Friday, March 14, 2008

The South Must Take Action on Global Warming

The conventional wisdom is that global warming is being caused mostly by the developed world (the "North"). It therefore falls on the North, from both a moral and a practical standpoint, to take the major action needed to slow global warming. According to this view, developing countries (the "South") should be allowed to sharply increase their own emissions because they need to grow economically to reduce poverty.

This view is wrong, according to a new paper by David Wheeler and Kevin Ummel of the Center for Global Development. Wheeler and Ummel show that the South already account for 40% of carbon in the atmosphere, and that the South already produces more new carbon emissions each year than the North. By about 2030, the total cumulative carbon emitted by the South will exceed that of the North.

Wheeler and Ummel find that even if the North sharply reduces or even stops its carbon emissions, the emissions produced by the South alone will cause catastrophic climate change. This means that it is in the South's own interests to immediately begin reducing its own carbon emissions.

This finding, if confirmed, is a game changer. The South is no longer simply a victim that needs help adjusting to the climate changes wrought by the North (though it will still need that). Instead, the South must take an active role along the North in reducing emissions - and if it fails to do so, we are all sunk. This presents a new challenge for foreign aid and philanthropy in the coming period.