The relationship between environmental quality and economic development has been described as an environmental Kuznets curve: Initially, economic development exacerbates environmental problems; however, as an economy grows and develops, average incomes reach a certain point beyond which environmental indicators start to improve. Indeed, as gross domestic product per capita increases, emissions of pollutants per $1 of gross domestic product falls. This is true also of industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, which was not traditionally viewed as an air pollutant, but is now regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. [See the table.] This suggests that economic progress is a prerequisite for improving environmental quality generally, and specifically for meeting carbon dioxide emissions reductions goals.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
(kilograms of CO2 per $1 gross domestic product)
Note: Dollars of GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity.
Source: Millennium Development Goals Database, United Nations Statistics Division.
Special contribution by NCPA research associate Jiawen Chen.