Nicholas Stern: “There are many parts of China where emissions intensity and emissions per capita are looking much like some of the richer countries.”

While Nicholas Stern, the world’s top climate economist, recently endorsed 350 ppm as “a very sensible long-term target,” he laid out two blunt messages about our current do-nothing strategy in a talk to students in Beijing’s People’s University:

Stern warned that if the world continued to emit around the same levels of greenhouse gases every year, there was a 50 percent chance temperatures would rise more than five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) within 100 years.

Stern knows the scientific literature (see “M.I.T. doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C” and Hadley Center warns of “catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path“).

A rise of “five degrees Celsius has not been seen on this planet for 30 million years — we as humans have been here for only 200,000 years,” he said.

“This type of temperature change involves radical dislocation, it involves re-writing where people can live, it would involve the movement of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people.”

“This would result in extended, serious global conflict.”

It would result in Hell and High Water.

The second message was aimed at China, and equally blunt.  As Treehugger put it:

China is the world’s leading CO2 polluter but it often relies on per capita emissions data to show that its footprint — and thus its responsibility to manage climate change — is much lighter than that of developed countries.

Not so fast, says Stern.  As AFP reported, he said that

13 Chinese provinces, regions and cities had higher per capita emissions than France. Six also overtook Britain.

“There are many parts of China where emissions intensity and emissions per capita are looking much like some of the richer countries in Europe,” he said in a speech that laid out his predictions on global warming.

China and other developing nations are opposed to any compulsory cuts in emissions, saying their per capita emissions are low and the responsibility for solving the problem rests with developed countries that have polluted longer.

Based on Stern’s calculations, emissions per person worldwide would have to fall to two tonnes by 2050 to minimise the risk of a dangerous rise in temperature.

Currently, according to Stern, China emits six tonnes per person, the European Union emits an average of 12, and the United States 25.

Stern, a noted economist, said he was confident China would lead on climate change action.

And all evidence suggests China will lead (see “Peaking Duck: Beijing’s Growing Appetite for Climate Action“) — if the Congress passes a climate bill (see “ ‘China will sign’ global treaty if U.S. passes climate bill, E.U. leader says“).

For the record, Stern’s analysis would seem to derive in part from the recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, Sharing Global CO2 Emission Reductions Among One Billion High Emitters“:

We present a framework for allocating a global carbon reduction target among nations, in which the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” refers to the emissions of individuals instead of nations. 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. Any future global emission goal (target and time frame) can be converted into national reduction targets, which are determined by “Business as Usual” projections of national carbon emissions and in-country income distributions. 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.

9 Responses to Nicholas Stern: “There are many parts of China where emissions intensity and emissions per capita are looking much like some of the richer countries.”

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    We have plenty of information to understand the NEED for ACTION HERE, in the U.S. (I’m not suggesting that more isn’t helpful. I’m simply providing a transition to an even more urgent topic . . . )

    We need to get the media on board. We need to “use” the stated responsibilities of the media (that they themselves claim, that Thomas Jefferson pointed out, that leaders like Murrow and Cronkite and others stated clearly, and so forth), along with the gravity and stakes of the present matter (climate change), to prompt, encourage, call for, push, and (if necessary) “shame” the media into covering the matter effectively and responsibly. The window of time is here, now. It will do very little good, if any, to slowly ask the media to improve as these next two months pass us by. The media should, need to, and must improve their effectiveness on this stuff NOW, in the coming one or two weeks. If we can’t effectively prompt them to do so, the fault is partly ours, especially if we don’t give it our absolutely best shot.

    Please let me know (anyone) if you disagree? Are the media performing well, or even anywhere close? Have we tried hard enough, and creatively enough, to get them to do so? Where are the media watchdog organizations, and have they been effective enough to get the job done? Am I wrong about the importance of the matter? Am I wrong about the window of time between now and Senate deliberations, or between now and Copenhagen? Have we asked The New York Times enough to improve, pointing out the reasons why? Is it then time to “call them” to improve in a much more effective collection of ways (peacefully, of course, but clearly)?

