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Carbon Debt and Carbon Credit

carbon-dioxideHow Island States can save the Planet

The recent Durban COP17 climate change conference failed to achieve requisite international action on the worsening climate crisis that is acutely threatening the World. However quantization of the Climate Debt of all Climate Debtor countries (notably the US, UK and Australia) provides a direct means by which Climate Creditor nations (notably the acutely threatened Island States and mega-delta nations) can help save the planet through insistence on repayment in full. 

Fossil fuel burning yielding the greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major component of man-made global warming. In relation to carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, Net Carbon Debt  is equal to the Historical Carbon Debt (from fossil fuel burning since the start of the Industrial  Revolution in circa 1750) minus the Carbon Credit (the residual carbon pollution from fossil fuel burning permitted between now and zero emissions in 2050). As outlined below and based on fossil fuel burning,  Net Carbon Debt (Net Climate Debt) has been estimated for all Carbon Debtor countries (notably the US, the UK and Australia) and  Net Carbon Credit (Net Climate Credit) has been estimated for all Carbon Creditor countries (notably Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and India). This information is crucial for climate justice as the World faces a worsening climate crisis born of GHG profligacy and climate change inaction.

The Historical Carbon Debt (aka Climate Debt) of the World (see “Climate Debt”, Wikipedia) has been estimated at 12 Gt CO2 (12 billion tones CO2) in 1751-1900 and 334 Gt CO2-e for 1901-2008, for a total of 346 Gt CO2 in the period 1751-2008 (see “Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”, Wikipedia). Most of this greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution has occurred in the last half century.

In a 2008 letter to Australian PM Kevin Rudd,  NASA’s Dr James Hansen provided  a breakdown  of global responsibility for fossil fuel-derived CO2 pollution between 1751 and 2006 (see “Letter to PM Kevin Rudd by Dr James Hansen”, 2008) that is summarized below as a percentage (%) of the Historical  Climate Debt (1751-2006) of 346 Gt CO2.

Ships/air (4%):  4% of 346 Gt CO2 = 13.84 Gt. This has been allocated proportionately to the other groups as shown below.

  • India (2.5%) = (0.025 x 346 = 8.65) + (2.5 x 13.84/96 = 0.36) = 9.01 Gt CO2.
  • Japan (3.9%) = 13.49 + 0.56 = 14.05 Gt CO2.
  • UK (6.0%) = 20.76 + 0.87 = 21.63 Gt CO2.
  • Germany (6.6%) = 22.84 + 0.95 = 23.79 Gt CO2.
  • Russia (7.4%) = 25.60 + 1.07 = 26.67 Gt CO2.
  • China (8.2%) = 28.37 + 1.18 = 29.55 Gt CO2.
  • USA (27.5%) = 95.15 + 3.97 = 99.12 Gt CO2.
  • Canada-Australia (3.1%) = 10.73 + 0.45 = 11.18 Gt CO2 -> Canada 5.59 Gt CO2 & Australia 5.59 Gt CO2.
  • Rest of Europe (18.0%) (Population 451.2 million) = 62.28 + 2.60 = 64.88 Gt CO2.
  • Rest of World (12.8%) (Population 3,197.1 million) = 44.29 + 1.85 = 46.14 Gt CO2.

Post-2010 Carbon Credits (aka Climate Credits) relate to the last amount of GHG pollution the World can sustain before zero emissions in 2050 if it is to avoid a disastrous 2 degree Centigrade temperature rise. In 2009 the WBGU which advises the German Government on climate change estimated that for a 75% chance of avoiding a disastrous 2C temperature rise (EU policy), the World must emit no more than 600 billion tones of CO2 between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050. From this information it was possible to use data for annual per capita GHG pollution (i.e. of CO2-e; see “List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita”, Wikipedia) to calculate years left to zero emissions for every country in the world (see  Gideon Polya, “Shocking analysis by country of years left to zero emissions”, Green Blog, 1 August 2011). This analysis based on current per capita pollution of CO2-e (CO2-equivalent i.e. considering GHGs such as methane and nitrous oxide in addition to CO2) was used to estimate Carbon Debt (Climate Debt) in US dollars for most countries (see “Climate Debt, Climate Credit”).

However a simpler and much more comprehensive analysis of  Carbon Debt (Climate Debt) for all countries of the World is presented below  that reports Carbon Debt in millions of tones of CO2 from fossil fuel burning alone (and ignores GHG pollution deriving from  land use (agriculture and forestry), methane,  nitrous oxide (N2O) and other GHGs).   

