Bending the Linear toward the Circular
The Need for Leadership Among the Big CO2 Producers
3 min read

The Need for Leadership Among the Big CO2 Producers

Only 14 nations produce two-thirds of the world's CO2 and related emissions.
The Need for Leadership Among the Big CO2 Producers

In my previous post, I discussed the large nations of Europe and the imperative for their leadership in global efforts at climate-change abatement and creating sustainable economies.

I have a little more context to that discussion: I ran a little twitter poll recently asking people to vote on which European country will be the most consequential – not necessarily the largest – within 30 years. I provided four choices: Germany, France, Sweden, and Russia.

All countries received votes, with Germany receiving the most.

I listed Germany and France because they are the two largest EU nations, and were the driving forces behind creation of the EU, the Schengen visa zone, and the Euro, all initiatives meant to unify as much of Europe as possible to the degree possible. As I noted in my previous post, France is emerging as a sustainability leader while Germany has a lot of work to do.

I listed Sweden because of its potential role as an arbiter and exerter of moral leadership. Certainly, the Scandinavians enjoy their role in exerting so-called soft leadership, even though the region's four countries have a combined population of about 20 million people.

Big Trouble in Big Russia
I listed Russia because of its status as both a European and Asian country. Russia is the fourth-largest CO2 emitter in the world, and spews out 80% of the per-person emissions of the US, with an economy less than 20% of its per-person size. The nation's leadership has shown little inclination to address its emissions-reduction challenge, which is among the most dire on the planet.

Russia remains a powerful, dangerous country, one sophisticated enough to have meddled successfully with the US political process and EU dialogs as well. Its tremendous, deep culture remains in contrast with its melancholy history of trying to integrate with the European elite politically and be treated as an equal partner.

In China and India, Too
Discussion of Russia must  lead to discussion of the world's other large CO2 producers. The world's three largest CO2 emitters are certainly aware of the situation. In fact, China (at more than twice the level of the US), the US, and India (at a rate about that of the EU) make claims about their activities in these areas.

China and the US, for example, each made what they believed to be major announcements during the recent Climate Week NYC, held during a General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

Yet China finishes dead last in our rankings of the emissions-reduction challenges facing the nations of the world, with a still-coal-fired economy that emits more than 30% of the world's entire emissions, and an opaque government that does not appear to be open to much cooperation, collaboration, or even substantial change as far as it will tell anyone.

India finished second to last; as the world's third-highest producer, with continued Heraklean efforts to lift its 1.4 billion-person nation to developed status, we've estimated it will take almost half a trillion US dollars simply to generate enough electricity to bring India up to 40% of the developed-world level. This amount does not include all the infrastructure and consequences of a growing economy that would come with such a vast increase in power generation.

And the USA
Hey, don't be sniggering in the corner over there if you're in the United States. The US faces the world's fourth-most dire challenge (ahead of only China, India, and Nigeria), as it grapples with one of the highest per-capita emissions rate in the world and a political climate in which at least 35% of its population and 46% of its Congress is opposed to environmental programs of any kind.

The remaining large nations in the rogues' gallery facing the world's most dire challenges include Russia, Mexico, Angola, Brazil, Congo and South Africa, Indonesia, Iran, and Pakistan.

Collectively, the 14 nations listed here produce two-thirds of the world's CO2 and related emissions. Any one of the nations facing a dire challenge is worthy of a lengthy, serious analysis of their situation and what sort of mammoth, sustained effort it would take to put them on a sound path to sustainability and a circular economy.

The individual challenges facing each of them can appear intractable. As always, Mother Nature doesn't worry about such particulars. We must, collectively as human beings, make these challenges tractable.

Moral leadership from small countries such as Sweden can only go so far. Without serious, sustained dialog among designated, influential experts from the US, China, India, and Russia, there is little hope for the future. What can organizations such as the Smart Nations Foundation, and any organizations in  which you participate, help develop and drive this dialog?