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Reducing carbon emissions by improving global equality

26 October 2010 Inderscience

Reducing the inequalities between rich and poor nations could be the main driver for avoiding the worst effects of climate change and even reducing atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, according to UK researchers writing in the International Journal of Global Warming.

Gemma Cranston and Geoffrey Hammond of the University of Bath, have estimated the relative contribution of population size and economic growth on global carbon emissions to the year 2100 have been made for the industrialised 'North' and the populous 'South’' of the planet which accounts for four fifths of the population. They based their calculations of carbon dioxide emissions on a breakdown of sustainability terms, historical data, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) future emission scenarios.

The team explains that the rise in average global temperatures seen in recent decades is caused mainly by the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to our burning fossil fuels for power and transport. In 2005, carbon dioxide levels were more than a third higher, at 381 parts per million by volume of gas than they were before the industrial revolution (280 ppm) but the bulk of the rise has occurred since 1995. As of October 2010, the concentration is 388 ppm.

Rising carbon dioxide levels leads to global warming, which causes environmental degradation and damages global ecosystems. The industrialised world has been the main protagonist given that carbon dioxide lasts about 100 years in the atmosphere, but as the developing nations become increasingly mechanised and urbanised, the balance is shifting. Indeed, the carbon emissions of Asia more than doubled from 1990 onwards.

The new study shows that economic wealth is the most significant driver of carbon emissions rather than population growth during the 21st Century. Although for the 'South', regional population and economic growth are both likely to play a significant role in affecting future levels of year-on-year carbon emissions. However, it is the cumulative build-up of atmospheric carbon dioxide since the 1850s, the period of the industrial revolution in the North, that is largely to blame for the problem of elevated carbon dioxide levels.

"To achieve global sustainability, a serious commitment to GHG emissions reduction is required, and a greater dedication to environmental protection in both the industrialised North and the populous South," the team says. "The industrialised nations should take a lead in mitigating the global release of greenhouse gases, because they are principally responsible for their lifetime concentrations." The researchers also point out that the developing world could benefit from the assistance of industrial countries to promote their economic growth, which would improve resource and energy efficiency.

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