First, I will admit I'm not an expert on climate agreements, I just believe scientists when they say we're doing the global warming.

As I understand the Paris Climate Agreement, each country resolved to reduce their own CO2 emissions, regardless of their current output.

It seems unfair to me that Egypt, for example, with low industrialization and poor economy is expected to reduce carbon output similar to how Germany, with highly advanced industry is going to reduce carbon output.

I am thinking that perhaps a better idea would be calculate desired CO2 emission/capita, and countries below that output could sell their "savings" to countries above it. This would still be a reason to reduce output for everyone - large emitters, because they would save money, small emitters because they could earn more - while simultaneously providing smaller economies with cash influx that could be spent for improving life quality and advancing technologies.

My understanding is that countries increase emissions in pursuit in GDP, since GDP nicely correlates with life quality (with exceptions, of course, the biggest one being USA), and life quality is what matters most to people.

How many erroneous assumptions did I make above? :D

  • If a nation is not a huge producer, wouldn't it be easier for them to reduce emissions by a certain percentage? Replacing 5 coal plants with one nuclear plant changes the percents a lot more for a country with 10 plants than it does a nation with 1000 plants. In that analysis, Germany is the one with an unfair burden, not Egypt. If all nations, big and small, all cut 20%, the total goes down 20%; a flat tax if you will.
    – dandavis
    Dec 12, 2019 at 7:37
  • The difference is that for Germany, this mean probably means optimizing industrial output; for Egypt, this may mean one hot meal per day less.
    – StanTastic
    Dec 12, 2019 at 9:52

2 Answers 2


You’re raising some interesting points. Not sure I understand your overarching question, but I’ll try to address some of the issues raised.

You’re right that the same relative emissions cuts (eg 40% across 40 years -- the EU’s Paris agreement target) pose completely different challenges to different countries, depending on their baseline emissions, the structure of the economy and the level of industrialisation in particular.

In the world’s least developed countries in particular, living standards are only beginning to rise as millions move out of very basic agricultural work and into rapidly growing cities. In these economies, per-capita emissions are likely to keep rising for years to come.

The idea to converge on a global average for per-capita emissions is intriguing but poses several challenges. For one, there is no global agreement -- politically speaking -- on how quickly emissions need to come down to prevent catastrophic effects on the climate. Different countries will experience different impacts, and their level of ‘resilience’ differs as well. Ironically, the lowest emitters are likely to be the worst hit.

Then there are complicated questions around how to account for past emissions. Highly industrialised countries like the UK or the US achieved their high living standards through decades of high emissions.

Your idea of ‘selling’ carbon savings to other emitters is somewhat separate from the question of fair emissions targets. What you are describing is called a carbon market, and multiple such systems are already in place around the world.

The key idea behind carbon markets is that they drive emissions reductions where they are the cheapest.

Again, since there is no global agreement on the cost of continuing emissions, it is extremely difficult to establish a system that will reduce global emissions at the pace that is required.


The Paris climate agreement was negotiated between different countries each trying to get a good deal for themselves but simultaniously trying to get a large total reduction. The overall result is a lot more complicated that each country reducing by a certain fixed percentage.

As an example, several European countries target a reduction of total CO2 emissions by some percentage, the exact number differing between countries. China and India target a reduction of CO2 emission per GDP, independent of their total CO2 emission. How this relates to the per head CO2 emissions of these countries relative to each other is a different topic yet again.

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