Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2011

Fair Shares: Crediting Poor Countries for Carbon Mitigation

David Wheeler

July 2011

Center for Global Development


This paper computes national carbon mitigation costs using two simple principles: (1) Incremental costs for low-carbon energy investments are calculated using the cost of coal-fired power as the benchmark. (2) All low-carbon energy sources are counted, because reducing carbon emissions cannot be separated from other concerns: reducing local air pollution from fossil-fuel combustion; diversifying energy sources to reduce political and economic risks; and building competitive advantage in emerging clean-energy markets. The paper estimates energy growth and incremental costs for biomass, solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and nuclear in 174 countries from 1990 to 2008. Then it compares national mitigation burdens using per-capita mitigation expenditures as shares of per-capita incomes. The results undermine the conventional view of North-South conflict that has dominated global climate negotiations, because they show that developing countries, whether by intention or not, have been critical participants in carbon mitigation all along. Furthermore, they suggest that developing countries have borne their fair share of global mitigation expenditures. But they also show that expenditures for both developed and developing countries have been so modest that low-carbon energy growth could accelerate greatly without undue strain.