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By Robert Rapier on Aug 9, 2012 with 32 responses

Climate Change and Developing Countries

This post continues a theme I covered in my book Power Plays. Part 1 covered the impact on oil price and supply in Petroleum Demand in Developing Countries. Here I discuss some of the climate change implications.

Climate Change Implications

Regardless of one’s beliefs on climate change, it is a fact that the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has been increasing since coal began to be burned in large quantities during the Industrial Revolution around 1750. Since then, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has increased from about 285 ppm to the present value of about 390 ppm (See Figure 1). Based on our scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect, we would expect that the increase should cause the average surface temperature of the earth to climb, and this has the potential to cause serious environmental damage.

Figure 1. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations continue to grow steadily.

The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide to date is primarily due to the developed regions of the world: Europe, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, etc. (See Figure 2). However, future emissions will be dictated to an increasing degree by emerging countries that are experiencing their own industrial revolutions, which are being largely driven by increased consumption of fossil fuels.

Figure 2. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions are highest in developed countries.

While most developed countries saw their carbon dioxide emissions decline between 2006 and 2010, developing countries experienced sharp increases in carbon dioxide emissions over that time frame. In 2006, China displaced the U.S. as the largest global emitter of carbon dioxide. Since then, China’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 28%, or 1.8 billion metric tons. (Source: 2011 BP Statistical Review of World Energy).

In addition to China, some of the countries that experienced double-digit growth in carbon dioxide emissions between 2006 and 2010 include Peru (49%), India (40%), Vietnam (37%), Singapore (36%), and Saudi Arabia (28%). The net result was that even as the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Malaysia all saw declines in total carbon dioxide emissions over the past five years, global emissions grew by 11% over the same time frame.

An examination of the past decade shows that economic development in the Asia Pacific region is the current driver behind growing global carbon dioxide emissions. Over the past decade, carbon dioxide emissions declined slightly in North America and the EU, but grew steadily across the Asia Pacific region. Further development of the region could see it become responsible for 50% of global carbon dioxide emissions within a decade (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Asia Pacific’s carbon dioxide footprint is growing rapidly.

Not only does the Asia Pacific region emit the most carbon dioxide, it has the highest carbon dioxide emissions growth rate of any region. Other developing regions—the Middle East, Africa, and South and Central America—have much lower overall emissions than both the Asia Pacific region and more developed regions, but as Figure 4 shows, all developing regions are experiencing rapid growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

Figure 4. Carbon dioxide emissions are growing rapidly in developing regions.

This is understandable, considering that the majority of the world’s population lives in developing regions, and they seek to raise their standards of living. Developed countries have done that by burning fossil fuels, and developing countries seek the same modern conveniences—dishwashers, televisions, computers, and cars—enjoyed by the developed world and which are currently powered mostly by fossil fuels. (If you want to understand this desire that most of us in the West take for granted, see Hans Rosling’s excellent TED talk on The Magic Washing Machine).

Thus, due to growth in developing countries, global carbon dioxide emissions are likely to continue to increase in this decade just as they did in the past decade. If that trend is to be reversed, future development would need to take place without fossil fuels. This may be possible in theory, but no country has yet provided the blueprint to show that it can be done in practice.

Consider again the per capita emissions of the United States, China, and India. While the U.S. has heavily subsidized and incentivized renewable energy, per capita emissions in the U.S. are still more than 3 times those of China and over 13 times those of India. It is one thing to imagine that developing countries could rely on renewable energy to develop without increasing their use of fossil fuels, but the reality is that the developed regions have not shown that it can be done. Thus, the developed world is in the poor position of asking developing countries to do something we ourselves have not done.

The U.S. consumes 9 times as much oil per capita as China, and 24 times as much as India—thus the U.S. is an order of magnitude beyond being able to demonstrate an appealing, low-fossil-fuel lifestyle for these countries. Imagine your life with one-tenth of the oil you currently consume, and you may see why I view curbing Asia’s oil consumption as a huge challenge.


The outlook for global carbon dioxide emissions is not a good one for those of us who are concerned about such things. Because growth is currently being driven by very large numbers of people who are increasing consumption from a very low level, it is difficult to envision a pathway to development that does not involve additional fossil fuel consumption in the foreseeable future.

Developed countries might imagine that China’s demand can be arrested at under 3 barrels of oil per person per year, but we could not imagine our own lives at such a low level of consumption. Even if developed countries could cut their oil consumption by half or even two-thirds, that would still place us at around double China’s current per capita consumption. As a result I expect global carbon dioxide emissions to continue to grow for the foreseeable future despite efforts to bring them under control.

