Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Developed nations should pay for climate sins

  • Greenhouse gases emitted in one country cause warming in another, and that warming can depress economic growth to the tune of trillions of dollars, with rich countries the most culpable

There is, of course, no justice in this world, and that’s especially true of climate justice. Countries that have industrialised early are those most responsible. Now, the world is on fire. But the price will be paid most heavily by low-income and underdeveloped countries.

An intriguing study, recently published by researchers at the Ivy League Dartmouth College, offers a model of how climate responsibility may be assigned. The research, published in the journal Climatic Change, is based on the idea that climate liability claims between individual countries can be scientifically established.

This means assessing the economic impact that countries have caused to other countries through their contributions to global warming. There are direct correlations between the cumulative emission of heat-trapping gases per nation to the losses and gains in gross domestic product (GDP) in 143 countries for which data are available.

Quite simply, greenhouse gases emitted in one country cause warming in another, and that warming can depress economic growth.

The five worst emitters of greenhouse gases caused US$6 trillion in global economic losses through warming from 1990 to 2014. Unsurprisingly, the United States and China lead the world, with each responsible for global income losses of about US$1.8 trillion during that period; or US$3.74 trillion in total income losses to the world economy, which is nearly a third of all the damage done to the global GDP.

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They may be the worst, but they are not alone. The Dartmouth study calculates each country’s responsibility and their share of economic losses during that quarter of a century period and breaks it down in percentages.

Let the drum roll: the US (16.52 per cent), China (15.84 per cent), Russia (8.54 per cent), India (7.1 per cent), Brazil (4.57 per cent), Indonesia (4.45 per cent), Japan (2.84 per cent), Venezuela (2.61 per cent), Germany (2.53 per cent) and Canada (2.14 per cent).

More than a decade ago, the G7 group of developed nations agreed to pay into a global climate finance fund to help developing economies adapt to the impact of climate change and make the transition away from fossil fuels. By 2020, developed nations were supposed to start transferring US$100 billion a year into the fund. But they have been way off keeping their commitment.

The idea of liabilities and claims may put new pressure on nations on the top 10 list. Here’s an idea. The G7 nations should cough up the money while developing countries on the list could pay up straight and/or use emission cuts as credits. Maybe.