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Country Stakes in Climate Change Negotiations

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Oct 4, 2007, Craig Meisner and Uwe Deichmann

Using a comprehensive geo-referenced database of indicators relating to global change and energy, a set of composite measures provide insight into countries’ likely attitudes toward international treaties that regulate carbon emissions. Countries classified according to source and impact vulnerability using these composite measures show clear differences in factors that determine likely negotiating positions. Successful negotiation of a global protocol will likely require compensation and cross-subsidy mechanisms that reflect, at a minimum, the dimensions of vulnerability considered in this study.

Country stakes in a global protocol on greenhouse gas emissions involve tradeoffs among positive orientation (hypothesized to include the availability of renewable energy sources, sequestration potential, potential impacts from sea-level rise, and weather damage) and negative orientation (assumed to be related to nonrenewable energy sources and employment vulnerability).  While it is difficult to generalize about “typical” conditions confronting individual countries (especially as additional dimensions are added), a clear regional clustering of vulnerability warrants attention to regional strategies.

Research based on these hypothesized relationships shows that countries with positively oriented stakes are concentrated in Latin America and West Africa, while Eastern Europe and Central Asia have a large number of countries with unfavorable stakes. Other regions have mixed conditions, but individual countries within those regions often have persistently favorable or unfavorable stakes.

Unfortunately, countries with unfavorable stakes (using the composite measures obtained in this research) include some of the largest emitters of CO2 (e.g., India and China).  Together, the states with unfavorable stakes account for almost one-half of all CO2 emissions from World Bank partner countries.  In contrast, countries with favorable stakes account for about 19% of total emissions.

One cause of source vulnerability comes from employment effects in the restructuring of energy intensive sectors

 Distribution of employment vulnerability

A global emissions reduction protocol will impose a greater carbon shadow price shock on countries with significant hydrocarbon resources that provide locally consumed energy and may also be a primary source of export earnings.  The highest source-vulnerability countries are scattered across all world regions, with coal particularly important in Eastern Europe, and oil and gas concentrated in Russia, Norway, the Middle East and other OPEC countries.1

Shadow price shocks will be more severe in countries with high employment in energy intensive industries. Generally these tend to be low-income countries (Fig. 1).

High source vulnerability due to large reliance on hydrocarbons can be partially offset by access to renewable energy sources. The analysis generates estimates of potential energy production from solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biofuels.2

The resulting scenario shows large renewable potential in relation to current use in many developing countries—particularly in Africa—where countries are not yet locked into carbon intensive energy systems (Fig. 2).  But even larger countries, such as Russia, Brazil, and Argentina have considerable scope for expanding alternative energy sources.

Another major dimension of vulnerability relates to the direct impacts of global warming on countries

The anticipated impact of sea-level rise (SLR) due to thermal expansion and higher ocean levels from ice-cap melting will likely go along with higher storm surges.3  Recent evidence suggests that the polar ice caps may be melting faster than anticipated, and forecasts of a 1-meter rise in this century no longer appear implausible.4 

The East Asia and Pacific region is expected to be strongly affected by a potential sea-level rise. In eight of ten measured non-island countries in the region, the estimated land areas that may be impacted currently produce more than 1 percent of GDP.5

The one-meter scenario suggests that sea-level rise could heavily impact Vietnam’s Mekong and Red River Deltas. In China the amount of land potentially affected, in absolute value, is quite large. In Sub-Saharan Africa, four countries would experience heavy impacts: Mauritania, Benin, Senegal, and The Gambia.  And in the Middle Eastern and North Africa region Egypt and Tunisia could be strongly affected. Even relatively “modest” impacts for countries such as Bangladesh, Brazil, India, and Mexico translate to very large absolute numbers.

 Regional forecasts of future climate-related natural hazard risk remain uncertain, although there is general agreement that variability will increase and existing patterns are likely to be exacerbated. 6,7 Country indices were constructed using information on recorded disasters during 1960-2002 attributed to weather-related events: droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, wild fires, and wind storms. 

Regional differences in human vulnerability to weather events are very large

The indices suggest significant impacts for South and East Asia, lower indices for Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, and relatively minor impacts in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and developed countries.  However, there are significant outliers in several regions that have extreme vulnerability relative to the regional average, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Mozambique, and Sudan.

