, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 443-463

Population, Development and Global Warming: Averting the Tragedy of the Climate Commons

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Abstract

Carbon emissions from fossil fuel use and other human activity are predicted to cause a significant warming of the global climate, according to a growing consensus of scientists. Global warming would have substantial negative effects on the world environment and economy. Human population and economic growth continue to drive both energy use and carbon emissions. While the developed countries are the largest source of present and past emissions, developing countries are rapidly catching up. China will probably surpass the United States as the largest carbon emitter early in the next century. The global warming treaty signed in Rio in 1992 relies entirely on voluntary emission caps for developed countries and has had little or no apparent effect on emissions. Much stronger steps must be taken to avoid or lessen potential climate change. A globally determined but nationally imposed carbon tax should be adopted to internalize the future costs of carbon emissions into the present cost of fossil fuel and other carbon sources. This would allow the maximum use of free market forces and individual choice to determine how carbon emission reductions are achieved. In addition, national emission caps for all countries should be established. International trade mechanisms can be used to support universal implementation of these measures. Where possible, global warming policy should include strong but equitable incentives for sustainable development and population stabilization, important goals in themselves regardless of the extent of future climate change.