An Assessment of the Responsibility for the Increase in the CO2 Concentration and Inter-generational Carbon Accounts

Fujii, Y. (1990). An Assessment of the Responsibility for the Increase in the CO2 Concentration and Inter-generational Carbon Accounts. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-90-055

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Evidence is accumulating that it will be necessary to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and other anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases. Most of the proposed measures appear to be insufficient in causing a sufficient reduction by themselves and in very few cases a stabilization of global carbon dioxide emissions. Thus, it would be prudent in the future to expand the range of policy options that can help reduce the emissions. Furthermore, most of the proposed reduction measures such as carbon taxes, tradable permits, national or per capita emission quotas are all associated with numerous and complex global tradeoffs and important equity issues.

This paper represents an attempt to develop a yardstick for establishing equitable criteria for greenhouse gas reduction strategies. The timeliness and policy relevance of such research is illustrated by ongoing discussions about international and intergenerational inequalities that can be expected to result from climate change and possibly also from many of the proposed response strategies. For example, if such policies were only based on current per capita emission levels, they would place an unequal burden on the developing countries and their future populations. Industrialization has brought hitherto unknown wealth to the developed parts of the world but also high carbon dioxide emission levels since the 19th century. Much of these emissions from last century still remain in the atmosphere due to long residence time for carbon dioxide. Thus, a significant share of current atmospheric concentration of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is due to historical emissions above and beyond the factor of ten difference in current per capita emissions between developed and developing countries. Therefore, future generations especially in the developing countries will have to bear a potential burden of our current and inherited emissions.

This is certainly not equitable for humanity as a whole. A possible criterion of equity would be that every human being, past or "future", is allowed the same emission quota on annual basis. This could provide for intergenerational and interpersonal equity throughout the world, but would also imply that some of the developed regions would have an excess of historical carbon emissions or a "deficit" of future annual per capita quotas. Consider further that there exist an ultimate carrying capacity limit to the total (hypothetical cumulative) gigatons of carbon that can be "deposited" in the atmosphere as a global "resource" or "carbon credit" available to the humanity. How large would this resource have to be in order to fulfill the suggested intergenerational and interpersonal equity criterion? Fujii's analysis shows that the hypothetical resource would have to be in excess of 1,000 gigatons, probably way too much from the perspective of potential global warming.

This analysis reveals significant regional and intergenerational disparities in historical contributions to current atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and to cumulative emissions. In terms of cumulative person-years, the developed countries have contributed the lion's share to current concentrations, while the majority of "future" person-years will he in the now developing countries that would he forced to offset the large historical emission "deficit" of past generations in the industrialized countries. These disparities in per capita annual emissions ought to be considered in negotiations on greenhouse gas reductions, in the corresponding policies and any international carbon accounting system. Even if it turns out that equity does not necessarily imply interpersonal and intergenerational equality of emission permits on annual basis, the analysis in this paper can provide a yardstick for the assessment of other equity criteria that would extend beyond the current generation and current emissions.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: Environmentally Compatible Energy Strategies (ECS)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:00
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:13

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