Who should pay the world's climate debt?

Asia's Tech News Daily

New research suggests that developed countries should pay almost double the amount proposed under the Paris Agreement to offset their historical emissions.

Who should pay the world's climate debt?

One of the most hotly debated topics at the COP26 climate conference will be climate finance – essentially, how we distribute the costs of climate change.

Under the Paris agreement, developed countries committed to provide $100bn (£72bn) a year by 2020 to help less wealthy nations shoulder the cost of climate damage.

But, they failed to deliver by this deadline.

Now, new research from the Center for Global Development (CGD) estimates that members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) should commit almost double this amount – $190bn (£138bn) a year – until 2100.

Brian O’Callaghan, lead of the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project, says that the developed world now needs to face up to “climate colonialism”.

He added: “As rich countries, we industrialised early, effectively buying ourselves economic prosperity at the cost of significant carbon emissions. These emissions now threaten lives and livelihoods in developing nations.”

Since industrialisation began, high-income economies have produced three-fifths of the world’s historical carbon emissions, almost 100 times more than the proportion produced by low-income countries.

    What is the UK’s role in this?

    According to the CGD research, the UK’s carbon debt amounts to $9,242 (£6,693) per person, more than double the global average.

    On a net basis, however, the UK is responsible for only 1.8% of global climate debt. This is less than a tenth of the proportion attributed to the US (20.7%) and to China (19%).

    CGD’s Mitchell says that one reason for the UK’s lower burden is that the model does not include emissions before 1979 because of a perceived step-change in climate awareness at this point.

    “As the first country to industrialise we did emit a relatively high level of emissions in that period,” he said.

    “Also, the UK has made some progress in reducing its emissions footprint relative to other countries and so, because our methodology puts a higher price on more recent missions, the UK’s share of debt is relatively lower – even if we’ve got a long way to go.”

    The UK has managed to decouple economic growth and emissions, increasing living standards while still cutting its carbon footprint. But achieving low-carbon growth is more challenging for poorer countries.

    Brian O’Callaghan from Oxford University says that it is “impossible” to address the impacts of climate change without significant international support for these developing economies.

    “As much as they might like to catalyse a green transition, governments [of most developing countries] simply don’t have the cash to do so,” he said. “This is where rich nations must correct their past wrongs.”

    So, who should pay the bulk of the world’s climate debt?

    The CGD model estimates that industrialised and emerging economies should shoulder a majority of the $34trn (£25trn) of global climate debt.

    According to their calculations, countries belonging to the OECD are responsible for 45% of this cost. While the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) account for a further third.

    One of the reasons for the large share attributed to the BRIC countries is that they industrialised later on and the research places more weight on recent emissions.

    Ian Mitchell, senior fellow at CGD and one of the authors of the research, said it also reflects their more carbon-intensive growth.

    “Particularly China and Russia have been developing long enough now that they’ve contributed very significantly to the total stock of emissions,” he said.

    “The so-called developed countries should be looking to include them in future conversations about climate finance.”


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