Who Can Pollute: Developing versus Developed Countries

by Marissa Fimiani on March 27, 2014


A controversial global question right now is should developing countries be held to the new emission control standards while developed countries have already industrialized?  This is a complicated question to address, because it means deciding between giving developing countries their chance to grow or keeping their emissions at bay for a global effort that may not even be successful.

Developing countries have a very emotionally charged argument.  They have the most to lose in terms of coping with climate change, and without industrialization they will have a slim shot at global success.  In terms of adapting to climate change, (i.e. facing intensified weather conditions), developing countries are much worse off than developed countries, because they do not have the same rehabilitation resources.  In the event of a flood, drought, tropical disease outbreak or intense storm, richer countries are much more likely to survive because they have the means for proper food storage and equipment for survival.  The discussion about a plan for global action is crucial for the existence of these poorer populations.  Submissions on the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the 2015 Agreement reflect their concerns and ideas for solutions to equity among emission policies.  One party, the “Least Developed Countries Group”, calls for developed countries to take responsibility for their own commitments and to help developing countries without the financial or technological resources to help themselves (ADP Workstream 1 Submissions, UNFCCC).

The idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is a very important concept in this situation; it takes a global effort to combat global climate change, but different parts of the world should be responsible for different things.  This is why groups such as the Alliance of Small Island States and Least Developed Countries Group are calling upon industrialized economies (who have the necessary financial and material means) to assist them.  The parties from developing countries insist that it is in no way fair to hold them to the same emission restrictions as the industrialized countries when it was never possible for them to emit the same amount initially.  If developing countries are expected to comply with these restrictions (set from the Kyoto Protocol, which cracks down on CO2 emissions), they should expect some compensation from their richer counterparts.  Historically, developed countries have caused most of the problem, so they should take responsibility for most of the solution.

The argument from the developed countries is also morally and politically intricate.  Industrialized parties such as the European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Norway all agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, as did the US (eventually).  An interesting debate among industrialized countries is the acknowledgment of the severity of climate change.  The United States was especially skeptical about the reality of climate change, even though scientific facts about carbon emission and global temperatures were produced within the country.  Essentially, the US wants to remain a top competitor in the economy, and agreeing to reduce their industrial output would be detrimental for the nation.  Another point they raise is that is not efficient for a select group of countries (such as the US and other energy-intensive economies) to be restricted while developing countries are permitted to keep uncontrollably polluting.  The US, although they are responsible for a majority of the pollution and continue to be the highest emitter, argues that while it is in a position where it can make a great amount of change, it should not solely be held responsible for cleaning up a mess that the entire world made.  Nobody can accurately predict what will happen and how much it will cost until after the fact.  I feel that since it is a global problem, there should be a global effort to fix it, but what that actually is, we don’t know.  It is a big risk for the world to take, but just like the weather, what will precisely happen is unpredictable.




Submissions from Parties to the ADP2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2013. <http://unfccc.int/bodies/awg/items/7398.php>.


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