Each year, the Center for Global Development ranks 21 industrialized nations on how their policies affect poor countries. This year the ranking, called the Commitment to Development Index (CDI), focuses on the environment. During today's OnPoint, the CDI's author, David Roodman, discusses the findings of the report and the United States' last place ranking. He talks about why the CDI was expanded to include Brazil, Russia, India and China this year and explains how the findings play into the push for a new international climate policy.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is David Roodman, author of the Center for Global Development's Commitment to Development Index. David, thanks for coming on the show.
David Roodman: Pleasure to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: Each year the Center for Global Development produces a Commitment Development Index which ranks 21 industrialized nations on how their policies affect developing countries. What would you consider the headline of this year's report?
David Roodman: The headline, we did something new this year. The Commitment to Development Index rates rich countries on seven major policy areas in terms of how they're helping developing countries. And the area that we're highlighting this year is the environment component. In the past we've always looked at how the rich countries are helping the poor, which we think is very important. But this year we decided to see what would happen if we put in Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The so-called bricks, because there's a lot of debate about who should go first on global warming, United States and China? It turns out that those four developing countries are actually doing better than the United States.
Monica Trauzzi: And the U.S. ranks last when it comes to the environment. And the president recently held a meeting with 15 of the largest economies in the world to discuss creating a post-2012 climate policy. It ranks last out of the 21 richest nations. So how does this play into the current push to create an international climate policy?
David Roodman: Well, I think it buttresses the argument that the richest countries, the ones that are polluting the most per person, have to take the first step. But I wouldn't want to see it as an excuse for inaction on the part of China or India. Research recently done at the Center for Global Development, where I work, shows that even if the United States had never existed and if Europe had never existed, that the developing countries, such as China and India, are building coal plants fast enough and building cars fast enough that they would create a global climate problem on their own. And, in fact, it would only have the effect of rewinding the climate clock by about 30 years. So I think there's plenty of responsibility to go around, but I think what we need is a global compact where the rich countries take the first step to demonstrate their sincerity. I mean it says in the New Testament, "Of those to whom much is given, much is expected." And that's a value that's fairly universal.
Monica Trauzzi: So how do you score a country on the environment component? What do you look at?
David Roodman: You look at about 10 or 12 different indicators. Global warming is important, but not the only thing in there. So for example we look at greenhouse gas emissions per person. We look at whether a country's economy is growing a lot faster than its greenhouse gas emissions. A good example there is the Netherlands and also England, because they've done a lot to support renewable energy and also to tax gasoline. We look at subsidies for the fishing industry, because global fisheries or international fisheries are a shared resource. And often say a Spanish trawler will come and fish off the coast of Senegal. And then the Senegalese fishers have less to eat. We look at imports of the endangered species, imports of tropical timber, use of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, which is not about global warming. That's about ultraviolet radiation reaching us and causing skin cancer.
Monica Trauzzi: One of the things you point out about the U.S. and why it loses points is because it did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. So if the U.S. signs on to a post-2012 international agreement and also moves ahead on creating its own domestic policy on climate, how do you see the ratings shifting? Is it really going to jump up a lot?
David Roodman: That would definitely make a difference, but we do put more weight on deeds rather than words. So what would really make a difference is if U.S. carbon emissions start to come down. Signing Kyoto is counted in there, but not very much. If there were a new global treaty reached then we would also bring that into the index.
Monica Trauzzi: And your number one ranking went to Norway. What are they doing right?
David Roodman: They are doing a good job of restraining carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and cars. And also their forests are growing back quite quickly and that's absorbing a lot of carbon from the air. I should explain that we're looking here at rich countries ability -- we're looking here at whether rich countries are living up to their potential to help, right? So of course the United States emits more than any other rich country. But we're not just looking at that. We're looking at emissions per person. And that's how you can compare a large country like the United States to a very small one like Norway.
Monica Trauzzi: Right, because some one might say is it fair to compare Norway to the U.S. because the U.S. has that many more people.
David Roodman: That's right. And it goes the same way for good things, like foreign aid. Of course the United States gives more foreign aid, but what we're looking at it is how much aid it gives for the size of its economy.
Monica Trauzzi: So out of all the findings in the report, what surprised you the most?
David Roodman: Surprised me the most? On the overall index, the general idea is to look at how rich countries are helping developing countries. Not just in foreign aid, but in all these other areas, like environmental policy. I was really surprised at how poorly Japan does. It doesn't give much foreign aid for its size. It has very high barriers to trade and immigrants from developing countries. And it doesn't do much on peacekeeping. It is a bit stronger on the environment. I mean the environment component, I was surprised to see Norway number one as we've are discussed. And that was because we were now counting in net emissions, which are negative, from reforestation.
Monica Trauzzi: Who's made the greatest improvement since the last index that you put out?
David Roodman: Overall there hasn't been a lot of change from year to year. So there's no good answer to that question.
Monica Trauzzi: And like you mentioned, investment in developing countries is a major factor in the climate discussions. So who's at the top there?
David Roodman: On investment?
Monica Trauzzi: Yes.
David Roodman: Some of the best performers are the U.K. and the Netherlands. They're both very good at supporting overseas investment by their companies of the right kind. So even as they support the investment they're working to make sure that it doesn't lead to a lot of environmental abuses in those countries and that it's not accompanied by a lot of corruption and bribery. Of course no one is perfect in this domain, but they're making more efforts to ensure that investment in developing countries is actually the healthy kind.
Monica Trauzzi: It's predicted that developing countries will suffer the most from the effects of climate change. How does that fact relate to the overall standings in the CDI?
David Roodman: That asymmetry is fundamental to understanding what's going on here and why I think the index is so important on this point. Rich countries are doing most of the harm to the global atmosphere and to other environmental resources. But, at least when it comes to global warming, it's going to be poor countries that are going to bear the brunt. A recent World Bank study found that if sea level rises by 2 meters, about 6 feet, that will flood 90 million people out of their homes. Almost all of them in developing countries. Principally Egypt, Bangladesh and Vietnam, where there are large populations in low-lying river deltas. You can tell similar stories for agriculture. A recent study by my colleague Bill Klein of the Center for Global Development found that agricultural output in India, especially southern India, could go down by about 40 percent because of the combination of higher temperatures and less rain.
Monica Trauzzi: Bill was on our show a couple of weeks ago talking about that new study. This was very interesting. I thank you for coming on the show. We'll end it right there.
David Roodman: You're welcome.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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