Link to Original Article: Climate Change and Developing Countries

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Ed Reid on August 9, 2012 at 9:23 am

    “It is one thing to imagine that developing countries could rely on renewable energy to develop without increasing their use of fossil fuels, but the reality is that the developed regions have not shown that it can be done.”

    Building a renewable energy future is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with several key pieces missing. In the case of renewables, the key missing piece is storage. Other missing pieces include competitive economics and perceived need on the part of consumers. Jigsaw puzzles are most often assembled beginning with the corners, followed by the edges; the center pieces are then placed to complete the picture. The US government and other developed nation governments have attempted to use mandates, subsidies and incentives to “make the corner pieces of the puzzle” (solar, wind, biomass and geothermal) larger, perhaps in the hope that they would “grow together” and form the complete perimeter of the picture. In the process, they have demonstrated to the developing countries that the renewables puzzle is “not ready for prime time”.

    China, in particular, appears to be willing to produce as much solar and wind hardware as the developed countries are willing to mandate, subsidize and incentivize. China is also building new coal generation as quickly as possible. Perhaps China understands something the developed nations would rather ignore. :-)

    • By Matt Z on August 10, 2012 at 9:19 am

      “competitive economics”

      that’s a tough one because every form of energy has been subsidized in some way. There are many studies that have shown that the level of direct subsidies to fossil fuels far exceeds those of renewable energy.

      Worse, the indirect subsidies of externalities make it difficult for other low-carbon technologies to compete. Perhaps once we start internalizing these costs (ie carbon price) then we can start evening the playing field.

      • By Ed Reid on August 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm

        The consumer sees the price in the market, which is not competitive.

        What is the correct carbon price?

  2. By Alice Finkel on August 9, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Excellent realistic analysis.  

    Population and demand are rising in undeveloped and emerging countries.  Population and demand are stagnant or shrinking in developed and advanced countries.

    This is in agreement with many other serious analysts who understand that what Europe and North America can realistically do about their own carbon emissions is essentially irrelevant to the global carbon dynamic.

    A new generation of nuclear power,  safer, cheaper, cleaner, expedited by a new breed of government leaders,  is the only way that North America and Europe are likely to cut their carbon consumption significantly.

    Big grid wind energy and big grid solar energy cannot be trusted with more than 20% of grid load, and that only with more than ample (and expensive) backup by more reliable and consistent forms of power.





    • By Matt Z on August 10, 2012 at 9:22 am

      if you Google “base load fallacy” you will find a whole bunch of smart people disagree with you.

      • By Base Load on August 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

        …I clicked a few links.  If those people are so smart, where are the graphs showing how they plan to match the additive output of the generation resources to the demand curves?

        Spare us all the agony.

        • By MattZ on August 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

          food for thought:

          Energy consulting firm Ecofys produced a report detailing how we can meet nearly 100% of global energy needs with renewable sources by 2050 –

          Stanford’s Mark Jacobson and UC Davis’ Mark Delucchi published a study in 2010 in the journal Energy Policy examining the possibility of meeting all global energy needs with wind, water, and solar (WWS) power. They found it would be plausible to produce all new energy from WWS in 2030, and replace all pre-existing energy with WWS by 2050. – and

          Another 2010 study by the German Renewable Energies Agency turned conventional baseload logic on its head, finding that due to their relatively inflexible ability to adjust to changing demand, “nuclear power plants are incompatible with renewable energies.” To meet forecasted wind production in Germany, conventional baseload operation would be cut in half by 2020, assuming renewable generation continues to enjoy priority dispatch. As renewables gradually replace conventional baseload capacity, only more flexible gas generators that can operate at under 50 percent of their capacity will still have a role to play. –

          A comprehensive  report on renewables integration by European consultancy eclareon GmbH surveyed the policies and grid functions of the 27 member states of the European Union, and found that “large quantities [of renewable generation] can be effectively managed on the grid.” Countries that planned for adequate grid capacity generally didn’t have a problem with accommodating renewables, and unsurprisingly, those are the same countries that have pushed for more renewable generation. –

          A report published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Renewable Electricity Futures Study (RE Futures), is an initial investigation of the extent to which renewable energy supply can meet the electricity demands of the continental United States over the next several decades. This study explores the implications and challenges of very high renewable electricity generation levels—from 30% up to 90%, focusing on 80%, of all U.S. electricity generation from renewable technologies—in 2050. –

