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The injustice of climate change

© Good Travel Guide, November 2021

We know that humans contribute enormously to climate change. However, some people have a more relevant impact than others, according to a recent study.

The study was commissioned by Oxfam, a global organization fighting inequality to end poverty. It estimated the per capita consumption emissions of different global income groups and was carried out by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The study found that by 2030 the richest 10% of the population would generate alone more than the maximum level of emissions required to keep global temperatures under 1.5C.

To limit global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, by 2030, everyone should emit an average of only 2.3 tonnes of CO2 per year. However, the study estimates that the emissions per person in 2030 will be higher than they should. The richest 1% and 10% will emit 70 and 9 tonnes per year which are 30 and 9 times respectively over the recommended level. While the middle 40% will consume 5 tonnes, twice the required amount and the poorest 50% will consume only 1. The study clarifies the criteria for distinguishing these four categories. The richest 1% includes people that in 2030 will have a higher annual income of more than $172,000 and the richest 10% more than $55,000; while the middle 40% and poorest 50% will respectively have more and less than $9,800 of annual income.

A representative of Oxfam criticized the existing inequality in carbon emissions. Someone like Jeff Bezos in the richest 1% generates more emissions with a space flight than someone in the poorest billion of people on Earth would in their whole lifetime. To aggravate the injustice, the people in the poorest countries are suffering the most from climate change. Their countries are devastated by floods, famines and cyclones.

This problem was also discussed at COP26. The 55-nation Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) brought forward the case of countries facing the worst impacts while contributing the least to the problem. It is the developed nations that have produced about 80% of emissions since the Industrial Revolution.

At the end of Cop26, developed nations have promised to devolve $100bn a year in climate finance to help developing countries transition away from fossil fuels. They also committed to doubling adaptation funding from $20bn to $40bn to help them improve climate resilience. Developing countries had also requested the creation of a “loss and damage” fund, that would compensate them for the impacts that they can’t prevent or adapt to. The final decision was only to start a “dialogue” on the matter. 

The government of Bangladesh as chair of the CVF issued a statement welcoming the outcome of Cop26. However, he also remarked that: “More will, of course, continue to be asked of the international community to deliver climate justice and effective protection of the world’s most vulnerable nations.” He stated that progress had been made to limit global warming and that they appreciate the commitments regarding climate finance and adaptation funding while more progress could have been made on loss and damage.


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