Development without Carbon: Climate and the Global Economy through the 21st Century

Elizabeth Stanton, an economist at the Stockholm Environment Institute who is active in the Economics for Equity and Environment (the E3 Network), has done a service in Development without Carbon.  It’s a crystal-clear paper that lays out a simple framework for thinking about equitable development within a constrained emissions space — like this planet.  It’s goal, particularly, is to show that traditional economic models are not up to the job, but that the job itself remains doable.

It proceeds by exploring the potential greenhouse gas emissions, and corresponding mitigation obligations, of three “stylized futures” for developing countries:

  • Without Development: a business-as-usual (no policy) scenario with the standard economic growth rates found in climate-economics models;
  • Development with Carbon: a business-as-usual (no policy) scenario with more rapid economic growth rates.
  • Development without Carbon: a policy scenario with rapid economic growth and significant public measures to reduce emissions

Stanton’s approach is influenced by the Greenhouse Development Rights approach, but she considers other justice-based approaches as well.  Her goal is show the problem know known as “equitable access to sustainable development” is a realizable one, if we think about it in a reasonably coherent way.

She begins with a business-as-usual scenario in which each one-percent increase in per-capita income is associated with a 0.34% decrease in national emissions intensity.  Then she defines a variant “Development with Carbon” scenario in which poorer countries have higher income growth rates.  This, unsurprisingly, almost doubles the global emissions gap between the path we’re on and the one we need to get to.  Then she takes the same higher-income-growth statistics that she used in this first scenario and cranks up the rate of decrease in emissions intensity, first to 0.34% and then to 0.53%.  The last of these scenarios models a pro-development, rapid-decarbonation future, which is of course the one we’re interested in.

It’s bracing to look at, and to consider.  Which is the point to note that Stanton may have tried a bit too hard to make 2C seem easily realizable.  Her claim that “the budget for maintaining a 98-percent chance of keeping temperatures increases below a 2°C is approximately 2,700 Gt CO2-e” is based on no science that we know of, and is altogether too optimistic.  To be sure, this is a solvable problem, but soft-pedaling isn’t the way to solve it.

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