The China/India hole in the American climate strategy

The House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade climate change bill this week. Much of the discussion focused on the domestic impacts of the legislation, and how the policy design would affect various American constituencies. I would like to zoom out and think about how a policy like Waxman-Markey fits into a global strategic climate context, from the perspective of American policymakers.

I’m going to punt on the scientific questions in this post. I want to focus on strategy instead. For now I will stipulate that there is a significant enough risk of long-term environmental damage that policy actions should at least be considered to address that risk. I reserve the right to reconsider this later. From a practical standpoint, U.S. policymakers are headed down a path that makes this presumption, and I want to explore the consequences of their lack of a complete climate strategy.

I will use data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) at the U.S. Department of Energy. EIA produces rigorous, reliable, and unbiased data and analysis. This data is for CO2 emissions in 2006. Ideally we would have data that compared all greenhouse gas emissions, but I think the CO2 emissions data should serve our purpose.

The international climate change debate centers on two ways to divide up countries for a climate discussion: big vs. small, and rich vs. not rich. Before 2007, global climate change negotiations were structured based on countries that were either “developed” (rich) or “developing” (not rich). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calls the developed countries “Annex II” countries, and assumes that these rich countries will bear a disproportionate share of the economic burden of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions:


blockquote>[Annex II countries] are required to provide financial resources to enable developing countries to undertake emissions reduction activities under the Convention and to help them adapt to adverse effects of climate change.

According to EIA, in 2006 seventeen countries accounted for about three-fourths of all CO2 emissions. Let’s think of these as the “big” nations. The other 175 countries account for the other quarter of CO2 emissions. I think of them as relatively “small” in this context.

In 2007, President Bush created the Major Economies process, in which the largest economies meet as a group to see if they can reach agreement on climate change. If they are successful, that agreement can serve as the starting point for a broader […]