"They're a huge part of this story," Wheeler said. "If poor countries hadn't gone down that road, our carbon emissions would be now far higher than they are, and it would be growing every day much worse than it is." He also didn't try to tease out a country's motive for developing low-carbon energy, since in virtually every case, it had little or nothing to do with climate change.
Flying under the accounting radar
Derek Scissors, a research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, questioned whether looking at the past decades is a useful comparison, particularly for hydro development, since industrialized countries like the United States built their dams decades ago.
But he also objected to thinking about the climate debate, or the spending necessary to reduce emissions, in terms of developed versus developing countries. Rather, he said, the discussion should be among major emitters of the past, present and future.
"Why would we think that one country should spend as much on clean energy as another country? Why should a country with low emissions do as much?" he said. "It starts from a false premise that the discussion is developing versus developed, which is just another way of saying rich versus poor. But that's not how to address the problem. That just immediately starts this as a redistribution effort."
Wheeler said he also thinks the equity argument needs to be put to rest, but that countries like the United States need to realize that long-held arguments that China is not doing enough to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions don't hold water. He noted that the 94 cents per $10,000 average income that China spent compared to America's 44 cents looks like an even wider gap when the income is factored in. China's average GDP per capita for that time period was $2,860, while the United States' was $37,640.
"What I see is, I have a really rich country that seems to be spending less than 20 percent per unit of income that what China is spending. There's no possible way I can judge that as reasonable," Wheeler said.
Developing countries as whole, he said, "have been doing a lot all along. We just haven't been doing the accounting right."