Net Carbon Debt (aka Net Climate Debt) and Net Carbon Credit (aka Net Climate Credit) can be estimated from the difference between Historical Carbon Debt and post-2010 Carbon Credits. Thus, by way of example, if one accepts that “all men are created equal”, the Carbon Credit for India (population 1,210.2 million out of a total global population of 6,983.2  million) is 600 billion tones  CO2 x 1,210.2 million/6,983.2 million = 103.981 billion tones CO2. The Net Carbon Debt for India is therefore 9.010 billion tones CO2 (Historical Carbon Debt) – 103.981 billion tones CO2 (post-2010 Carbon Credit) = - 94.971 billion tones Net Carbon Debt or a Net Carbon Credit of + 94.971 billion tones CO2.

Conversely, the Carbon Credit for the US (population 312.8 million out of a total global population of 6,983.2 million) is 600 billion tones  CO2 x 312.8 million/6,983.2 million = 26.876 billion tones. The Net Carbon Debt for the US is therefore 99.120 billion tones CO2 (Historical Carbon Debt) – 26.876 billion tones CO2 (post-2010 Carbon Credit) = 72,244 billion tones CO2 Net Carbon Debt.

For “Rest of Europe” countries the Net Carbon Debt is 64,880 million tones CO2 /451.2 million people = 143.79 million tones CO2/person (Historical Carbon Debt) - 600,000 million tones /6, 983, 2 persons = 85.92 tones per person (Carbon Credit) = 57.49 tones per person i.e. there is a positive Net Carbon Debt which is in magnitude 57.87 x100/85.92 = 67.4% of the 2010-2050 Carbon Credit.

For “Rest of World “ countries the Net Carbon Debt is 46,140 million tones CO2/3,197.1 million persons = 14.43 million tones CO2/person (Historical Carbon Debt) – 85.92 tones per person (Climate Credit) =  -71.49 tones per person i.e. there is a positive Net Carbon Credit which is in magnitude 71.49 x100/85.92 = 83.2% of the 2010-2050 Carbon Credit.

Net Carbon Debt (millions of tones of CO2) of Climate Debtor countries (descending order).

United States (72,244), Germany (16,765), United Kingdom (16,277), Russia (14,392), France (3,763), Australia (3,631), Japan (3,069), Italy (3,515), Spain (2,671), Ukraine (2,643), Canada (2,617), Poland (2,204), Romania (1,241),

Netherlands (967), Belgium (627), Greece (624), Czech Republic (611), Portugal (611), Hungary (578), Belarus (548), Sweden (548), Austria (487), Switzerland (455), Bulgaria (426), Serbia (412), Denmark (323), Slovakia (315), Finland (313), Norway (289), Ireland (265), Croatia (248), Macedonia (241), Bosnia & Herzegovina (222), Moldova (206), Lithuania (186), Albania (164), Latvia (128), Macedonia (119), Slovenia (119),

Estonia (78), Cyprus (46), Montenegro (36), Luxembourg (30), Malta (24), Iceland (18),

Jersey (5.7), Andorra (4.9), Isle of Man (4.8), Guernsey (3.6), Greenland (3.3), Faroe Islands (2.8), Liechtenstein (2.1). Monaco (2.1), San Marino (1.9), Gibraltar (1.7),

Saint Barthélemy (0.5), Saint Pierre et Miquelon (0.4), Falklands Islands (0.2), Vatican City (0.05).

Net Carbon Credit (millions of tones of CO2) of Climate Creditor countries (ascending order).

Tokelau (0.07), Niue (0.07), Saint Helena Ascension and Trista da Cunha (0.3), Montserrat (0.4), Tuvalu (0.7), Nauru (0.7), Cook Islands (0.8),

Wallis & Futuna (1.0), Anguilla (1.1), Palau (1.5),  British Virgin Islands (2.0), Saint Martin (2.7), Turks and Caicos Islands (3.0), Saint Kitts and Nevis (3.7), Northern Mariana Islands (3.9), Marshall Islands (3.9), Cayman Islands (3.9), American Samoa (4.0),  Bermuda (4.5), Dominica (5.1), Antigua and Barbuda (6.4), Seychelles (6.5), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines  (7.2), Kiribati (7.2),  Aruba (7.3), Federated States of Micronesia (7.3), Tonga (7.5), United States Virgin Islands (7.6), Grenada (7.9),

