of wealthy countries to set the goal of providing US$100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action in developing nations.

Fostering low greenhouse gas emission-related GDP growth in developing nations could set those countries down a different path. If so, the future would ideally hold improved economic prosperity in currently developing nations that is not intrinsically tied to continually increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

However, a critic may argue that until we see a consistent decrease in CO2 emissions from wealthy nations accompanied by consistent GDP growth, helping fund efforts in developing nations to achieve the same goal is idealistic – with the exception of the obvious GDP boost of US$100 billion to these countries.

Certainly, greenhouse gas emission reductions will not happen without a concerted effort from developed and developing countries alike. The overarching question on this issue is whether or not developed and developing nations can achieve economic growth and greenhouse gas emission reductions – simultaneously.

References

[1] UNFCCC National Inventory Reports: http://unfccc.int/national_reports/annex_i_ghg_inventories/national_inventories_submissions/items/8812.php
[2] World Bank Indicators Data (GDP): http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD

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