Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 11 December 2007

What is a fair solution to climate change?

By Roger Harrabin
BBC Environment Analyst

Roger Harrabin explains the problems with counting carbon emissions

Our lifestyles produce vastly different amounts of CO2 depending on how we live and how rich we are. So who should take responsibility for cutting emissions?

As greenhouse gases increase and the global temperature rises, politicians are struggling to find a new solution to end the blame game on climate.

Everyone blames the Americans - their economy is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and they have polluted most in the past.

Annual emissions per person, tonnes of carbon:
US 5.6, UK 2.7, China 1.1, India 0.3, Kenya 0.1
Annual emissions by nation, 1000s tonnes of carbon:
US 1,650,020, China 1,366,554, India 366,301, UK 160,179, Kenya 2,888
Source: US Energy Department

But now the spotlight is also shifting to China - joint number one polluter this year - and India, where emissions are growing fast.

There's no point in the rich world cutting emissions if pollution from tomorrow's giants grows indefinitely. So what's to be done?

The current system of measuring CO2 emissions on a countrywide basis makes countries with big populations like China and India look bad.

But the lifestyle of the average Indian emits 1/20 of the CO2 emissions of the average American.

The most polluting carbon lifestyles are in the Gulf. Africans have a tiny carbon footprint though they may suffer most from climate change.

The EU is now proposing a new way of measuring carbon emissions based on pollution per person. A new climate deal would have to allow pollution in poor nations to increase in the push for economic growth while pollution in rich nations reduces.

A deadline has been set for 2009 for negotiating the formula. The Americans are the big stumbling block - a White House spokesman confirmed to BBC News that the US cannot yet predict the day when its emissions will stop growing. But the challenge is huge, too, for Europe and Japan, which are both struggling to meet existing targets.

The views and values of citizens of all these countries will play a crucial role in determining the shape of the future climate deal.

Calculating carbon blame

At first glance the map above seems to make a very clear case for the German's policy of pushing per capita emissions as part of the solution to any climate deal.

It does that - but it also shows that per capita cannot be the sole basis for any deal unless there is a major change in the way we attribute responsibility for the carbon used in bringing us our goods and our energy.

The map shows per capita emissions in the USA are small in comparison with those in the Gulf region.

People in the Gulf are careless with energy because it is so cheap. But the frantic rate of construction in Dubai also pushes up emissions because cement is so energy-hungry.

And the biggest factor is that the region produces oil and gas for the rest of the world. In other words people in Saudi look bad because they take the carbon blame for the rest of us.

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