birdsell-subramanian– Nancy Birdsall is the president of the Center for Global Development. Arvind Subramanian is a senior fellow at the Center and at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a regular columnist for the Business Standard, India’s leading business newspaper. The views expressed are their own. –

Efforts to cut emissions of the heat-trapping gases are gridlocked over a misunderstanding about what is fair. This misunderstanding is hindering climate change legislation in Congress and threatens to torpedo international negotiations in Copenhagen next month.

We propose a new way of thinking about climate fairness that focuses not on emissions cuts but on meeting developing countries’ energy needs in a climate-friendly manner. This simple narrative can provide a framework for U.S. legislation and open the way for international collaborative efforts to avert climate catastrophe.

At present, many people in the United States focus on the large and growing emissions of the developing world, especially China, which in absolute terms is now the world’s largest source of greenhouse gases, and India, which is growing fast and like China relies heavily on coal. They argue that it would be unfair to force emissions cuts at home without similar cuts in developing countries. A recent poll found that 60% of Americans believe that in any climate agreement China should cut its emissions the most.

It is true that developing countries already account for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, and that their large populations and rapid economic growth are boosting emissions fast enough to create a planetary crisis by 2050-even if today’s rich countries had never existed.