  3. By MattZ on August 10, 2012 at 9:34 am

    HI Robert,

    (Sorry for the re-post – I posted this by accident in your previous column, but meant to post here)

    What troubles me about this analysis is that it doesn’t account for lifecycle CO2. I’d be interested to see how much of the of the Asia’s CO2 is actually a result of North America’s demand for products. Isn’t it not quite fair to blame developing countries for their emissions if they are really due to our consumption and the offshoring of manufacturing?  However I don’t know how much of their rising emissions are from our demand versus theirs – have you seen any analysis on this?


  4. By Robert Rapier on August 10, 2012 at 10:25 am

    However I don’t know how much of their rising emissions are from our demand versus theirs – have you seen any analysis on this?

    That question comes up a lot, and until recently I had never seen an answer to that question. But recently I read somewhere that I believe it was about a quarter of their emissions were from manufacturing goods. So one would have to suppose that they have greatly expanded their manufacturing base over the past 10 years for exported goods in order for that to be the primary driver. Given the economic slowdown in the West, I think that’s pretty unlikely. It may be a factor, but I don’t believe it is the driving factor.


    • By MattZ on August 10, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Thanks Robert.

      The other conclusion that I have problems with is that this analysis seems to lead people to the conclusion that this a developing world problem, which I’m not sure I agree with. Putting aside that most of the warming in the pipeline thus far is from our (developed world) emissions, how much of the developing world’s rising emissions is really from oil use? Aren’t the two largest culprits of rising emissions from electricity generation (coal) and meat consumption (which drives land use changes, deforestation, and increased methane)?  I know that this is an energy blog, but to really look at emissions, and the ability to control them, it would seem to me that we could allow the emissions of developing countries to rise on oil consumption in order to increase their quality of life, but we could still take a major dent out of global emissions if we increased energy efficiency overall (both in transport and stationary sources), got off coal (which we can do, but will cost) and simply ate less meat.  Again I would want to see an analysis of these various driving factors of emissions. Sure oil consumption will be difficult to reduce, but these other three technically are not.


  5. By Robert Rapier on August 10, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Putting aside that most of the warming in the pipeline thus far is from our (developed world) emissions, how much of the developing world’s rising emissions is really from oil use?

    It is true that the bulk of the inventory of CO2 in the atmosphere right now is presently from the developed world, but my point — and I have taken a number of columns to show this — is that it will increasingly be driven by developing countries in the future. They hold the key to reining in future emissions. The U.S. unilaterally making large cuts would have symbolic impact, but will do very little to actually impact upon the bottom line.

    Yes, a large component of emissions in general is coal consumption, and that is where the most effort should be placed in my opinion. I am not suggesting that we limit the developing world’s oil consumption. We lack both the ability to do that and the moral authority to argue for it.


    • By MattZ on August 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      “The U.S. unilaterally making large cuts would have symbolic impact, but will do very little to actually impact upon the bottom line.”

      While I do agree the future of emission reductions is in the developing world, I’m not so sure about your above conclusion. I have been reading your articles to back this up, but all of them have been focused on the energy component, which is an insufficient analysis to draw the above conclusion.

      What I’d like to know is how much of the developing world’s emissions are tied to our (developed countries) consumption choices? We discussed that we don’t know on the manufacturing side, but that its not likely more than 25% (which is still pretty significant), but what about other consumption/production like food, and meat especially. For example, meat production and consumption accounts for more GHGs than transport or industry and the average American consumes significantly more meat than anyone in the developing world… It’s not that I’m disagreeing with you, but I would need to see a more complete analysis of lifecycle GHGs from our consumption/production choices in ALL sectors, not just energy, in order to come to the conclusion that unilateral emissions cuts wouldn’t really matter.

  6. By Jeff Bloom on August 10, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    The article seems resigned to the fact not much can be done about global warming because we are so fossil fuel dependent and  developing countries will also need to participate. I think most people know that, but what’s the alternative? A 4C degree rise in average temperature by 2100 is scary, and it gets even worse after that. We need to act! If you have cancer, you have surgery and chemotherapy even though they may hurt and make you temporarily sick. 


  7. By Ed Reid on August 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    “A 4C degree rise in average temperature by 2100 is scary,”; and, speculative.

