Nature and Biodiversity

What is the link between carbon emissions and poverty?

Adam Goldstein
Senior Fellow, Emory University
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Future of the Environment

Almost two decades after Kyoto, negotiators at the COP21 climate conference reached a global agreement to limit global warming to 2° Celsius. It is meant to keep global warming in check and minimize and mitigate the adverse effects of global warming on livelihoods all over the world. But if this agreement is to benefit all, why was it so hard to reach?

One of the most difficult challenges is to strike a balance between curbing global carbon emissions and allowing developing countries to increase theirs. Countries like China and India, for example, which have experienced unprecedented development over the last thirty years, are a case in point.

The graph below shows metric tons of carbon emissions per capita and the number of people living in extreme poverty in various regions over the past 30 years. What is clear is that regions that have seen extreme reductions in poverty, specifically East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia, have increased their carbon emissions by almost 200%. The only region that has decreased its carbon emissions over this time period, sub-Saharan Africa, has seen the number of people living in extreme poverty almost double.

emissionsSource: Mekko Graphics, Chart of the Week

It is no surprise then, that India, the fourth largest carbon emitter in the world, along with other developing countries at the Paris talks demanded to receive the right to continue to emit carbon for at least the next 15 years to support their growth. “Climate justice demands that, with the little carbon space we still have, developing countries should have enough room to grow,” India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi said at the start of the meeting. Many other developing countries share that point of view.

Reducing poverty rates and boosting economic growth is at the top of many of the developing nation’s agendas. As our analysis shows, that makes it extremely important for the world to figure out how to decouple economic development and carbon emissions.

Authors: David Goldstein is Founder and President at Mekko Graphics. Adam Goldstein is a senior at Emory University and an observer at the Paris climate conference.

Image: An internally displaced woman collects water from a pond to construct a mud-house at the Aboushok camp in El Fasher, North Darfur, Sudan, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

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Nature and BiodiversityEconomic Growth
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