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The Inequity in Climate Change

By Glenn Althor, James Watson and Richard Fuller

The countries responsible for most greenhouse emissions incur the least impacts whereas those least responsible bear the greatest cost. How unfair is that?

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In a recent analysis we have explored the state of global climate change inequity, and what we discovered struck us as most unfair. We found that fewer than 4% of countries are responsible for more than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, wealthy developed nations such as Australia, the United States and Canada are essentially climate “free riders” causing climate change (through high greenhouse gas emissions), while incurring few of the costs (such as climate change’s impact on human mortality and GDP).

On the flip side, there are many “forced riders”: communities that are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts despite having scarcely contributed to the problem. Many of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries, the majority of which are African or small island states, produce a very small quantity of emissions. Furthermore, when we looked at projections of climate vulnerability to the year 2030, this inequity is expected to worsen.

In other words, a few countries benefit enormously from the consumption of fossil fuels, while at the same time contribute disproportionately to the global burden of climate change.