Curaçao (10), Guam (11), Saint Lucia (12), São Tomé and Principe (12), Samoa (13), Mayotte (15), French Guiana (16), Vanuatu (17), New Caledonia (18), French Polynesia (20), Barbados (20), Belize (22), Maldives (23), Bahamas (25), Martinique (28), Guadeloupe (29), Brunei (30), Cape Verde (35), Suriname (38), Western Sahara (39), Macau (40), Bhutan (51), Equatorial Guinea (51), Comoros (54), Guyana (56), Réunion (58), Fiji (62), Djibouti (65), Timor-Leste (76), Swaziland (86), Bahrain (88), Mauritius (92), Trinidad and Tobago (94),

Guinea-Bissau (101), Gabon (110), Qatar (119), Gambia (127), Botswana (145), Lesotho (157), Namibia (166), Jamaica (193), Mongolia (196), Oman (198), Kuwait (201), Armenia (234), Mauritania (239), Uruguay (241), Panama (243), Liberia (249), Puerto Rico (266), Republic of the Congo (296), Occupied Palestinian Territories (298), Lebanon (304), Costa Rica (308), New Zealand (317),  Georgia (319), Central African Republic (321), Turkmenistan (365), Singapore (371), Eritrea (387), Kyrgyzstan (389), Togo (411), Nicaragua (416), Sierra Leone (429), El Salvador (445), Jordan (447), Paraguay (453), Laos (454), Libya (459), Papua New Guinea (501), Hong Kong (508), Tajikistan (544), Israel (558), Honduras (587), United Arab Emirates (591), South Sudan (591), Burundi (613), Benin (651), Azerbaijan (651), Dominican Republic(670), Somalia (683), Haiti (721), Guinea (731), Bolivia (745), Tunisia (763), Rwanda (766), Cuba (804), Chad (806), Zimbabwe (912), Senegal (919), Zambia (933), Malawi (935), Cambodia (958),

Ecuador (1,035), Mali (1,038), Guatemala (1,052), Niger (1,125), Burkina Faso (1,125), Kazakhstan (1,188), Chile (1,233), Madagascar (1,349), Cameroon (1,387), Angola (1,402), Sri Lanka (1,476), Syria (1,527), Côte d’Ivoire (1,530), Mozambique (1,648), Taiwan (1,660), Yemen, (1,704), North Korea (1,719), Ghana (1,732), Nepal (1,903), Saudi Arabia (1,940), Uzbekistan (2,002), Malaysia (2,026), Venezuela (2,108), Peru (2,130), Sudan (2,209),  Iraq (2,295), Afghanistan (2,313), Morocco (2,317), Uganda (2,355), Algeria (2,595), Kenya (2,760), Argentina (2,868), Tanzania (3008), Colombia (3,310), Myanmar (3,456), South Korea 3,473), South Africa (3,616), Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire) (4,844), Thailand (4,970), Turkey (5,270), Iran (5,429), Egypt (5,811), Ethiopia (5,865), Vietnam (6,137), Philippines (6,721), Mexico (8,028),Bangladesh (10,173), Nigeria (11,617), Pakistan (12,737), Brazil (13,753), Indonesia (16,989), China (85,558), India (94,971).

Some major observations arise from this data set.

1. Some will argue that it is “unfair” to the major polluters of the European countries to saddle them with the Carbon Debt of previous generations. However these same countries have no problem with continuing to run up huge national debts, with demanding debt repayment by vulnerable countries (as in the current Eurozone crisis) or with crippling Third World countries with massive debt (for a damning account read John Perkins’ “Confessions of  an Economic Hit Man”). Indeed Germany finally paid its last reparations for World War 1 (1914-1918) in 2010 and 96.5% of the 1751-2008 Historical Carbon Debt considered in this analysis was generated between 1901 and 2008. It should be also noted that this analysis is actually rather unfair to India, China, the “Rest of World” and indeed much of the “Rest of Europe” because it ignores the reality that most of these countries were variously subject in this period of 1751-2006 to colonial subjugation or crippling hegemony by the major polluters, namely the UK, Germany, the USA, Russia and Japan.

2. This analysis is only concerned with available data on Carbon Debt arising from the burning of fossil fuels and ignores Carbon Debt from greenhouse gas (GHG) production from deforestation and methanogenic livestock production. Using the data that methane (CH4) is 72 times the global warming potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a 20 year time frame (as compared to 25 times worse on a 100 year time frame) World Bank analysts have re-assessed annual global GHG pollution as 50% bigger than hitherto thought with methanogenic livestock production contributing over 51% of the bigger figure (see Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang. “Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change are … cows, pigs and chickens?” World Watch, November/December 2009). However this re-assessment in turn needs further re-assessment because Dr Drew Shindell and colleagues at NASA have shown that CH4 is actually 105 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time frame when aerosol impacts are taken into account (see Drew T. Shindell, Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch,   Gavin A. Schmidt,   Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer, “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718).

