, Volume 71, Issue 1-2, pp 141-173

Calculating Historical Contributions To Climate Change – Discussing The ‘Brazilian Proposal’

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Abstract

This paper discusses methodological issues relevant to the calculation of historical responsibility of countries for climate change (‘The Brazilian Proposal’). Using a simple representation of the climate system, the paper compares contributions to climate change using different indicators: current radiative forcing, current GWP-weighted emissions, radiative forcing from increased concentrations, cumulative GWP-weighted emissions, global-average surface-air temperature increase and two new indicators: weighted concentrations (analogue to GWP-weighted emissions) and integrated temperature increase. Only the last two indicators are at the same time ‘backward looking’ (take into account historical emissions), ‘backward discounting’ (early emissions weigh less, depending on the decay in the atmosphere) and ‘forward looking’ (future effects of the emissions are considered) and are comparable for all gases. Cumulative GWP-weighted emissions are simple to calculate but are not ‘backward discounting’. ‘Radiative forcing’ and ‘temperature increase’ are not ‘forward looking’. ‘Temperature increase’ discounts the emissions of the last decade due to the slow response of the climate system. It therefore gives low weight to regions that have recently significantly increased emissions. Results of the five different indicators are quite similar for large groups (but possibly not for individual countries): industrialized countries contributed around 60% to today’s climate change, developing countries around 40% (using the available data for fossil, industrial and forestry CO2, CH4 and N2O). The paper further argues including non-linearities of the climate system or using a simplified linear system is a political choice. The paper also notes that results of contributions to climate change need to be interpreted with care: Countries that developed early benefited economically, but have high historical emission, and countries developing at a later period can profit from developments in other countries and are therefore likely to have a lower contribution to climate change.