UN: Global prosperity is causing global warming

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Growing global economies through expanded trade between rich and poor countries is driving global warming, according to a draft report from the United Nation’s climate bureaucracy. The international agency said that rich countries are “outsourcing” carbon dioxide emissions to poor countries through increasing international trade.

The draft report, obtained by the U.K.’s Guardian, argues that these “outsourced” emissions come “in the form of electronic devices such as smartphones, cheap clothes and other goods manufactured in China and other rising economies but consumed in the U.S. and Europe.”

Much of those increased emissions came from coal plants in China and other developing economies that are used to power factories that produce goods for U.S. and European consumers, the U.N. report says.

“A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries,” the draft report reads. “A growing share of global emissions is released in the manufacture of products that are traded across international borders.”

Developing economies like China and India are responsible for manufacturing many of the goods consumed in rich countries like the U.S. These countries have cheaper labor costs and are burdened by fewer regulations on industry. Manufacturing exports has helped raise the living standards in developing economies.

“China’s emergence as a manufacturing powerhouse has been astonishing,” according to economic analysts at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. “In seventh place, trailing Italy, as recently as 1980, China not only overtook the United States in 2011 to become the world’s largest producer of manufactured goods but also used its huge manufacturing engine to boost living standards by doubling the country’s GDP per capita over the last decade.”

While the U.N. laments the carbon dioxide emissions released by increasing global trade, economists argue that more and freer trade benefits all parties involved.

“Free trade increases prosperity for Americans — and the citizens of all participating nations — by allowing consumers to buy more, better-quality products at lower costs,” argues Donald Boudreaux, an economist at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. “It drives economic growth, enhanced efficiency, increased innovation, and the greater fairness that accompanies a rules-based system. These benefits increase as overall trade — exports and imports — increases.”

Coal-fired power has also dramatically raised living standards for poor countries. For example, virtually all of the global poverty reduction from 1981 to 2008 took place in China, which gets more than 70 percent of its power from coal, according to the World Coal Association (WCA).

“No other poverty alleviation strategy in modern history has been more effective than the one implemented by China and driven by an economy fuelled at over 70 percent by coal,” said Milton Catelin, chief executive of WCA.

The U.N. draft report warned that “emissions of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases are warming the planet grew twice as fast in the first decade of the 21st century as they did during the previous three decades,” reports The Guardian.

China and other developing countries have doubled their annual carbon emissions since 2000 to 14 gigatons per year, according to the U.N. About two gigatons of these emissions are from manufacturing goods for export. This means that consumers in rich countries, like the U.S., can be blamed by poor countries for a sizable share of their emissions that may be causing global warming.

Assigning blame for emissions has become a major focus of U.N. climate negotiations as diplomats from poor nations urge the international body to force rich countries to pay them for past emissions. Laying the blame for portions of emissions in poor countries on rich countries could mean that taxpayers in those countries will fork over more to the U.N. for climate payments.

“If we are just looking at our national inventory to understand the emissions trends, it is just not telling the full picture of our impacts,” Cynthia Cummis, a climate policy expert at the World Resources Institute, told The Guardian. “We need to understand the full life cycle of all the goods and services that we are purchasing and selling.”

“The consumers that are importing those goods have some responsibility for those goods that are happening outside of our boundaries,” Cummis added.

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