Depressing News on Rich-World Climate Change Attitudes

October 20, 2009

Development advocates hoping for an equitable as well as efficient global agreement on climate change ought to be deeply depressed about the results of a recent FT/Harris poll. What is depressing is the way the question was framed (and that does matter): “Do you agree that, since China is the biggest carbon emitter, it should cut its emissions the most?” In most G-7 countries including the U.S., more than 60 percent of respondents agreed.Fact #1: China’s emissions per capita are about 5 tons of CO2 per person. U.S. emissions per capita are about 20 tons per person, 4 times greater, and as I show with Arvind Subramanian in a forthcoming CGD Working Paper (drafts of which are available from my colleague Dan Hammer), use of direct energy services per person is even more unequal: almost 40 times greater! We argue that an equitable deal should ensure that people in developing countries don’t have their access to energy services (such as electricity or other power in their homes, and ability to move from one place to another by public or private transport) restricted.The response to another question from U.S. respondents was even more depressing. Only 20 percent of respondents agreed that “since developing countries have not caused as much climate change, developed countries should be prepared to give them more aid to deal with the consequences”.Fact(s) #s 2- 100: For a chilling summary of the catastrophic costs to the world’s poorest people living in vulnerable settings of climate change – already and mounting without dramatic action now, go here and here. But the effects on other people in other places are not the entire story; for the implications for U.S. national security go here, here, and here.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.