NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 25, 2010

It has long been recognized that no policies undertaken solely by Western countries can reduce future global warming, regardless of the developed world's past and current contributions to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.  Rather, fast-growing developing countries control the climate change thermostat, says H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

As early as 1995, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognized that most of the emissions in the 21st century would occur in the developing world: 

  • The IPCC predicted that developing nations would account for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
  • The IEA stated that by 2025 China would emit more CO2 than the current combined total of the United States, Japan and Canada. 

These predictions proved to be very optimistic.  Since 2003, China has doubled its greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing the United States as the world's largest emitter.  In fact, China already emits more CO2 than the United States and Canada combined, and will likely surpass the combined total of the United States, Canada and Japan by 2015. 

Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, recently examined IEA data and found: 

  • China's emissions intensity (CO2 per dollar of gross domestic product) is five times greater than that of the United States.
  • Even if China cuts its emissions intensity 45 percent, it will still surpass the United States in per capita annual CO2 emissions by 2025.
  • Indeed, every 10 percent cut in U.S. emissions would be negated by one year of China's growth.  

Furthermore, Muller's calculations show:  

  • Because China's economy is growing annually by 10 percent, a 4 percent cut in intensity is actually a 6 percent annual increase in emissions.
  • CO2 emissions are increasing at a similar rate in India and other developing countries -- far surpassing industrialized countries' output.  

He concludes that even if China and India's goals are met -- and other developing countries make similar cuts -- total atmospheric CO2 would rise from 385 parts per million currently to 700 parts per million by 2080.  

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Climate Change: Developing Countries Control The Thermostat," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 694, February 25, 2010. 

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