    • By Jeff Bloom on August 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      4C is on the high end what many models are predicting. .  There is going to be uncertainty in any prediction, especially the further out that you go, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. It’s sort of like standing out in the middle of a road and saying I don’t know if a car is going to come down at 25 or 75 mph so I am going to just stand here. No, you do something, and get off the road.


      • By Ed Reid on August 11, 2012 at 8:15 am

        The link above discusses the 1988 forecast by Dr. James Hansen of NASA GISS.

        Prediction is very hard, especially about the future – Yogi Berra

        • By Jeff Bloom on August 13, 2012 at 9:31 am
          • By tennie davis on August 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

            That link was entertaining;)

            It’s a classic example of why a catastrophic warmist can never be wrong, thay just move the goal post after the fact. They claim that you’re not using the correct input, of course that’s the inherent flaw in computer mods, garbage in garbage out.

            If Hanson saw an ice sheet bearing down on latitude 44, he would call up Mike Mann and say “we better go with scenario G or maybe S;)

            Sounds like a profitable religion to me.

            Carry on ye faithful followers.

            • By Jeff Bloom on August 13, 2012 at 2:02 pm

              Hansen predicted temperatures would increase and they did; just not to the extent, thank goodness, he predicted. The models are now more refined than they were 25 years ago.

               It would be wonderful if the models were wrong and there was no warming over the next 100 years. However the fundamentals of 1) CO2 increasing and 2) CO2 being a greenhouse gas (reflects infrared light more than visible light), cannot be rationally denied.



          • By Ed Reid on August 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

            Shoulda, coulda, woulda!

          • By Ed Reid on August 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm

            Please note that the current, lower sensitivity estimates are the result of curve fitting the temperature record, rather than new science. The sensitivity estimates can be expected to continue to decrease as the curves remain relatively flat.

  8. By Russ Finley on August 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Matt Z said:

    “There are many studies that have shown that the level of direct subsidies to fossil fuels far exceeds those of renewable energy.”

    Not to defend fossil fuel subsidies, but because their subsidies tend to be so small per unit energy produced (the metric that is meaningful) removing them would not be nearly enough to make renewables competitive (adding a few cents per gallon of oil or some other small amount to a ton of coal does not make a game changing difference). I’m a big fan of solar  but the truth is that the dollar value of the subsidy per unit of energy produced tends to be higher for renewable energy. I am eligible for up to $30 thousand dollars of subsidies if I put solar on my house. I recieved a $3,500 tax credit four my Prius, and $7,500 for my Leaf.

    That may or may not be a good thing, only time will tell. Subsidies are meant to be a short term investment to flush out technical and/or economic viability. Some subsidies are a bust, some pay off very well. Big hydro-power dams and nuclear are two examples of subsidies that have provided significant net economic benefit over time. Read Do Government Subsidies Ever Pay Off?


    “…if you Google “base load fallacy” you will find a whole bunch of smart people disagree with you.”

    There are also a lot of smart people who would tend to agree with her. To have a meaningful discussion on the topic of baseload you have to first understand what it is and agree to a definition. Most sources of renewable energy are baseload (hydro, biomass incineration, geothermal). Read A Base Load Free Power System   and Dirty, Baseload, Centralized, Renewable Energy.


    Renewables are highly dependent on location. Hydro makes good sense in the Pacific Northwest, Solar makes sense in Tucson. Many of the hits I got with your search term contain a link to a study  done for Australia by an Australian researcher.

    You can read a critique of that study here  and here


    We all know that we can find a study to support anything we want to believe on the internet. But let me focus on the most recent study in your list, from the National Renewable Energy Lab. Read The Exaggerated Promise of Renewable Energy.


     In their 80% renewable by 2050 scenario, combined, photovoltaic and concentrated solar make up about 13% of the mix. The study assumed no new nuclear, yet by 2050, old nuclear power plants are still estimated to produce more energy than photovoltaic.

    • By Tom G. on August 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Hi Russ:

      I am not saying your proposed or installed system is over priced, but in Arizona we are much closer to $5.00/watt installed.  Here are a couple of typical sites for comparisons.  

      Many people in Arizona just buy the components, go get a city permit and install the systems themselves all except for the final connection to the grid.  That connection is made by a licensed electrician and done after a utility inspection.


  9. By Tom G. on August 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Well let’s see, our host RR said he would be back on August 11.  Well today is August 11th – where is he?  He must be surfing, recovering from jet lag or doing the accumulated laundry from his trip.  In any case it is really good to have you back Robert.  

