Hussh | The true compensation cost of excessive emissions revealed for historic responsibility

The true compensation cost of excessive emissions revealed for historic responsibility

// Hidden Stories Series

The true compensation cost of excessive emissions revealed for historic responsibility

June 8, 2023
Wealthier countries, including the United States and those in Europe, could find themselves facing an astronomical price tag of $170 trillion as reparations for their disproportionate carbon emissions, according to a groundbreaking study conducted by the University of Leeds.

The research sheds light on the glaring disparities in the remaining carbon capacity available to the world before triggering even more catastrophic climate events. Not only are these affluent nations responsible for the lion’s share of current and historical emissions, but they are also on track to exceed their allotted carbon budgets, the predetermined amount of emissions a nation can release without surpassing the global target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To arrive at these estimates, researchers relied on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of experts convened by the United Nations, to calculate the global carbon budget as well as individual countries’ carbon budgets. They also examined the substantial emissions reductions required from countries in the Global South to offset the overconsumption of nations that exceed their fair share. The study goes a step further by attempting to quantify the financial compensation that would be deemed appropriate for these emissions imbalances.

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“The crux of the issue lies in the fact that the Global North would be exceeding its collective fair share of the 1.5-degree carbon budget by nearly threefold,” explains Andrew Fanning, the lead author of the study and a visiting research fellow at the University of Leeds. “If certain countries surpass their allocated limits, others must pick up the slack.”

The study reveals that the United States alone would bear the greatest responsibility, amounting to a staggering $80 trillion for its excessive emissions. These funds would be directed towards historically low emitters like India and China, as well as regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. The outsized carbon footprint of wealthier nations has long been a major obstacle in the fight against emissions reduction and mitigating the most severe impacts of climate change. This research seeks to quantify the financial implications of excessive emissions and employs the existing IPCC framework to calculate the cost differential.

The timing of this study coincides with the start of an international climate change conference in Bonn, Switzerland, serving as a precursor to the United Nations’ annual Conference of the Parties (COP) talks, with COP28 slated for the fall in the United Arab Emirates. The issue of unequal carbon emissions has become increasingly central in recent years during U.N. climate conferences, including last year’s event in Egypt.

Fanning’s research builds upon previous academic studies that have attempted to assign a monetary value to carbon emissions, aiming to provide a clearer understanding of the economic ramifications of climate change. The concept of “loss and damage” arises from the understanding that countries emitting fewer carbon emissions are often more severely affected by climate change and therefore deserve compensation both for their emissions reductions and for the consequential destruction wrought by rising global temperatures. This idea has gained traction in international climate negotiations, as countries in the Global South grapple with devastating impacts while major polluters like the United States fall short of their climate commitments.

“At the heart of the concept of loss and damage lies the recognition that climate change is a cumulative problem in which historical responsibility must be taken into account,” explains Fanning.

Countries such as Pakistan and Vanuatu, both of which are vulnerable island nations, have previously called for climate reparations from wealthier nations. Developing countries, despite contributing significantly less to global emissions, have borne the brunt of the consequences of climate change. The current distribution of emissions is inherently unjust, with some countries consuming far more than their fair share while others endure the loss of their rightful portion.

The call for climate reparations underpins the urgent need to rectify historical imbalances and embrace a more equitable approach to climate action. As the world grapples with the immense challenges posed by climate change, it is imperative that we address the systemic injustices perpetuated by excessive emissions and provide the necessary support for communities that have disproportionately suffered the consequences. By acknowledging and rectifying historical responsibility, we can forge a more sustainable and equitable future for all nations and generations to come.

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