Global warming: The main contributors to Green House Gases
Global warming is just a scientific theory with lots of scientists putting together some pieces of jigsaw that it may cause Climate Change (CC). Even though the theory is not completely accepted yet, the argument for or against scientific conclusions regarding anthropogenic CC is not the subject of this write-up. Identifying the key contributors to the “devil” climate change is. The main culprit to be examined is Carbon IV Oxide (CO2). CC is blamed on several human activities, but the biggest contributor to CC is the increase in Greenhouse (GH) effect produced by CO2. Most of the CO2 emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal. Therefore, it is sufficient to state here that the CC issue is an energy issue. When we mine coal and extract oil and gas from the earth’s crust, and then burn these fossil fuels for transportation, heating, cooking, electricity, and manufacturing, we are effectively moving carbon into the atmosphere than is being removed by the natural process of carbon cycle, ultimately causing the concentration of atmospheric carbon IV oxide to increase. Also, by clearing forests to support agriculture, we are transferring carbon from living biomass into the atmosphere (dry wood is about 50 percent carbon). The result is that humans are adding ever-increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Climate scientists believe that increased Greenhouse Gases (GHG) in the atmosphere will contribute to an overall warming of the earth’s climate, leading to a “global warming”. Even though some regions may experience cooling, or wetter weather, climate scientists believe that the temperature of the planet on the average, will rise. Consequently, they are pushing to contain temperature rises to an average of 2 degrees Celsius (as an average, this means some regions may get higher temperatures and others, lower). Most climate scientists believe that global warming will result in extreme weather patterns such as the extreme heat waves experienced from time to time in different countries. In some other places, it will mean extreme snow fall, flood, hurricanes, drought, longer spell of dry heat or intense rain, colder weather, scarcity of water, super-storms, cyclones, more intense precipitation and higher winds, rising sea level, ocean acidification, increase in pests and diseases, desertification, hunger due to falling agricultural outputs, etc.
But why do we burn fossil fuel? For energy! The amount of energy consumed in any country is a measure of the level of development of that country. In more simplistic terms, ask yourself what makes people want to travel to developed countries of Europe, America, and the like? What makes humans walk through the desert to arrive at another man’s country? What makes people want to spend their holiday in these places? What makes others to schedule meetings as well as looted monies for these economies? The availability of electricity, good transportation, quality education and improved quality of life to mention but a few. In the so called developed economies, energy is used principally in the form of electricity, transportation and heating. For those who have heard or seen it, developed countries are those which we can say have electricity continuously (even though there is no country in the world where you do not have power cuts, the frequency and scale is what differs). During the day and in the night, in the shops and every corner of the streets, the sights are amazingly awesome. In the festive periods, there are more spectacular display and you see the “lights” on! This is a huge consumption of energy and therefore, carbon emission which “pollutes the earth”. Also, most of these countries are very windy and have wintry weather that makes life unbearable without some form of heating (electric, gas or coal fire heating etc). Heating therefore accounts for a significant amount of the energy requirements in most of the developed economies and therefore it is an important consideration in this energy debate. Another feature of industrialised economies is a good network of transportation. There are enough buses, coaches, trains, sea, air and rail transport to commute people without much hassles from one place to another daily. This improves their overall quality of and attitude towards life. The roads have been well maintained and so the number of cars in developed economies is vast. The airports are lovely sites and people can do with taking their photographs from there to send to their siblings at home. But all these means of transportation use fossil-fuel based products with the attendant release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Other uses include manufacturing of plastics, and every good thing that is desired by poor countries but which they are “reluctant” to produce themselves. It can be argued that because of the lack of vision and “knowledge”, Nigeria does not burn energy to better her world in terms of electricity generation, transportation, manufacturing etc. The only “good” use that has been made of her energy resources is in the flaring of rare precious gas during exploitation and exportation of her oil. Needless to say, this should have been made available to power the many Gas Power Plants crying for Gas to generate electricity for the nation in darkness!
The major countries with the biggest per-capita emissions in descending order of magnitude are Australia, USA, Canada, Ireland, Netherland, Russia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, The United Kingdom, South Africa, Italy, France, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo etc. Note though that CO2 emissions in China and India are high but their per-capita emissions fall below the world’s average. This is because of their large population. Also, much of the industrial emissions of China and India are associated with the manufacture of “stuff” for the developed countries. There is no gain saying that emissions due Nigeria result primarily due to the activities of the international oil companies (IOCs) in her oil rich Niger-Delta. So, assuming that something needs to be done urgently to reduce CC via GH gas emissions, who has a special responsibility to do something? This is majorly an ethical question with the responsibility falling mainly on those who not only have put the emissions there to begin with, but are also able to afford the huge finances required to pay for mitigating the effects of Climate Change. As much of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere remain there for 50 to 200 years, it is not enough to base the decision on the countries with the highest rate of CO2 emission today, but also on the historical footprint of individual nations which account for the cumulative contribution to the world’s “pollution” in the last 100 years, say. Also to be considered is the contribution now to the “pollution” by rapidly developing nations like China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, who have realised that very soon, and indeed very soon, all others who are yet to “pollute” the world and develop their “world” will remain undeveloped for “life” and regret their actions or inaction.
In terms of historical emissions, industrialised countries account for roughly 80% of the CO2 build-up in the atmosphere to date. Since 1950, the US has emitted a cumulative total of roughly 50.7 billion tons of carbon, while China (4.6 times more populous than the US) and India (3.5 times more populous than the US) have emitted only 15.7 and 4.2 billion tons respectively, although these numbers have been increasing since they “woke up”. Much of the growth in emissions in developing nations results from the provision of basic human needs for growing populations, while emissions in industrialised countries contribute to growth in a standard of living that is already far above that of the average person worldwide. This is exemplified by the large contrasts in per-capita carbon emissions between industrialised and developing countries. Per capital emissions of carbon in the US are over 20 times higher than India, 12 times higher than Brazil and 7 times higher than China.
This is what the notion of Climate Justice and equity tends to resolve. The key principle that must be sung by Nigerian and African representatives at any Climate Change negotiation framework is that of “the common but differentiated responsibilities”. This recognises that
- Industrialised nations have emitted far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than developing nations thus enabling the path to industrialization;
- Rich countries therefore face the biggest responsibility and burden for action to address Climate Change; and
- Rich countries will need to support developing nations to adapt to the problems they will face if they must avoid the “polluting” path to development which is easier and cheaper for them. This is mainly through financing and technology transfer.
As expected, many rich nations will like to work against the notion of Climate Justice and thus blame China, India and other developing countries for their accelerated rate of economic development, or gain credence in the “false balancing” argument that if they must be subject to emissions reductions, then so must China and India. Where there may be a case for emerging nations to be subject to some reduction targets, the burden of immediate reductions lie with industrialised countries. If the rich nations continue to delay at the rate they have begun since early 1990s, then, the poor nations will have to “save the earth” with their sacrifices to remain poor and allow the rich and powerful nations to rewrite history to claim they were the ones that saved the planet. Note though that most debates have been on reduction of emissions and what is often left out is the fact that poor countries are already facing problems without much help to adapt to the effects of “Climate Change”.
So what do you think? Who should pay for Climate Change? Answers and more in part 2.