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Global Issues Confronting a Global Issue

In 1995, 73 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions from human activities came from developed countries. The United States is the largest single source, accounting for 22 percent. During the next few decades, however, 90 percent of the world's population growth will take place in developing countries, some of which are also undergoing rapid economic development. If current trends continue, by 2035 developing countries will account for more than half of global carbon dioxide emissions. China, which is currently the second largest source, is expected to displace the United States as the largest emitter by 2015.

Certainly the greatest challenge to the global reduction in greenhouse gases is to develop consensus among the major greenhouse gas-emitting nations on the steps and timetables that should be followed to reduce emissions. Nations approach the greenhouse gas issue from a myriad of positions.
For example, Germany has called for a 15 percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2010 and has indicated that it would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 30 percent. But Germany may have an easier time than other countries in meeting its ambitious target. In 1990, the selected benchmark year for emission levels, Germany had just absorbed the Soviet-style factories and power plants of East Germany. The relative inefficiency of these facilities and their lack of pollution control technologies made environmental improvements a relatively easy task. Germany's carbon dioxide emissions dropped nearly 10 percent from 1990 to 1993. In England, which relied primarily on coal for heat and electricity in 1990 and has since switched many of its facilities to natural gas, carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by about 3 percent in the same period.

Russia and the former Soviet republics are in much the same situation as Germany. The decline of industrial production since the fall of the Soviet Union has resulted in carbon dioxide emissions that are 30 percent lower today than they were in 1990. Emission reductions in former communist countries were so dramatic in the early part of the 1990s that they stabilized world energy-related carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels through 1994, despite continuing rapid growth in the developing world.

On the other hand, Japan, which produces virtually none of the oil it consumes, invested heavily in higher-efficiency transportation and other energy technologies after the oil crises of the 1970s. Electric power production was shifted largely from oil-burning plants to nuclear plants. Japan has taken a more moderate climate change position, calling for a 5 percent reduction from 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2012.

Australia is one of the industrialized countries that relies most heavily on coal and oil. These fossil fuels account for 77 percent of Australians' energy use. Moreover, Australia exports significant quantities of coal to nations along the Pacific Rim and elsewhere. Australia has taken steps to improve the efficiency of its domestic industry -- more that 50 major companies are partners in a government-backed program to reduce emissions. But Australia has not supported binding greenhouse gas emission targets, proposing instead that individual nations set specific goals and indicating that it wants to be allowed to increase emissions.

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