Breath of Clarity

Global Warming Problems and Solutions by Dr. Joseph Stiglitz

Dr. Joseph Stiglitz emphasized emitting greenhouse gases is a severely illogical experiment, and its massive negative consequences are evident. The current situation results from three main problems.

The United States, as the world’s largest polluter contributing over 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions, refuses to join international initiatives to combat climate change (Stiglitz 2011, 5:38). The U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (Links to an external site.) is simply a modern illustration of its isolation from the Kyoto Protocol (Denchak 2018). The U.S. justifies its emissions with a high Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Simultaneously, the developing countries who will be contributing to 50% of the pollution by 2035, firmly hold industrial countries responsible. If the U.S. and the developing nations had the same pollution per capita, the latter would comparatively not face constraints for decades. Developing countries will not jump aboard the mission to prioritize clean energy until others who are relatively less poor take the lead.

Thirdly, without proper enforcement to mitigate all pollution sources, the tragedy of the commons (Links to an external site.) is going to deplete the world’s resources (Hardin 1968). For example, in the case multiple shepherds are letting too many sheep graze in the same area, eventually the grass is no longer going to exist, and the collective well-being is undermined (Stiglitz 2011, 7:40). Further, Stiglitz urges uncertainty surrounding global warming’s legitimacy is a significant excuse in government. At the same time, certainty derived from a collection of scientific data illustrates a need for solutions to failures in the market.

In the midst of globalization closely integrating the world both economically and environmentally, all nations share a common atmosphere and need to create incentive-based environmental policy.

Implementing regulation, designed to charge people based on their amount of pollution, is not enough to save the human species (Stiglitz 2011, 9:45). Moreover, Stiglitz urges revenue gained from costs of pollution can be allocated to researching new sound technology and strategy.

Additionally, it’s important to establish a social cost to pollution. Countries need to be compensated for providing a net positive service to the entire global community through a credit-based system which entails heavy polluters paying impoverished countries for taking environmentally sustainable action (Stiglitz 2011, 19:00). The Kyoto Protocol’s plan to reduce deforestation by having a credit-based system within a single nation cutting down and planting new trees is inefficient. The Sustainable Development Mechanism within the Paris Agreement did tackle a shortcoming of the Kyoto Protocol by establishing the fortunate, high-polluting countries as responsible for contributing funds to developing nations who take positive global climate change action (Denchak 2018). According to Stiglitz, the model encourages developing nations to implement efficient processes which supports their upward mobility.

Stiglitz recommends the government provides incentive to fortunate nations who are creating innovative technology. Understanding progress in terms of Green GDP (Links to an external site.), which values both economic prosperity and sustainable well-being, is crucial (Pokharel and Bhandari 2017). Stiglitz shows it’s feasible for nations with a high standard of living to not pollute and instead embrace innovation. Epitomes include France implementing nuclear energy and Norway installing hydroelectric mechanisms (Stiglitz 2011, 16:10). When we measure GDP correctly, many conflicts between the environment and economy disappear. In conclusion, Stiglitz highlights the illusion of separation amongst inevitably environmentally interdependent countries is detrimental to world health.


Denchak, Melissa 2018. “The Paris Agreement: Everything You Need to Know”. National Resources Defense Council.

Pokharel, Surya and Bishnu Bhandari 2017. “Green GDP: Sustainable Development”. The Himalayan Times.

Comment by Rachel Hartley:

Hi Mary, excellent post. You mention how the Paris Agreement addressed a serious flaw left in the Kyoto Protocol, the sustainable development mechanism, requiring developed countries to take the lead in funding climate adaptation and sustainable development. When learning about international environmental treaties and their varying levels of success in a previous course, I thought this mandate was one of the most vital components of the Paris Agreement. Nations that are considered developed today have had decades, if not centuries in many cases, to build and fortify their infrastructure and systems at the expense of the environment and often by exploitation of developing nations. It is understandable that the latter has been yearning to “catch up” and be given the same opportunities to grow as the better-off nations had, which today would still largely rely on the use of nonrenewable resources. In the midst of the environmental awareness and activism movement of the past few decades, this desire has often been met with what is seen by many as hypocritical chastening from developed nations (a main theme and roadblock at the 2002 Johannesburg Convention). The Paris Agreement’s provisions regarding contributions from more privileged parties to fund sustainable development for struggling parties recognize and affirm the importance of leadership from the early and significant polluters who have benefited greatly from their historical behavior. For how could we expect developing nations to abide by standards their more privileged neighbors never had to previously, and without the domestic financial resources to do so?

Comment by Professor Scott Thomas:

Much has changed since Dr. Stiglitz gave this talk. Can you think of some of the changes, and do you think that any of them alter the economic calculus or offer new reasoning for countries’ approaches to controlling or addressing climate change?

My Reply:

Professor Thomas,

One change responsible for altering the economic calculus of the rationale to withdraw from the Paris Accord is the relationship between the United States (U.S.) and China.

China was exempted from the Kyoto Protocol because developing nations were merely asked to voluntarily comply (CNN Editorial Research 2020). Clearly, China has taken massive strides since Dr. Stiglitz gave his talk. In 2018, the largest contributors of greenhouse gases were the U.S. and China (Global Carbon Atlas 2019). Now, the U.S. decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord, partially to gain competitive edge against China.

The following supports Rachel’s third and fourth point as she played devil’s advocate to explain the U.S. rationale for withdrawing from the Paris Accord. Currently, “China faces mounting pressure from the international community to assume global climate leadership” due to the U.S. withdrawal (Science Direct 2017). The Paris Accord is dependent on strong leadership communicated by example to achieve compliance instead of all nations involved facing more stringent constraints (Science Direct 2017). The Trump administration saw withdrawal as a stellar opportunity to increased its own GDP as China endures the consequence of the U.S. no longer contributing to the Global Environmental Facility (Links to an external site.) and Green Climate Fund (Links to an external site.). Additionally, since global warming is going to be insified without U.S. involvement in mitigation efforts, China will be under greater ecological vulnerability relative to the past. Now, China is left with no choice aside from suffering a astoundingly high opportunity cost of bringing global emissions down compared to if China was splitting the duty with both the U.S. and European Union.

However, crucially, China will fortify its standing as #1 in the clean energy sector (Science Direct 2017). Since inevitable depletion of natural resources means all nations are going to need to transition to renewable energy, the U.S. is setting itself up to lose in the future. While in the past, China was not a threat to U.S. dominance of the clean energy sector, now is a different story. In 2007, China produced 148,446 Mega Watts (MW) and the U.S. produced 107,917 MW. In 2016, those figures respectively grew to 545,206 MW and 214,766 (Science Direct 2017). That being said, electing to withdraw from the Paris Accord equates to the U.S. losing the competition for power.


CNN Editorial Research. 2020. “Kyoto Protocol Fast Facts”. Cable News Network.

Global Carbon Atlas. 2019. “CO2 Emissions”. Global Carbon Project.

Science Direct. 2017. “U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: Reasons, impacts, and China’s response”. Advances in Climate Change Research. Volume 8, Issue 4, Pages 220-225.