3. The set of all the Carbon Debtor (Climate Debtor) countries include all the European countries and Japan. The set of all the Carbon Creditor (Climate Credit) countries includes all the non-European countries, excluding Japan, as well as the European colonies New Zealand and Israel (that could arguably be put in the “Rest of Europe” category).

4. One can convert the Carbon Debt or Carbon Credit from units of “million tones of CO2” simply by multiplying by whatever carbon price you desire in, say, US dollars. Thus a genuine Carbon Price of US$100 per tone of CO2 would permit a transition from coal- and gas-burning for electric power. Using this value the Carbon Debt of the US would be 72, 244 million tones CO2 x $100/ tone CO2 = $7,200, 244 million = $7.2 trillion. Likewise the Carbon Credit of China and India would be $8.6 trillion and $9.5 trillion, respectively.

5. The US is steadily increasing its current $15.3 trillion national debt and is devaluing this debt by printing money. Conversely, the US has a 72,244 million tone CO2 ($7.2 trillion @ $100 per tone CO2)  Net Carbon Debt but is steadily increasing this debt at the rate of 6,946 million tones  CO2-e per year (2008) i.e. the US Carbon Debt is increasing at about 10% per year. The US under Obama shows no indication of reducing its GHG pollution profligacy. Obama’s declining to approve the current Keystone XL pipeline proposal to carry oil from Canadian tar sands to Texas may only be a temporary reprieve to keep pro-environmentalists on side in a Presidential election year. According to leading US climate scientist Dr James Hansen, exploitation of the Canadian tar sands will mean “game over” for the Planet.

6. Australia is the worst annual per capita GHG polluter of the Carbon Debtor countries but shows no indication of changing its disproportionate GHG pollution. Australia’s Domestic plus exported GHG pollution was 1,077 million tones CO2-e in 2000 but under the Australian Labor Government’s  dishonest “Carbon Tax-ETS Scheme” this  is estimated to increase to 1,799 million tones by 2020 (a 1.7-fold increase) and   to 4,490 million tones CO2-e by 2050 (a 4.2-fold increase). In vain top US, UK, German and Australian climate scientists and biologists demand that global GHG pollution must be rapidly reduced to zero emissions in about 2050 and that the atmospheric CO2 concentration must return to about 300 parts per million (ppm) from the current damaging 394 ppm (increasing at 2.4 ppm per year) (see “300, org – return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm”).  Australia’s Net Carbon Debt (3,631 million tones CO2) is currently increasing at about 1,415 million tones CO2-e per year i.e. at 39% per year.   

7. “Annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution” in units of “tones CO2-equivalent per person per year” (2005-2008 data) is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 0.9 (Pakistan), 2.2 (India), less than 3 (many African and Island countries), 3.2 (the Developing World), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 16 (the Developed World), 27 (the US) and 30 (Australia; 54 if Australia’s huge Exported CO2 pollution is included,  64 being the 2010 figure). The major Climate Creditor countries are vastly lower in per capita GHG pollution than Australia (Google “Climate Genocide”). Thus Australia’s current annual per capita of 64 tones CO2-e per person per year (with Exported GHG included) is 71 times that of Bangladesh.  

8. The Carbon Debtors are stealing from the poor Carbon Creditors that are increasingly threatened by the worsening climate crisis. The Carbon Debtors (Climate Debtors) should be held to account through public advocacy, boycotts, sanctions, green tariffs, International Court of Justice (ICJ) litigations and International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions applied against Climate Debtor countries by Climate Creditor countries, notably the numerous Island States and major mega-delta countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Egypt, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The climate criminals and Carbon Debtors (Climate Debtors) must be brought to account before it is too late.

Outstanding Canadian human rights activist and writer Naomi Klein has written thus about climate rage in response to non-recognition and non-payment of Climate Debt (2009): “Among the smartest and most promising - not to mention controversial - proposals is "climate debt," the idea that rich countries should pay reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis. In the world of climate-change activism, this marks a dramatic shift in both tone and content… Setting aside the morality of building high-tech fortresses to protect ourselves from a crisis we inflicted on the world, those enclaves and resource wars won't come cheap. And unless we pay our climate debt, and quickly, we may well find ourselves living in a world of climate rage” (see Naomi Klein, “Climate rage”, Rolling Stone, November 2009). The fossil fuel-based Carbon Debt analysis given above provides a quantitative basis for such reparations payments and should be used by Island States, mega-delta countries and other threatened Climate Creditor countries to force urgently needed climate change action. Using this information the Island States and other threatened nations can indeed help save the Planet.


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