Four broad conclusions lay out the challenges

  • Within the dimensions of the source and impact vulnerability identified, neighboring states, even in the same region, may have very different orientations toward a global protocol (Fig. 3).  Policy analysis and dialogue tailored to specific conditions in each country will be better received.
  • Despite significant country-level variation in each region, the analysis indicates sufficient regional clustering to warrant some attention to regional strategies.
  • Even with good information and programs tailored to country conditions, the results suggest that many countries may resist a global protocol unless they are compensated for disadvantages associated with source vulnerability.
  • Many countries with persistently unfavorable stakes in emissions reduction, as a group, account for almost one-half of all CO2 emissions from the World Bank’s partner countries.

Reasons for optimism

Although individual countries have very different stakes in climate change negotiations, the global stakes are much clearer and more positive.  The current assessment of renewable energy alternatives suggests that the world community can draw on significant clean energy sources to ease the transition to global sustainability.

Ultimately, technical and economic barriers may be less significant than institutional and political approaches

Once the international community becomes convinced that we face a climate crisis, it should be possible to organize the politics of economic incentives that will have to accompany a truly global protocol for greenhouse emission reductions.  It appears that successful negotiation of a global protocol will likely require compensation and cross-subsidy mechanisms that reflect, at a minimum, the dimensions of vulnerability considered in this study.


PIET BUYS, who died in a car accident in May 2007, was an Environmental Specialist with the Development Research Group (Sustainable Rural and Urban Development Research Team).  His interests included geographical information systems and spatial analysis techniques related to development.

UWE DEICHMANN is a Senior Environmental Specialist in the Development Research Group (Sustainable Rural and Urban Development Research Team) and coordinator of its Spatial Analysis Team.  His research interests include the geographic aspects of development.  He is currently working on the impacts of natural hazards in developing countries, prospects for renewable energy, and the role of infrastructure in regional development.  Email:

CRAIG MEISNER is an Environmental Economist in the Development Research Group (Sustainable Rural and Urban Development Research Team).  His research interests include agricultural systems, environmental valuation, and pollution management issues.  He is currently working on alternative rural energy strategies for Sub-Saharan African countries.  Email:

THAO TON THAT is a researcher at the United Nations Environment Programme’s DEWA/GRID Geneva Office.

DAVID WHEELER is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he works on issues related to climate change, natural resource conservation, African infrastructure development, sustainable development indicators, and the allocation of development aid.  From 1993-2006, as a Lead Economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, he directed a team that worked on environmental policy and research issues in collaboration with policymakers and academics in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, and other developing countries.  Email:

Related Resources


1.  For detailed descriptions of data sources, assumptions, methods, summary tables and country rankings see “Country Stakes in Climate Negotiations: Two Dimensions of Vulnerability,” Piet Buys, Uwe Deichmann, Craig Meisner, Thao Ton That, and David Wheeler, Policy Research Working Paper 4300, World Bank, Washington, DC, 2007. 
2.  Nuclear energy was not considered due to unresolved issues of permanent storage of waste and potential proliferation of nuclear material for weapons manufacture. 
3.  “First Estimates of Changes in Extreme Storm Surge Elevation Due to Doubling CO2, ” R. A. Flather and J. A. Smith, Global Atmos. Ocean Syst. 6: 193-208, 1998.
4.  “A Semi-Empirical Approach to Projecting Future Sea-Level Rise," S. Rahmstor, Science 315: 368-705, 2007. 
5.  The following figures refer to sea-level rise of 3 meters. Relative country impact rankings would be similar for a one-meter rise. For details see “The Impact of Sea Level Rise on Developing Countries: A Comparative Analysis,” Susmita Dasgupta Benoit Laplante, Craig Meisner, David Wheeler and J. Yan, Policy Research Working Paper 4136, World Bank, Washington, DC, 2007 
6. “Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones over the Past 30 Years,” K. Emanuel,   Nature 436: 686-88, 2005.
7. “Changes in Surface Water Supply Across Africa with Predicted Climate Change,” M. De Wit and J. Stankiewicz, Science 311: 1917-1921, 2006.
8.  Emergency Disasters Database (EM-DAT) maintained by the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Brussels.

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