The Center for Global Development released two reports this month re-affirming the outsized carbon dioxide emissions of the average UK and US citizen. According to the modelled projections, based on World Bank data, on a single day in January, the average US citizen had surpassed the total expected annual carbon dioxide output of a citizen of the Dominican Republic. The average citizen of the UK took two days to pass this milestone.
By the end of the month, “the UK’s average January emissions will be higher than the annual emissions of around 30 low- or middle-income countries.” The average US citizen took one week to surpass the annual emissions of citizens for 23 low-income countries, according to the reports projections.
The data was calculated by taking the annual per capita carbon dioxide output of the average UK or US citizen, as well as that of the low- and middle-income nation’s citizens they are measured against, and assuming that those emissions are “spread evenly throughout the year.”
The fact that poorer nations bear the brunt of climate change’s impact is long documented. The G20 group, which includes 19 countries plus the EU, represents 90% of global GDP. They are responsible for 75% of the world’s total emissions. Research from a 2009 report from the Global Humanitarian Forum also suggested that 99% of climate change related deaths occur in developing countries.
One month into the new year, the average UK citizen has emitted more than citizens in more than 30 low & middle-income countries will this entire year.
— Center for Global Development (@CGDev) January 31, 2022
The dramatic 5-fold increase in recorded weather-related disasters over the past 50 years in the wake of increasing global temperatures has also provided challenges that the developing world is far less equipped to meet. Of the 2 million documented deaths arising from these events, 90% have been in the developing world.
Low- and middle-income countries suffer from a lack of disaster prevention infrastructure, including early warning systems, which have proven highly effective in mitigating the loss of life and economic losses that drive vulnerable countries further into poverty.
The World Bank estimates that “climate change may push over 130 million into poverty by 2030.” The effect of poverty is indeed cyclical, given the way in which money affects preparedness for disasters, both on an individual and government level.
Whilst governments in low and middle income countries have often failed to fund the installation of expensive warning systems, their impoverished citizens have often had to finance their own disaster protection.
Bangladesh is an important example of the way in which climate change resilience requires funding, and is tied to the alleviation of poverty
Bangladesh, dubbed “ground zero for climate change,” has seen rural families spend almost $2 billion dollars a year in protection against climate damage, and in efforts to recover from it. This accounts for not only more than what the government spends, but also what international donors have contributed, according to collaborative research from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and Kingston University.
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Driving home further the link between poverty and climate vulnerability, is that fact that climate change fuelled disasters in Bangladesh, fuels mass displacement, a widely seen phenomenon in poorer nations. In 2020 alone 4.4 million Bangladeshis were displaced by disasters according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) December 13, 2021
Those displaced often migrate towards city slums, which places further economic strain on people who are faced with lack of employment, poor healthcare and housing. The economic impact of movement away from the coasts is exacerbated by the strain on the fishing and agriculture sectors.
According to Our World in Data, based on production-based emission data, in 2020, the average carbon dioxide output of a Bangladeshi citizen was about 0.56 tons, whilst a UK citizen’s output was around 4.85 tons, and a US citizen’s output was around 14.24 tons, based on “Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and cement production.”
Many consider countries like the US to have accumulated a debt towards nations affected by climate change
Conversations about climate reparations, in the wake of the historical responsibility that countries like the US and the UK carry for global warming, have gained increased traction internationally amongst activists. This enthusiasm has not been mirrored by G20 states themselves.
The COP26 conference last year failed to secure contributions from all but one country, Scotland who committed $2.8 million, for the loss and damages fund set up to address the responsibility of some nations towards others for climate related loss.
The hesitancy of many countries, including the EU and the US to contribute to the fund is attributed to a fear of opening the door to judicial claims. They are concerned that the language of “loss and damages” implies legal responsibility, although this fear is considered baseless by experts. This does however indicate an unwillingness of richer countries to open the door to a thorough review and assessment of what is actually owed to countries affected by their historic carbon dioxide output.
Aside from the loss and damages fund, there is also the question of the $100 billion per year pledged by richer countries at the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, to help poorer countries in building resilience against climate change. This annual expenditure was expected to have been achieved by 2020, and continued through to 2025, but efforts have fallen short.
Even this amount, however, is considered by analysts at the Center of Global Development (CGD) to not account for the full cost of climate damage for which richer countries are responsible. According to a paper the CGD published last year, for “developed OECD countries, the collective liability is $15.2 trillion, which equates to $190 billion per year if paid off to 2100.”
Useful paper from @bhowmik_joy, @samiyaselim, @hmirfanullah that further illustrates exactly who is paying for #LossAndDamage in #Bangladesh. Findings include that householders are paying between $ 568 – 1054 USD per extreme climate events event. Here: https://t.co/PIuCRN55GQ
— Loss and Damage Collaboration (@LossandDamage) January 27, 2022
Further issues to consider, when looking at the question of environmental justice and responsibility, is the way in which countries responsible historically for climate change have responded to migrants from areas severely affected by droughts and other disasters.
Also of key concern is the way in which the funding of climate-friendly projects abroad by richer countries often take the form of supporting carbon mitigation projects, which although give the impression of meaningful action, are less important than actual infrastructure building and poverty-alleviating measures.
Carbon mitigation or offsetting projects, funded by western corporations in order to meet climate related goals, have also resulted in displacement and disruption of local communities in the poorer nations they are based in.
As climate related disasters increase in frequency, and citizens globally begin to demand more from government officials, it remains to be seen if climate change efforts will begin to reflect a holistic understanding of responsibility, poverty and justice.
With increased understanding of the role of climate change in perpetuating worldwide inequalities, which have been increasing according to the latest World Bank report, the question of climate reparations can no longer be avoided.
Now activists are not just demanding action from government officials, but applying increased scrutiny towards national policies to address climate change, asking questions about the way funds are administered, and whether or not global responsibilities are being met.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Bangladesh, Chandpur district. Bangladesh has ben described by some as “ground zero for climate change.” Featured Photo Credit: Saiful islam Shanto.