CO2 World Police Crack Down on Top Billion Polluters

A new paper by a group of “sustainability scientists” has called for an end to “business as usual” in efforts to curb CO2 emissions. The authors advocate allocating CO2 emissions targets based on the ‘‘common but differentiated responsibilities’’ of individuals, rather than nations. Their proposal moves beyond per capita considerations to identify the world’s high-emitting individuals, regardless of the country they live in. Don't laugh—if you are reading this post on the Internet you are probably one of the targeted billion.

OK, all you big CO2 emitters, this time it's personal. Global warming activists have finally realized that the world's yammering bureaucrats, jetting from one global warming conference to another, are not lowering humanity's carbon dioxide emissions—they may, in fact, be adding to the problem. As a result, a number of sociologists have decided a change in focus is needed. Their plan is simple: shift the burden for reducing emissions from nations to individuals.

In a paper entitled “Sharing global CO2 emission reductions among one billion high emitters,” presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Shoibal Chakravarty of the Princeton Environmental Institute et al. claim that the current system for doling out national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets is unfair and being ignored. Instead, the propose a new emissions regulation scheme based on those citizens of the world with the biggest carbon foot prints. Here is how they described the new plan in the article abstract:

We use the income distribution of a country to estimate how its fossil fuel CO2 emissions are distributed among its citizens, from which we build up a global CO2 distribution. We then propose a simple rule to derive a universal cap on global individual emissions and find corresponding limits on national aggregate emissions from this cap. All of the world’s high CO2-emitting individuals are treated the same, regardless of where they live....

For example, reducing projected global emissions in 2030 by 13 GtCO2 would require the engagement of 1.13 billion high emitters, roughly equally distributed in 4 regions: the U.S., the OECD minus the U.S., China, and the non-OECD minus China. We also modify our methodology to place a floor on emissions of the world’s lowest CO2 emitters and demonstrate that climate mitigation and alleviation of extreme poverty are largely decoupled.

Does this mean that people who work high emissions jobs will be penalized first? You bet. In the words of the report “Our approach is designed to blend parsimony, fairness, and pragmatism—treat equally those with the same emissions, wherever they live.” Farmers may get off the hook because: “Our approach is restricted to future fossil-fuel CO2 emissions and focuses on the next 2 decades. We do not include biospheric CO2, other greenhouse gases, and aerosols, because they are not strongly correlated with personal expenditures and national carbon intensities.” So dairy herds are safe but other personally generated emissions are not. Also notice how the US and China both get their own regions—if you suspect this is setting those two countries up for a drubbing later in the process you are correct.

If this plan gets adopted, it looks like anyone who owns a personal jet aircraft (are you listening Oprah and John Travolta), a mansion or a powerboat are in for it. Even those of us who own a car or truck are caught in the offenders net. The authors started by obtaining a picture of how 26 GtCO2 of global emissions in 2003 were distributed across the world’s 6.2 billion people. Note that this paper uses actual tons of carbon dioxide, not just the equivalent weight of carbon in the CO2, thus the higher emissions figures than found in most papers.

From World Bank data they first constructed national income distributions and then converted the income distributions into individual CO2 emission distributions using country level emissions data. In an example of how their method works consider France and Australia, who's distributions are shown in the figure below. The upper and lower panels report the probability distributions for income and emissions, respectively. Despite having similar national income distributions, the emissions distribution for Australia is shifted to the right of that of France. This is because Australia has a higher national carbon intensity—Aussies emit more CO2 per person.

The plot shows that Australia hosts more individuals for every level of annual emissions above 10 tCO2. Whether it's because French citizens don't have to travel vast distances across the outback, or France's foresight in going nuclear in a big way decades ago, Australians have a significantly bigger carbon foot print than their European counterparts. Sorry Australia, there are going to be more Aussies in the dock than Frenchmen.

In calculating their results, a universal cap was imposed on the global individual emission distribution such that eliminating all emissions above that cap should achieve the global target. To help add complexity to the presentation, the results were calculated with and without a “poverty floor” emissions level, which compensates for emissions increases involved in raising poor people up to a minimum economic poverty level.

It probably comes as no surprise that America takes a major hit, as do the other OEDC nations. China is in for grief, as suspected by the region selections discussed above. Surprisingly parts of Africa—the parts that aren't dirt poor—also get a thrashing. Here is how the paper summarizes their new distribution of emissions responsibility:

Fig. 7 (shown below) provides a summary of the national mitigation effort for 7 major regions in 2030. The bars show that the U.S. and China have the 2 highest CO2 abatement assignments. India mostly gets a free pass, but not Africa, due to high carbon intensity and inequality in South Africa and in North African nations with energy industries. Russia and the Middle East get sizable mitigation assignments for the same reasons.

Figure 7 from the PNAS paper.

This figure shows emissions in 7 of the 16 Energy information Agency (EIA) regions, in 1990, 2003, and for the global mitigation policies of 35, 30, 25, and 20 GtCO2 in 2030, both with and without poverty provision, labeled “P” and “BAU” (“business as usual”) respectively. The last bar on the right for each region indicates the targets corresponding to an equal per capita allocation scheme and the same 4 global mitigation targets. A table with data for all of the 16 regions can be found in the paper's appendix.

So it looks like India comes out best in this new redistribution of global warming responsibility, while the usual suspects—meaning the developed nations—take the brunt of the blame. Will the CO2 World Police be raiding neighborhoods near you in the future? Even the pack of wild eyed sociologists who penned the PNAS paper couldn't go quite that far. Instead they were satisfied leaving enforcement of the new restrictions to national governments. I always feel better being abused by my own government instead of strangers, how about you?

The authors claim their approach is motivated by the reality that emissions from OECD countries and from countries outside the OECD are now roughly equal. As they put it in the paper's summary, “In our interpretation of fairness, individuals who emit similar amounts of CO2, regardless of where they live, are expected to contribute to fossil-fuel CO2 emission reductions in similar ways. In principle, no country gets a pass, because even in the poorest countries some individuals have CO2 emissions above the universal emission cap.”

There you have it: become a success, even in the poorest countries on Earth, and you will be punished for having a large carbon footprint. But surely, you say, I'm not a gross emitter! How many people in the US fall into the big CO2 emitter category? According to the paper the US has 185 million of the world’s 600 million people whose emissions exceed the “relatively high” (16.8 tCO2/year) individual cap of this policy. That is 85% of US population over the age of 18 so be prepared—the CO2 police are coming for us all.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.

Taking carbon dioxide emissions personally.