Countries with cold climates and widely dispersed populations produce significantly higher carbon dioxide emissions – the key contributor to global climate change – according to a paper in the Royal Geographical Society’s Area magazine published today (01.03.04). The findings have important implications for the negotiation of emission reductions for countries.
Economists have generally explained differences in carbon dioxide emissions using per capita income as their gauge, whereby emissions first rise with increasing income but at a decreasing rate. Geographical factors have been largely neglected by economic analysis and were paid little attention in Kyoto environmental summit in 1997.
Using data from up to 163 countries, the report’s author Dr Eric Neumayer from the London School of Economics found that geography is also an important predictor of the worst polluters besides economics. Countries with cold average minimum temperatures or a large average number of frost days produce more carbon dioxide emissions because of higher heating requirements.
Other national geographical factors are also significant. Big countries with scattered populations have higher emissions than smaller countries with more dense populations. This is due to the higher transportation requirements of the larger, less concentrated countries. Countries with an abundance of renewable energy resources on their doorsteps – such as large volumes of water at high levels for hydroelectric power - also have lower emissions. The exact results are highly model-dependent. But in one model, Neumayer’s estimation results suggest that if, for example, the United Kingdom had Portugal’s climate and access to the hydroelectric water power of Austria then her per capita emissions might be around 35 per cent lower than what they are.
The results of this study have important implications for the way we see nations and the fair allocation of emission reductions. The study strengthens the case for geographical aspects to be considered in the negotiations of emission reductions which is currently predominantly based on economic factors and political considerations.
Commenting on the results of his research, Eric Neumayer said: “It is often argued that high emitters should face more stringent emission reductions than low emitters. One needs to ask, however, why emissions are higher in one country than in another. High emissions can be partly the result of geographical disadvantage. In future negotiations, geographical differences across countries should be taken more into account.”
* Area is one of three scholarly journals produced by the RGS-IBG and published by Blackwells four times a year. Area is one of the most widely read and discussed journals in British professional geography.
* Authors alone are responsible for the opinions expressed in their articles and are not endorsed as the Society’s collective view.
* The Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body representing geography and geographers. It was founded in 1830 and has been one of the most active of the learned societies ever since. It was pivotal in establishing geography as a teaching and research discipline in British universities, and has played a key role in geographical and environmental education ever since. Today the Society is a leading world centre for geographical learning - supporting education, teaching, research and scientific expeditions, as well as promoting public understanding and enjoyment of geography. http://www.rgs.org
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