WHENEVER the problem of global warming comes up in a discussion, the talk inevitably centers on how to force industrialized nations to reduce their emissions of ``greenhouse'' gases.
The implication is that the affluent Western nations are the predominant source of the problem.
As the Clinton administration prepares to announce its climate change policy, it would do well to heed an exceptionally candid warning issued by Hisham Khatib, an official of the World Energy Council.
The most important fact, he says, and one apparently overlooked by advocates of expensive measures to reduce emissions, is that in the years ahead the increase in greenhouse gases will come primarily from developing countries.
A recent study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), ``Greenhouse Gas Emissions, The Energy Dimension,'' demonstrates that even if the industrialized OECD nations - North America, Western Europe, and Japan - were to keep their carbon dioxide emissions at 1987 levels, global CO2 levels would still rise by one-third by the year 2005.
With that backdrop, Mr. Khatib's simple message is critical: The developing world believes it has more important things to do than worry about global warming. They are more concerned about providing their populations with the basic necessities of life. Some developing countries remain unconvinced that the problem exists. Others see the global warming debate as a conspiracy by the industrialized world to restrain their economic progress.
Given these facts, it is unlikely that many developing countries would be willing to redirect already-scarce resources away from immediate problems and take steps that could curb their economic growth. Indeed, it seems that a few of the developing countries that have jumped on the climate-change bandwagon have done so because they see it as a source of new aid funds from the West.
Energy efficiency doesn't appear to be a priority for most developing nations. For example: In China the energy efficiency of coal-fired facilities is only 10 percent to 20 percent, compared to 40 percent in the United States. Similarly, Venezuela uses almost 64 percent more energy than the US to produce the equivalent of a dollar of gross domestic product, while Mexico uses 60 percent more.
In the transportation sector, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela use three to four times as much fuel per vehicle as do the OECD nations. These inefficiencies, obviously, produce higher-than-necessary levels of greenhouse gas emissions. An appropriate use for taxpayer dollars earmarked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be to encourage the sale of cleaner, more efficient US technology overseas.
OECD members are expected to reduce their share of global CO2 emissions by nearly 29 percent by 2015, and by nearly 47 percent by the middle of the next century. But the developing world will have increased its CO2 emissions by 140 percent by 2015 and nearly doubled that by 2050.
In fact, the OECD study shows that even if the industrialized nations of the OECD were to maintain their CO2 emissions at 1987 levels, the higher output from other countries would result in an overall rise in global CO2 emissions of nearly 160 percent by 2050.
Kahtib's message provides a more realistic perspective on the third-world contribution to greenhouse gases and global warming.