Study Shows Cost of Climate Harm Rich Nations Have Caused

YouResearchers have calculated how many losses each country has suffered and what benefits they can expect to receive in order to compensate them for the decades-long effects of climate change.

Scientists, scientists and activists long have noted the inequality in national climate histories, with rich nations benefitting and poor countries suffering from the emissions of greenhouse gases. The two Dartmouth scientists behind the study published in Tuesday’s journal Climatic ChangeIt can be used in courts and long-contentious international climate negotiations regarding payments from wealthy nations. This would include the payment of oil, gas and coal subsidies to the poor, who suffer the greatest damages.

The data shows, for example, that America has been the largest carbon emitter in history, causing more than $1.9 trillion of climate-related damage in other countries between 1990 and 2014. This includes $310 billion damage to Brazil, $257 Billion to India, $124Billion to Indonesia, $124 billion to India, $104Billion to Venezuela, $74Billion to Nigeria, and $110Billion to India. But at the same time, the United States’ own carbon pollution has benefited the U.S. by more than $183 billion, while Canada, Germany and Russia have profited even more from American emissions.

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“Do all countries look to the United States for restitution? Maybe,” said study co-author Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College climate scientist. “The U.S. has caused a huge amount of economic harm by its emissions, and that’s something that we have the data to show.”

Developing nations have convinced rich nations to promise to financially help them decarbonize for the future, but haven’t been able to get restitution for damage already caused, a term called “loss and damage” in global climate talks. In those negotiations, the biggest carbon emitters, like the United States and China have had a “veil of deniability” that their actions caused specific damages, said study lead author Christopher Callahan, a climate impacts researcher at Dartmouth. He said that this lifts the veil.

“Scientific studies such as this groundbreaking piece show that high emitters no longer have a leg to stand on in avoiding their obligations to address loss and damage,” said Bahamian climate scientist Adelle Thomas of Climate Analytics, who wasn’t part of the study. She said recent studies “increasingly and overwhelmingly show that loss and damage is already crippling developing countries.”

Carbon emissions can be tracked over decades at national levels. Damages have also been measured. However, Callahan/Mankin claimed that their study was the first to tie all the dots. This study also reveals the benefits of carbon emissions, which is mainly concentrated in countries such as Canada and Russia and wealthy nations like the U.S.

“It’s the countries that have emitted the least that are also the ones that tend to be harmed by increases in global warming. So that double inequity to me is kind of a central finding that I want to emphasize,” Callahan said.

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To do the study, first Callahan looked at how much carbon each nation emitted and what it means for global temperatures, using large climate models and simulating a world with that country’s carbon emissions, a version of the scientifically accepted attribution technique used for extreme weather events. He connected this to economic studies which examined the link between each country’s rise in temperature and its damage.

“We can actually fingerprint U.S. culpability on Angola’s economic outcomes,” Mankin said.

After the U.S. the countries that caused most damage since 1990 — a date researchers chose because that’s when they say a scientific consensus formed and nations no longer had an excuse to say they didn’t know about global warming — are China ($1.8 trillion), Russia ($986 billion), India ($809 billion) and Brazil ($528 billion), study authors figured. Just the United States and China together caused about one-third of the world’s climate damage.

The five nations that were hit the most in overall dollars were Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia, but that’s because they had the biggest economies of nations in the most vulnerable hot zone. Callahan stated that the UAE, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia took the greatest GDP losses. Brazil and India are also among the countries that produce the most emissions and damage and haven’t filed lawsuits to try to get repaid for climate damages.

In recent climate talks, the issue of fairness regarding which countries must make sacrifices as well as how to plan for and address climate change has been more important than ever. Some nations, local communities and climate activists have called for the largest historical carbon emitters to pay “climate reparations” for the damage their economic gain has caused countries and communities that have already been negatively affected by systems of oppression, like colonialism and slavery. The Associated Press was told by some people in the community that this new study will give momentum to this idea.

“In this sense, the study reinforces arguments regarding loss and damage that are gaining traction” in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program for the Center for International Environmental Law, told the AP.

International pressure has come from countries with high emissions about the payment of loss and damage. They are concerned that low-income countries will not use climate finance in the way they were intended.

Still, Mankin said he hopes the study empowers “the powerless and in the face of global climate change.” But others in the climate community who have read the study said that more than information is needed to ensure that those most affected by climate change are compensated for their losses. The information and data in the study are valuable, they said, but it will take pressuring those responsible for shaping climate policy to actually get the richer nations to pay for the damage they’ve caused poorer nations.

Basav Sen, climate justice project director for the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tanks, saw the study and said “demonstrating the link of causation is very helpful.”

But, he added, “it is only one piece in the popular pressure campaign needed to translate this information into actual financial flows from wealthier, higher-emitting countries to compensate lower-income countries experiencing more adverse climate impacts.”

Private foundations provide support for Associated Press’ climate and environment coverage. All content remains the sole responsibility of Associated Press.

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