    I don’t know what more can be said about the importance of the need for the media to improve? We just need to try to get them to do so, in genuinely effective ways, and soon. The real measure is not merely whether we try, of course. Given the stakes, the real measure is whether we are effective. And we aren’t being very effective right now.



  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Request

    Joe, I think it would be great if you could give us your own present assessment on the media’s performance (in relation to climate change, given the stakes and the timing issues associated with Senate deliberations, Copenhagen, etc.) and launch a thread on that topic.

    I would love to provide some concrete assessments and ideas in the comment string.

    Given the window of time, it will be helpful to be clear on the matter and also get appropriately tactical. Let’s respectfully give our support to Rachel Maddow to “get into it”, soon, as we congratulate her in general on her coverage of matters. Let’s ask J. Stewart to get into it. And so forth.

    Let’s ask The New York Times to greatly improve its paradigms and approaches on this issue, and to lift the bar on its own coverage, a lot. Let’s share views on that. Let’s list the main phone number, and Bill Keller’s office number, if possible. Let’s contact Andy Revkin via e-mail and phone.

    And let’s help the CJR get more involved and active, quickly. The necessary goal is for the media to improve, not for it to be a slow ongoing gradualistic commentary and critique of the media as we mess up the climate, wars start (often) and end (too slowly), major companies mislead, the “boxing matches” attract all the focus, facts go by the wayside, and so forth. What GOOD is it, really, if the media are still following current practices, and if a few media watchdog organizations are offering critiques, if that is still taking place when the last man and woman are left standing, amidst rubble and a terrible climate, after we’ve wiped out many other species along the way?

    In my view, we need a present assessment, and we need to face some pressing questions in a timely way. And then, (assuming that the assessment leads in this direction), we need some real tactics to prompt the media to improve. As mentioned, I’m not talking about January, after Senate deliberations and after Copenhagen. Instead, I’m talking about this coming week — and the sooner, the better.

    Sorry to be so “anxious”. Watching and reading the news recently, and knowing about the time windows we face, is making me so.



  3. Greg Robie says:

    I read this too (except the report I read said the rich nations had to give up the idea of a growth economy—see ). And Todd Stern says (for the Obama Administration) that it is not necessary for the US to do a 40% cut of emissions by 2020 . . . Lordy lordy, them Sterns sure aren’t on the same page!

    Anyway, lets see, 60% of 25 tons would leave us/US doing 15 ton per person (and with this figure we do not count the emissions done “off shore” to produce what we consume) a decade from now. Such would be 125% of what Europe is already doing and they are working this decade to go lower. We were justly booed at Bali, and (if morality counts for anything) we should be subjected to cat calls at Copenhagen.

    And there is wonder why the MSM isn’t covering the story well? Well, do even liberals know how to tell ourselves that a green security requires our version of fractional reserve banking—and all the wealth such a system denominates—to go bust (oh, I forgot, it already has but for being flash-frozen in its implosion by a bailout and accounting rule changes for the financial sector)? How would one sell ads to pay for the time such a story requires?!?

  4. Richard Miller says:

    Dear Joe and all,

    There was a piece in the Guardian yesterday about the very distinguished climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. It is very much worth a read. I would be interested in your take on it Joe. Basically, if you take the approach that we are going to limit CO2 use not by country but per capita and we are going to stay below 2 degrees C, then the US has roughly 3 and a half years left to emit CO2.

    Very sobering.

    Here is the web address for the story.

    Richard Miller

  5. David B. Benson says:

    Richard Miller (4) — An average of $100 per year times one billion “rishest” people is only a hundred billion. Sorry, but it ain’t enough. Think around seven hundred billion per year, between one and two per cent of GWP.

    Preferably starting right now!

  6. David B. Benson says:

    And I forgot to mention that a 2 K increase will be pergatory, if not actually hell. Either way, the high water comes later.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    Responsibility, Thinking, and Leadership – VS. – Rationalizations, Delays, and Excuses

    I am an “analytical” person in some ways, and I enjoy the great benefits of appropriate analyses. It helps — and it does matter — to understand who has been responsible for past emissions, and for various shares of the CO2 presently IN the atmosphere and oceans, and who is emitting how much today.

