It’s too easy to point the finger at others

You wouldn’t have to look too far to see an argument that goes something like this:

and they’d be right…

China and India are amongst the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world

One look at China and India’s emissions will reveal how they have increased over the last 30 years. This has placed these countries as the first and third largest emitters in the world.


If you were to convert these countries’ emissions in the year 1990 to a value of 100, China and India’s emissions growth appears even more pronounced.

Source: UNFCCC time series (where available), otherwise; GDP data for countries with emissions intensity targets is sourced from the IMF and applies GDP PPP int dollars.
If you include 2030 target emissions…

Maintaining the index of 100 and extrapolating the trend to include these countries’ 2030 target emissions shows an even greater difference between advanced economies, China and India.

Emissions in many emerging economies, including China and India, are forecast to increase over the period to 2030. This is particularly driven by increases in energy consumption.

Source: Targets are sources from country NDCs; Historical emissions from UNFCCC time series (where available), otherwise; GDP data for countries with emissions intensity targets is sourced from the IMF and applies GDP PPP int dollars. Notes: a straight line trajectory to targets is assumed.; Many countries will set a target range, but a single point is used for simplicity; GDP figures can fluctuate, leading to shifting emissions intensity targets over time.

So it’s easy to point the finger and say…

But that’s one part of the story

Let’s look at the other side of the table…

On the other side of the table sits the advanced economies, represented here by the United States and United Kingdom. This group of nations could also include much of Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia.

Emerging economies look at advanced economies and say:

How do we know this?

Because a country will tell you in their reporting to the UNFCCC.

Within these documents, countries outline their national circumstances and why they think their approach to emissions reduction is fair.

For example, India’s third Biennial Update Report states the following:

Argument number 1: In emerging economies, per capita emissions are low

Emerging economies will tell you that their per capita emissions are much lower than that of advanced economies. This equates to a lower carbon footprint.

For example, the average Indian citizen emits 2 tonnes of CO2, less than the global average and far less than the average in many advanced economies.

Per capita emissions are sometimes used as a proxy for carbon footprint (see here ). Carbon footprints are generally much lower in emerging economies.

Argument number 2: Emissions since 1850 were primarily caused by activity in advanced economies

When the world’s advanced economies were getting wealthier during the 20th century, cheap energy came from coal, gas and oil. And they used lots—emitting millions of tons of greenhouses gases along the way.

By 1960, the handful of advanced economies were responsible for around 85 per cent of all emissions. This is a key driver of the CO2 concentrations and the temperature increases we see today.

Argument number 3: Emerging economies have a right to develop

Emerging economies will tell you that they have the right to raise their own economic standards of living.

They will say they should not have to take any step that leads to economic sacrifice until the advanced economies countries have first done so. They highlight how advanced economies can more readily afford to make such sacrifices.

But really…

You can point at any country

You can put together an argument that says any country isn’t doing enough.

Take Norway and New Zealand for example—two advanced, liberal democracies that actively take part in international fora.

You can point the finger at Norway because it’s one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and natural gas. You can also point the finger at Norway because their 2050 target is 90–95 per cent, and not 100 per cent, as many others have done.

You can point the finger at New Zealand because their 2050 target is ‘net zero’ on paper, but it doesn’t include all greenhouse gases. It also requires New Zealand to buy offsets ‘via removals or offshore mitigation’. In other words, buy credits from other countries instead of making changes at home.

You can also point the finger at New Zealand because its emissions have increased by around 30 per cent since 1990.

…You can also point to any thing

For example…

Across many countries, the richest segments of society emit more tonnes per person due to the things they buy and the investments they make (see also). Therefore, they should respond to climate change, not us.

Individuals alone cannot solve the problem of climate change. These challenges must be tackled by institutions, as well as companies and policymakers.

No wait, it’s individuals.

Actually, coal from Queensland in Australia is high quality, so fewer emissions are produced when it’s burned than coal from elsewhere, which is the real problem.

And on and on it goes…

we do it because it’s easy and it protects us and our circle

Attribution theory in psychology is an area of study that asks—when things happen, how do we find the ‘why’?

Tied into this is the propensity for humans to blame, which we do because: 1, 2:

Closely linked with these explanations is our relationship with our values, as previously highlighted. These values help define who we are, who is ‘in’, who is ‘out’, and with this information, we more easily attribute blame to those on the outer.

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