World Resources Institute attacks Bush’s stance on climate change

However the figures on greenhouse gas emission are displayed – whether it is per capita, historical, or as future projections - the US is still the world’s most significant polluter and should take action on climate change before asking developing countries to do so, says the World Resources Institute (WRI).

According to a new report by the WRI, The US, Developing Countries, and Climate Protection: Leadership or Stalemate?, in the last 100 years, industrialised countries with only 20% of the world’s population have been responsible for 60% of net carbon emissions. Of these countries, the US has topped the list of carbon emitters from fossil fuels, accounting for 30% of the total from 1900-99, while China contributed only 7% and India 2%, says the report. Future projections follow a similar theme, with China and India’s combined emissions in 2010 being only four fifths of the US’s total.

“Over the long-term, most countries – including developing countries – will need to do more to rein in their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr Nancy Kete, co-author of the report and director of the WRI’s Climate, Energy and Pollution Programme. “To get the ball rolling in the near term, however, climate protection requires the leadership of a few countries that bear historical responsibility for the problem and that have considerable capability to act – that means, first and foremost, the US.”

The report points out that despite lack of legal commitments from developing countries, some have already taken action, unlike most developed nations which have made promises but have not yet followed them up. One example is that of China, which reduced its emissions by 17% between 1997 and 1999 (see related story). “China’s achievement is unprecedented,” said Kete. “Over the same period, China succeeded in substantially growing its economy while markedly reducing its emissions.”

The report suggests a number of ways by which industrialised countries can promote co-operation on climate protection, including recognising and building on climate-friendly policies already being undertaken in developing countries. It is also suggested that because non-climate priorities will continue the development agenda of poor countries, wealthier nations should fund technical co-operation programmes to assist them with adaptation to climate change and emission reductions. Finally, the promotion of climate protection could be assisted with programmes similar to the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism, which aims to promote sustainable development, and is strongly supported by both developing nations and the US private sector.

“A short-term focus on developing country commitments may be politically expedient for those who remain opposed to climate protection,” said Kete. “However, it is misguided, and it has precipitated an outcome where no one acts and everyone loses.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie