Global Climate Change Inequity: Who’s Carrying Whom?

by Coco Coyle

Because the Earth’s atmosphere intermixes globally, all areas of the globe are equally exposed to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). However, some countries are more vulnerable to the effects of these emissions, while some countries release more GHGs into the atmosphere than others. Althor et al. (2016) compare each country’s vulnerability to climate change to its creation of GHGs for the years 2010 and 2030. They found that the countries least vulnerable to climate change were higher GHG emitters, and the most vulnerable countries were least responsible for GHG emissions. By 2030 the inequity will have worsened. The authors call for climate change policies that place more responsibility for mitigating climate change on the high-emitters.

Althor et al. gathered data on 2010 GHG emissions and projections for the year 2030 for each country from the World Research Institute’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool. Estimates for each country’s vulnerability to climate change were collected from DARA’s Climate Vulnerability Monitor (CVM), which gathers information about 22 vulnerability indicators in four categories: Environmental Disasters, Habitat Change, Health Impact, and Industry Stress. Agriculture falls into the Industry Stress category and is a serious component of a country’s overall vulnerability. The CVM ranks each country by its vulnerability and sorts them into five categories of increasing risk: low, medium, high, severe, and acute. For the 2030 projections, the CVM uses the same analysis and considers human population growth, mortality, and GDP predictions. Excluding any country missing from either of these databases, 179 total countries were compared in this study.

In 2010, 90 (50.3%) countries in the study had GHG emissions in a higher quintile than their climate vulnerability, and 61 (34%) countries had GHG emissions in a lower quintile than their climate vulnerability. Only 28 (15.6%) countries were in the same quintile for both GHG emissions and vulnerability. There are 20 (11.2%) “free riders”—countries in the highest GHG emissions quintile, but the lowest vulnerability quintile—and 6 (3.4%) “forced riders” in the reverse situation. In 2030 the inequity worsens to 16 (8.9%) free riders, 20 (11.2%) forced riders, and only 23 (12.8%) in the same quintile for emissions and vulnerability.

Althor et al. also found a strong positive correlation between GDP and GHG emissions, while vulnerability decreased with increasing GDP. This study reveals a deep inequity, one which, if unchecked, could worsen the overall impact of climate change before emissions are sufficiently decreased. Countries that are less vulnerable to its effects may be less invested in the global outcome of climate change, especially if GHG emissions are related to infrastructure which increases GDP. The authors call for better-funded global policies that emphasize an unequal contribution to climate change, and call for more action from the responsible countries. Efforts need to be made to ensure that the burdensome effects of climate change are both lessened and equalized globally, for the good of us all.

Althor, Glenn, Watson, James, Fuller, Richard, 2016. Global mismatch between greenhouse gas emissions and the burden of climate change. Scientific Reports 6; Article no. 20281. Doi:10,1038/srep20281.


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