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Responsibility to pay
Indices of ability to pay do not take into account the responsibility of a country for having caused the problem (the polluter-pays-principle). Responsibility itself can be measured in different ways. The two main ways are: direct historic (including current) contributions to causing the problem; and how efficiently a country has been using its resources. As with ATP, we present a formulation that allows us to address both separately.
As discussed in Chapter 2, the contribution of a gas to global warming is a result of Earth's exposure to the gas, which in turn is a function both of atmospheric concentration and residence times (Smith and Ahuja 1990).
Table 4.2 Ability to pay, responsibility and obligation to pay for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by country
|Ability to pay||Responsibility||Obligation to
Resources (capacity), accountability (ethics), and combined
indices are normalized to 100 per cent, thus indicating each
nation's percentage of the world total. Shown are the same 62
nations (10 million or more) in the same order descending natural
debt) as in Table 2.3. Different thresholds of tonnes per capita
are shown for RESP and OTP.
Resources Ability to pay (ATP) is a function of income, measured either by GNP or PPP, and the threshold chosen as the minimum required to attain a reasonable physical quality of life (PQLI).
Accountability: The responsibility index (RESP) is a function of the natural debt (cumulative emissions per capita since 1950) and the threshold natural debt needed to achieve a reasonable PQLI.
Combined: Obligation to pay (OTP) is here defined as an equal weighting of ATP and RESP.
This argues that the responsibility of countries for the present situation is best indicated by total historical emissions integrated over time - natural debt. From the standpoint of physical reality, this is a better measure of responsibility than current emissions or growth rates, because integrated emissions directly drive climate warming.
Although the polluter-pays-principle is conceptually attractive, we recognize that there may be discomfort in applying it historically, for example, back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution. There are basically two arguments: one political and one practical.
Although the first greenhouse warming paper was written in the last century (Arrhenius 1896), it can be argued that past generations acted out of ignorance and thus their descendants should not be penalized. There is a strong counter-argument, however. If we are asking the present generation to take responsibility for the future, it must be given a feeling of control over the future. Without any control, there can be no true responsibility, because there is no reason to think the values and consequent sacrifices of today will be honoured in the future. Paradoxically, however, in order to impart a perception of control over the future, the present generation must feel somewhat constrained by the past. Only then will it believe that its efforts will not be for nothing. If we dismiss historical responsibility, what is to keep the next generation from doing so (Smith 1977)?
Figure 4.2 Relationship between PQLI and two measures of per capita income
Put another way, one of the best ways to encourage this and future generations to take more account of the longer term impacts of technology and other human innovations is to make it responsible for problems that arise. Only then will it take a really serious look and apply the appropriate caution in its choices. Not to do so is to provide great incentives to stay ignorant.
As discussed in Chapter 3, given complete information on historic emissions of all greenhouse gases, their sinks, and their transformations in the atmosphere, one could calculate the contribution of each country to increases in the current concentrations from emissions of greenhouse gases since preindustrial times, and require that remedial action by each country be proportional to that contribution. In practice, this approach to solving the greenhouse issue may be unworkable at present for several reasons:
Generally, data on emissions of most gases become unreliable the farther back in time one goes. Country-specific data on many non-CO2, non-CFC greenhouse gases are not known even for recent years.
Shifting political boundaries and dominion of one country over another causes assignments before 1950 for many parts of the world to be problematic, even for gases such as CO2 for which data may be available. (A problem exacerbated again in the late 1980s.)
Historical information about sinks and rates of atmospheric transformation is even less well known than for emissions (see box on page 84).
Thus, to take this discomfort about historical responsibility into account, as well as the practical difficulties in actually determining remaining historical emissions, we use here historical records going back only to 1950 and only for fossil fuel CO2. (See the box on project evaluations, page 89, however, for an illustration of how other gases can be considered when evaluating mediation options.)
International agreements to limit climate change will be easier to negotiate if they are perceived to be equitable. Hence, they must begin with the premise that every human being has the same equal right to atmospheric resources (Grubb 1989). Thus, comparisons based solely on present national emissions are not generally applicable, because no allowance is made for population size (Smith 1991). Similarly, as shown in Chapter 2, comparisons based on growth rates alone are misleading because absolute additions are ignored. (Such analyses, however, are essential for indicating where potentials for reduction lie.)
On the other hand, since it is national governments and not individuals that eventually will be charged for global remediation efforts, per capita emissions by themselves are inadequate. If, however, per capita emissions are simply multiplied by national population, one obtains national emissions again, which is also unacceptable.
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