Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Who is responsible for climate change?

Date:
July 4, 2014
Source:
Taylor & Francis
Summary:
Calculating the cumulative cost of carbon dioxide emissions gives new insights into the question of who is responsible for climate change. One of the major reasons for the failure of the 2009 Climate Convention Conference in Copenhagen was the issue of carbon debt. Developed countries called for emission reductions in developing countries, while the latter use the former's historical emissions, their carbon debt, as a reason for inaction. A new article suggests how to finally settle this question of historical responsibility.

Calculating the cumulative cost of carbon dioxide emissions gives new insights into the question of who is responsible for climate change.

Related Articles


One of the major reasons for the failure of the 2009 Climate Convention Conference in Copenhagen was the issue of carbon debt. Developed countries called for emission reductions in developing countries, while the latter use the former's historical emissions, their carbon debt, as a reason for inaction. An article recently published in Scandinavian Economic History Review suggests how to finally settle this question of historical responsibility.

Jan Kunnas from the University of Stirling and his colleagues from universities in the UK and New Zealand examined how to incorporate the environmental effects of fossil fuel use into the national accounts and measures of sustainability. They suggest using a single global price for carbon dioxide emissions, as there is in the long term no possibility for a single country to isolate itself from the impacts of climate change. Every country will be affected to some degree, say from increases in food prices as climate change has negative impacts on global food production or from climate refugees. Ethically speaking, the use of a global damage cost indicates a belief that we are all in the same lifeboat when it comes to the long-term effects of climate change. Furthermore, the calculated price should decrease as we move back in time to take into account that carbon dioxide is a stock pollutant, and that one unit added to the present large stock is likely to cause more damage than a unit emitted under the lower concentration levels in the past.

There is a large variation between different estimates of the costs of carbon dioxide emissions, depending on the estimates of future mitigation or a business as usual approach and the damage the estimated emission path will lead to. To account for this variation a low, medium and high price was used to calculate the annual costs of carbon dioxide emissions. This shows how much lower annual GDP would be, if future generations bearing the costs of climate change could demand compensation for this externality. In Britain the costs of carbon dioxide as a share of GDP peaked at the eve of the first oil crisis in 1971 between 0.3% and 4.3% depending on the price used, and in the USA between 0.4% and 5.4% of GDP.

The annual effects of carbon dioxide might be small, but the cumulative effects are not. For Britain the cumulative effects from 1800 to 2000 range from 100 to 1400 billion, and for the USA from $960 to $13,600 billion (in 2000 prices). In other words at most the cumulative carbon debt exceeds, the annual GDP, which in 2000 were 916 billion in the UK and $9951 billion in the USA.

Calculating the cumulative cost of carbon dioxide emissions provides us an opportunity to finally settle the question of historical responsibility for the damages caused by climate change. The choice of price has a big influence on the accumulated costs, but it does not affect the relative position of different countries. With both a constant price and a declining price the USA has the highest cumulative cost of carbon emissions during the period 1902 -- 2009, contributing 24-27% of the cumulative global cost, followed by the EU with 17-19%. China is nowadays the biggest source of carbon dioxide, but the cumulative costs of its emissions are still long behind with 10-12%.

These calculations support the notion that the main reason for a warming climate is the historical greenhouse-gas emissions of developed countries; 41-47% of the costs are due to the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide from the USA and the EU alone. On the other hand, the emissions of the big four major contributors account for only 57-59% of the total cumulative costs, leaving over 40% to the rest of the world, supporting the need for a global treaty put forward by developed countries. The starting point for such treaty could be a mutual debt cancellation, developed countries' carbon debts offsetting developing countries' conventional monetary debt, leaving the dispute about historical responsibility behind.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Taylor & Francis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jan Kunnas, Eoin McLaughlin, Nick Hanley, David Greasley, Les Oxley, Paul Warde. Counting carbon: historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt. Scandinavian Economic History Review, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/03585522.2014.896284

Cite This Page:

Taylor & Francis. "Who is responsible for climate change?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140704134711.htm>.
Taylor & Francis. (2014, July 4). Who is responsible for climate change?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140704134711.htm
Taylor & Francis. "Who is responsible for climate change?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140704134711.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins