Countries such as India and China have traditionally argued that any steps to cut emissions must come first from the West, based on the ponderously phrased idea of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”. Regular readers of this blog will instantly recognize this as belonging to the class of descriptions that are suspiciously content-free but that has not stopped the world from making this the centerpiece of years of diplomatic negotiations.
The idea behind common but differentiated responsibilities is that since per capita carbon emissions in the developing world are low, and because historically there has probably been less atmospheric carbon dioxide emitted from within their shores – most of the heavy lifting now should be done by the folks who caused the mess in the first place.
Whatever the merits of this kind of reasoning (and they are not particularly convincing), this also exemplifies how statistics can be made to show anything. Want to make India and China look good? Quote per capita emissions. Desirous of a more balanced point of view? Talk about how China is the largest single emitter today.
An interesting problem to consider is what value function is necessary to assume in order to make each of these statistical measures the appropriate weighting tool to use when figuring out responsibilities? Or should we worry about something like emissions per unit GDP? Cumulative emissions per unit cumulative GDP (after all, while the industrial nations were burning coal, they were also generating global wealth).
A Spoonful of Win will abdicate that larger responsibility. As the Jonas Brothers might say, thats just the way we roll (Embarrassingly topical boy band reference acknowledged). Instead we will point you towards a rather fun visualization. Check out the map. By which we mean click on it.