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The push to reduce global emissions has to focus on wealthy countries, researchers warn
WASHINGTON — Even without any efforts to mitigate emissions, low-income countries will still only be responsible for about 1% of global carbon by 2035, according to new analysis from the Center for Global Development.
A new study from the global think tank projects carbon emissions for countries around the world through the year 2035, the time frame many experts believe is crucial for addressing climate change. The researchers' projections were based on current emissions data from the World Bank, forecasts of future economic and population growth, and a scenario where that lower-income countries see steady emissions growth without attempting to mitigate their emissions.
Even with those conservative assumptions, the share of global emissions from the 29 lowest-income countries only rose from 0.5 to 1% by 2035.
“The easy narrative has been that lower-income countries are going to be responsible for this huge portion of climate change in the future, and so they need to reduce their emissions now. But we found that that’s just not true for the lowest-income countries, today or in the future. You’re not going to solve the climate crisis by focusing on 1% of emissions” said Vijaya Ramachandran, a non-resident fellow at the Center for Global Development, the director for energy and development at the Breakthrough Institute, and one of the authors of the study.
High-income countries and international institutions have put pressure on lower-income nations to begin decarbonizing immediately, including in some cases by restricting or banning them from using aid money to finance fossil fuel power plants. The US International Development Finance Corporation, a government agency that is supposed to facilitate investment in developing countries, has adopted a highly conservative portfolio that allows it to finance just a handful of natural gas plants for the rest of the decade.
“The lowest-income countries aren’t the drivers of climate change; they’re the ones who are going to be hurt by it. They need to be able to focus on reducing poverty and growing their economies, not worrying about harsh restrictions on their tiny fraction of the world’s emissions,” said Ramachandran.
The analysis finds that high-income countries like the US and upper-middle-income countries like China are currently responsible for most global emissions and will continue to dwarf lower-income countries by 2035.
Figure 1. Projected CO2 emissions (2018–2035)
“Take four of the biggest coal users among lower-middle income countries: Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Laos, and Bangladesh. Germany burns four times as much coal as all of them combined,” said Ramachandran.
“It’s just not fair or effective to put the burden for stopping climate change on the poorest countries. If high-income nations want to show they’re serious about stopping climate change, they need to start at home.”
You can read the full study at https://www.cgdev.org/publication/let-them-eat-carbon.