Chris Field on greenhouse gases from the developing world

Field is optimistic that poor and wealthy countries can cooperate on reducing emissions while still allowing for economic growth.

Climate expert Chris Field said that there’s a historic shift occurring in terms of where the world’s greenhouse gases are being produced. Dr. Field is founding director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Chris Field: We’re in a period of rapid transition, moving away from the history in which most of the greenhouse gas emissions came from activities from rich countries in the northern hemisphere, toward an environment in which the most rapid growth and increasingly the greatest fraction of the emissions are tending to come from developing countries like China, India.

A 2008 report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that China’s greenhouse gas emissions were over ten percent higher than those of the United States. The Agency first discovered China to be the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases in 2006. Dr. Field said that, in the coming years, he expects to see increased emissions from other developing regions, like South America and Africa.

Chris Field: Countries that don’t necessarily have the economic resources to invest in strategies that cut down their greenhouse gas emissions.

Field hopes that poor and wealthy countries can cooperate on solutions for reducing emissions.

Chris Field: But they’re going to involve hard decisions about who pays for what aspects, and who accepts constraints on the rate on which they either deploy new technologies or develop economically. These are among the most challenging questions a country can face.

Dr. Field added that the rapidly developing countries have the opportunity to develop cleaner energy, especially since they have less infrastructure in place. Field said the landscape of how many countries will think about the actions they’re going to take are really complicated for at least two very different kind of reasons.

Chris Field: One reason it’s complicated is because we know there’s big opportunity in developing the energy infrastructure of the 21st century and I think every country – the United States, India, China all want to be involved in leaders in developing that technology.

He said the other reason is because the poor nations are, with their increased manufacturing, becoming bigger polluters. He likes to think the rich nations can help poorer nations pollute less, while still allowing them to grow economically.

Chris Field: If we can find a way to take advantage of the opportunities that the wealthy countries have and that the poor countries have in order to work together, there should be some truly spectacular things that are possible.

Beth Lebwohl

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