    As far as global warming is concerned, I am still sitting on the fence.  Not because I don’t believe it is getting warmer, but rather I don’t think we really know what all of the contributing factors really are.  I believe there are far more factors that we are not tracking instead of our old friend CO2 that makes stuff grow.  When someone can come up with a model and data that makes sense to me that takes into consideration ALL of the contributing factors; then I will read it.  But ignoring the 10′s of thousands of tons of refrigerants we use which are 1700 times more harmful than CO2 and the coal ash and the pollutants from our cars and trucks and even the dust we raise during farming – when we have a model that considers all of these factors; then I will jump on the band wagon and do what I can to implement change.

    But from my perspective we are currently FAILING big time as a country.  We COULD be sending solar panels manufactured in the U.S. to other countries instead of sending F18 fighter jets.  Wouldn’t it be better to help other countries reduce their carbon footprint from the beginning instead of after the fact like we are trying to do?  We could be sending people in Africa electric bicycles with batteries manufactured in the U.S. by companies like A123 instead of tanks, M16′s or armored vehicles.  Or does anyone even care that China is offering to BUY A123, an MIT technology creation, and take control of this U.S. battery manufacturer that we have invested millions and millions of taxpayer dollars in creating.  Does anyone care?          

    O.K. getting down off my soap box.  Welcome back Robert. 

    • By Robert Rapier on August 11, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      Well let’s see, our host RR said he would be back on August 11.  Well today is August 11th – where is he?

      Just got home about 20 minutes ago. Slogging through emails now. 

      Cheers, RR

    • By Russ Finley on August 12, 2012 at 12:19 am

       That estimate doesn’t account for my East-West slope, not to mention my roof isn’t big enough! And there is no way I’m installing panels my own panels on a three story house with a steep pitch : (

      • By Ed Reid on August 12, 2012 at 8:51 am

        Sounds like you need to move to a more solar-friendly house. :-)

        • By tennie davis on August 13, 2012 at 12:51 am

          “Sounds like you need to move to a more solar-friendly house”

          I suspect the wife might have somthing to say about that;)

          I once made a methane digester with three 55 gal. drums. Had it on the front porch and fed it foods scraps, among other things. My (ex) girl friend was not impressed with my “eccentricities”.

          After she moved on, the south facing porch became a green house, and provides most of my heating (I live in arizona).

          I must say, not having the girl friend saved a lot of $ for so many reasons;)

          • By Tom G. on August 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

            Now that is truly funny Tennie.  Thank you for the good chuckle.    

      • By Tom G. on August 12, 2012 at 11:09 am

        Chicken – its only 3 stories – get a rope, LOL

        I can certainly understand under those conditions.  Is there any room on the property for a ground mounted system?  Sometimes that can be a good alternative.  

  10. By ben on August 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Welcome back to the blog’s scribe-in-chief.   Though one kinda bristles at his reminder that the developed nations may be facing a Faustian bargain in promoting a future with far less in the way of fossil fuels and economic growth or continuation of the status quo and prospects of a much warmer climate for consumption.  The choices appear neither easy nor pleasant.  

    I think it fair to suggest that China and India and ……. will pay lip-service to concerns about global warming even as their near-term agenda remains intently one of promoting growth as the only viable option for achieving socioeconomic objectives.   We can mount the high horse all we want and speak in the spirit of swords-to-plowshares, but the cold, hard reality is that our example is too easy to follow.   So the question at hand is a very old one, and it necessarily speaks to leadership and in that vein to the very essence of the word.  

     I’m not sure ideology will do an awful lot of good in keeping the crops from wilting or ensuring the delivery of medicine to the sick.  But one thing remains dependably true; Washington politicians will keep on fiddling while the countryside yearns. 


    Welcome back, indeed:)












  11. By Jim Mills on May 3, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    CO2 does make stuff grow faster. some crops like wheat and soy 30% faster than they would normally. There is a catch, the seeds do not mature as fast as the plants grow. You also have to understand that rising temps. can also effect the plants negatively. Plants have optimum temps. for growth. to hot to cold, their range changes. the warmer temps and higher CO2 levels also encourages new pests, and fungi to enter the picture. Agriculture spends 11 billion dollars/year just on weeds. adding new pests, like the shield bug (just for illustration) means even more money developing solutions to these as of yet unknown problems. the models you’re talking about exist. they are largely ignored because they are not convenient. too much data will make a politician swoon, and not enough makes them dismiss it altogether, frustrating.

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