Global Issues >> Global Warming

Global Warming

Participation of Developing Countries in Limiting Emissions

A majority believes that the developing countries should be expected to limit their greenhouse gas emissions, but that these countries should not have to reduce emissions. If the developing countries do not accept such limits, a majority nonetheless favors proceeding with the Kyoto Treaty or working to reduce emissions.

Requiring Developing Countries to Limit Emissions

A key controversy surrounding the Kyoto Treaty is whether developing countries should be required to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. The US Senate has taken the position that the US should not sign a treaty without such requirements, while many developing countries and some developed countries have taken the position that they should not be expected to do so because their per capita emissions are so much lower.

A June 2004 PIPA poll found that a large majority does not expect developing countries to reduce their emissions but it does expect them to impose some kind of limits. Respondents were given a question with three response options. A minority of 30% chose the option of requiring cuts. A majority of 64% either chose the option of requiring that the developing countries minimize the rate of the growth of their emissions (42%) or of not requiring any limits (22%). At the same time, an overwhelming majority of 72% wanted to require some kind of limits either by cutting emissions (30%) or minimizing the growth of emissions (42%). These numbers are essentially unchanged from when PIPA asked this question in 1998. [1]

In the April 1998 PIPA poll respondents were also told that there is a controversy about "whether the less-economically developed countries should also be expected to cut their emissions of the greenhouse gasses that cause global warming." Respondents were then offered a choice between two statements. One statement presented the position taken by many developing countries: "On a per-person basis, less-developed countries produce far less greenhouse gases than developed countries. Therefore, the less-developed countries should not be required to limit their emissions until they develop their economies more." Only a minority -- 38% -- chose this statement. A majority of 55% preferred the opposing argument: "The less-developed countries produce a substantial and growing amount of greenhouse gases. Therefore, they should be required to limit their emissions." [2]

Other polls strongly confirm that strong majorities think developing countries should be expected to limit their emissions. However, in all cases the question was presented with only two options, thus not allowing the respondent to distinguish between the requirement to reduce or to limit. In an April 2001 Pew Research Center poll, only 24% concurred with the view that "since poorer countries did not cause much pollution, they should not have to bear as much of the burden in dealing with global warming," while 67% concurred with the view that "every country, rich or poor, should make the same changes now in order to limit future global warming, no matter how much of the pollution they created originally." [3] In a USA Today/Sankei Shimbun October 1997 poll, 73% of US respondents said "The same energy regulations to reduce global warming should apply to all countries around the world," while just 21% thought "There should be strict energy regulations for the United States and other advanced countries, and less strict regulations for Third World countries that have not yet achieved economic development." [4] Finally, a November 1997 Charlton Research poll asked respondents to agree or disagree with this statement: "Global warming concerns need to be addressed on a global scale by all countries including China, India, and Mexico and not just by a select few countries such as the US and Europe." An overwhelming 89% agreed (72% strongly), while only 8% disagreed. [5]

Readiness to Support Treaty Even Without Limits on Developing Countries

Another key question is what the developed countries should do if the developing countries do not agree to limits. A modest majority of 53% in PIPA's 1998 study felt the US should nonetheless sign the Kyoto Treaty -- contrary to the position of the US Senate. Given that 59% initially approved of ratification, it appears that support for the treaty is only diminished 6% if the developing countries refuse to accept limits. [6]

Other polls have also found that the majority feels the US should take steps to reduce global warming -- a less specific action than ratifying the Kyoto Treaty -- irrespective of what other countries do. Most recently, in a March 2001 Gallup question 52% said "the United States should reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that may contribute to global warming even if it does so by itself, " while 34% said the US should reduce emissions "only if other countries do so as well" (should not reduce at all, 10%; Time/CNN). The November 1997 CBS/New York Times poll asked those who had heard something about global warming (85% of the sample): "Should the United States take steps now to cut its own emissions of greenhouse gases, regardless of what other countries do, or should the US wait for many countries to agree to take steps together to cut down on greenhouse gases?" An overwhelming 76% said the US should take steps regardless of what other countries do. [7] In a September 1998 Mellman poll, 66% said the US " should take action to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions regardless of what other countries do," while another 14% said it should agree to do so "as long as other industrialized countries also agree to reduce." Only 11% said the US should reduce "only if all the other industrialized and all the developing countries agree to reduce," while 5% said the US "should not take any action to reduce."[8]