    Those things are all informative and should shed light, to a degree, on ways forward.

    But, in the end, people in the U.S. must decide (and soon) whether we are going to be responsible, whether we are going to THINK, and whether we are going to be the leaders that we often think we are. OR, are we going to try to ridiculously rationalize our way into inaction or insufficient action? Are we going to become professionals at finding reasons to delay? Are we going to become adept at excuse-making, which is quite the opposite from leadership?

    You don’t need much calculus or even much understanding of chemistry to understand the differences between those attitudes and postures.

    That’s why, to a large degree, we have enough information to help us see what should be done, at least to get started in a big way to show leadership. We can always adjust as we go.

    To those people who don’t want to take effective action (for example, many in politics or etc.), we can — and should — ask them some basic questions. Do you not care about future generations? Would you be happy to leave your children and future generations a highly problematic climate situation that didn’t exist when you came into the world? Are you an excuse-maker, or a leader? (There’s a difference.) Are you happy being a master at explaining all of the silly reasons that your company (or profession, or etc.) simply “must” continue doing things in status quo ways, even in the face of scientific reality? Are you happy with the pace of improvement within your profession — i.e., a miniscule amount per year over the last two decades, at a pace that will surely be ineffective when it comes to actually addressing the problem that faces us?

    I’m sure we all know quite a few people who genuinely believe that they are doing as much as their roles, companies, and professions call for or allow — but where that’s not at all the case, in reality, relative to the challenge we face. There is still a short amount of time for people in their roles, or simply as humans, to step up to the task.

    The problem is not only among many people who seem to find all sorts of reasons not to change that have nothing to do with fact or analysis. There is another issue that sometimes seeps in and can be just as problematic. (I can mention this issue with credibility, because I do this sometimes.) It’s called over-analysis or sometimes “analysis paralysis”, and/or it can also manifest itself in the fact that it is often addictive and more enticing to “nail a problem down” with precision than it is to do the things necessary to begin addressing it.

    Of course, I’m not suggesting that analysis should stop or that it can’t be highly valuable. It should continue and will be highly valuable, of course. But, it should continue AS we DO the things necessary at this point to get the train MOVING MUCH BETTER as we enter the upcoming windows of opportunity.

    OUR ACTION is already WAY BEHIND, relative to what we already know with a very high degree of likelihood.

    Wisdom involves both knowledge and action. I’m suggesting that, on average, our “amount of knowledge” is way ahead of our “degree of warranted action”, and it’s not at all a theoretical matter to get the one up to speed with the other. Indeed, it is a high priority at this stage.

    Back to football for now. Cal 24, E. Washington 7. Go Bears!



  8. Phil Eisner says:

    I have been trying to publicize and teach about global warming and climate change for almost a year through public lectures and an on-line newspaper column in I sign every political petition that I can trying to prod our civil servants and politicians to take effective action, Of course, what is necessary to get effective action is to stir millions of people to action like Al Gore was able to due a couple of years ago.

    Now, we need another Al Gore. We hoped Obama would be the one, but he has so many problems to work on it is doubtful he can get global warming legislation in time for Copenhagen. Joe, you may have noticed I have been consistently pessimistic in my comments during 2009. I remain so and even more so despite the fine work you do. I, and all people who understand the catastrophe we face, thank you for your daily blog alerting the world.

  9. Jeff Huggins says:

    More Leaders, Re Phil’s Comment (8)

    I agree that we need more outspoken leaders. Other than Obama, when he can focus on it, and aside from a few of the online efforts, and Bill McKibben’s focus on the 350 event, where are the visible, outspoken, individual leaders? Where are they? Either they aren’t doing enough, or the media are missing the ball even more than I thought. Probably both.

    And where are the corporate leaders? Do they not care all that much? If some of them don’t start speaking up MUCH more, via the media, and enough to be covered, they’ll lose credibility with me. Corporate leaders: If you don’t speak up loudly, now, to support the need to address the climate problem, don’t tell me about your “green” products three months from now. I won’t want to hear from you.