In recent years, as the rhetoric of environmental alarm has gained public prominence, the language of climate justice has also gained prominence: the set of principles that it is the poor and marginalized who suffer today today the most environmental damage although they have done the least to cause it, that continued degradation will almost certainly intensify these divisions and that any program to address the climate crisis should aim to reduce these inequalities as well as the impacts global.
Think first about liability. The United States alone produced 20% of historical emissions, almost twice as much as the second largest contributor, China; all of sub-Saharan Africa, now home to around one billion people, is responsible for less than 1%. Today, 80% of global emissions are produced by the Group of 20 countries and almost half by the richest 10% of the population, who, as economic historian Adam Tooze has pointed out, do not live not all in the wealthy countries of the world – suggesting carbon accounting based not on citizenship but on sheer wealth. The average round-trip transatlantic airfare melts several square meters of Arctic ice; the average Australian produces 40 times more carbon dioxide just from burning coal than the average person from Congo, Somalia or Niger; each year, the average Ugandan produces less carbon than the average American refrigerator.
When it comes to climate impacts, the contrasts are just as striking. Many northerners have become aware in recent years of the imminence, if not ubiquity, of global warming – the European floods, the deadly hurricanes in New York, the unprecedented wildfires in Australia and the American West. in modern times. But already, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, almost all countries in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 10% poorer today than they would be without the effects of global warming, with a handful more than 20% poorer. According to an article cited in its latest report, India is 31% poorer, thanks to climate change, which has already worsened global inequality by 25%.
And it is perhaps unsurprising that if recent optimistic climate outlook revisions confirm that the ankle is likely to warm this century to around 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, the world’s wealthy nations would suffer but could probably endure, and the Global South be much more deeply devastated.
For decades, small developing countries, vulnerable to climate change, have grappled with this pattern of facts and rallied around an uncomfortable message for the world’s rich: pay up. In 2009, the first pledge of $100 billion a year in climate aid for mitigation and adaptation was made to the world’s poor. In 2015, in the Paris climate agreement, the promise was redone. At COP26 in Glasgow last autumn, this was done for a third time, although by then climate advocates from the Global South had significantly raised their demand. Some diplomats have claimed $700 billion, others $1 trillion or more.
Meanwhile, the $100 billion pledge has still not been delivered, and commitments only come closer if you count private sector for-profit lending, which of course rich countries do. . A report released by the UN in 2020 found that in the most recent year surveyed, 2018, grant funding was just $12 billion.
The climate and the world are changing. What challenges will the future bring and how should we respond to them?
On stage in Glasgow, a parade of world leaders went much further than ever in describing the climate crisis in urgent existential language. (COP President Alok Sharma called it “our last best hope,” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “one to midnight on that doomsday clock.”) But that doesn’t mean that everyone sounded the same. Rich-country leaders have described the challenge mostly in universal terms; leaders of poor countries have invoked differential impacts and differential responsibilities, often borrowing the language of discrimination, reparations or colonialism. (Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, for example, described a two-degree Celsius warming as a “death sentence,” then weakly pleaded for the world’s rich nations to “do more.”)