Energy Needs and Efficiency, Not Emissions: Re-framing the Climate Change Narrative

38 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2009

See all articles by Nancy Birdsall

Nancy Birdsall

Center for Global Development

Arvind Subramanian

International Monetary Fund (IMF); Center for Global Development

Date Written: November 9, 2009

Abstract

The basic narrative on climate change between the rich and poor worlds has been problematic. The focus on emissions has made industrial countries inadequately sensitive to the unmet energy needs in developing countries. And it has led developing countries to adopt the rhetoric of recrimination and focus on the legacy of historical emissions by industrial countries. The ensuing blame game has led to the current gridlock. As a way out, we suggest some simple principles for determining equitable distribution of emission cuts between developed and developing countries to meet global targets. These principles emphasize basic energy needs and the equality of access to energy opportunities rather than emissions, taking account of development levels, as well as energy efficiency in creating such opportunities. To apply these principles, we develop a new data set to distinguish between energy needs and emissions-intensity for major developing - and developed - country emitters and quantify the relationship between these variables and changes in income (or development). This quantification allows us to project emissions levels in 2050. Our main finding is that meeting global emissions targets equitably requires very large, probably revolutionary, improvements in the carbon intensity of production and consumption, much larger than seen historically. We conclude that a new shared narrative that places equality of energy opportunities at the forefront would naturally shift the focus of international cooperation from allocating emissions “rights” or reductions and blame to maximizing efforts to achieving technology gains and rapidly transferring them worldwide. Abandoning the setting of emissions targets for developing countries and creating instead a framework where all countries contribute to maximizing technology creation and diffusion is what Copenhagen should be about.

Keywords: equity, emissions, climate change, energy services, technology

Suggested Citation

Birdsall, Nancy and Subramanian, Arvind, Energy Needs and Efficiency, Not Emissions: Re-framing the Climate Change Narrative (November 9, 2009). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 187. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1515990 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1515990

Nancy Birdsall (Contact Author)

Center for Global Development ( email )

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Arvind Subramanian

International Monetary Fund (IMF) ( email )

700 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20431
United States

Center for Global Development

2055 L St. NW
5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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