The United States has inflicted more than $1.9 billion in damages on other countries from the effects of its greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis that has provided the first measure of nations’ responsibility in fueling the climate crisis.
The enormous volume of planet-warming gas pumped by the United States, the largest historical emitter, has caused such harm to other, mostly poor, countries through heat waves, crop failures and other consequences that the United States is responsible for $1.91 billion in lost global income. since 1990, according to the study.
This puts the United States ahead of China, currently the world’s largest emitter, Russia, India and Brazil as the second largest contributor to global economic damage through their emissions. Together, these five main culprits have caused a total of $6 billion in losses worldwide, or about 11% of annual global GDP, since 1990 by fueling climate breakdown.
“That’s a huge number,” said Chris Callahan, a Dartmouth College researcher and lead author of the study, of the overall economic loss. “It’s no surprise that the United States and China are at the top of the list, but the numbers are really very grim. For the first time, we can show that a country’s emissions can be attributed to a specific damage.
The Dartmouth researchers combined a number of different models, showing factors such as emissions, local climate conditions and economic changes, to determine the precise impact of an individual country’s contribution to the climate crisis. They looked for these links over a period from 1990 to 2014, with the research published in the journal Climatic Change.
What they found was a perniciously patchy picture – wealthy northern latitude countries, such as those in North America and Europe, have done the most to fuel climate change but have yet to be badly hit economically. . Countries like Canada and Russia have even benefited from longer agricultural growing seasons and reduced cold-related deaths as winters have warmed.
Conversely, the poorest countries, such as those found in the tropics or low islands of the Pacific, have done the least harm to other nations and yet suffer the greatest economic damage from climate change. The research did not take into account things not included in GDP, such as biodiversity loss, cultural damage and disaster deaths, which means that the damage is actually much greater.
“In places that are already hot, it’s getting harder and harder to work outdoors, heat mortality is increasing, it’s harder to grow crops,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth and co. – author of the article. “If you superimpose the countries that have emitted the most, you get an almost perfect storm.
“There is this huge inequality. Countries like the United States have disproportionately harmed low-income countries in the South and disproportionately benefited cooler, higher-income countries in the North.
Developing countries and climate activists have pushed for “loss and damage” payments to those who suffer the most from global warming from heat waves, floods and drought. But the United States, which is responsible for about a quarter of all emissions to date, has resisted the creation of such a fund, fearing that it will be held legally responsible for the damage caused by its voracious appetite for fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas.
Pressure to change that position is intensifying again ahead of the UN climate talks to be held in Egypt later this year, with an alliance of young activists from more than 40 countries. recently written to the chairman of the talks to ask him to act on the issue of loss and damage.
The climate crisis has “aggravated humanitarian crises disproportionately affecting poor countries in the South”, the letter says, noting that the UN estimates that up to 3.6 billion people worldwide now live in highly vulnerable areas. to climatic disasters.
“For too long, efforts to reduce emissions and scale up adaptation have been woefully inadequate, outstripping people’s ability to adapt. Therefore, loss and damage is now part of the reality of climate change and must be addressed. »
The progress, however, has been considerable. Rich countries have lingered on a pledge to deliver $100 billion in climate aid to vulnerable countries and any legal avenue for seeking damages from the United States or China is complicated by the fact that neither country recognizes the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
“The main obstacle to one country’s claims against another for climate damage is not their scientific basis, it’s their legal basis,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. . “Countries enjoy sovereign immunity from most types of lawsuits unless they have waived it.”
This stalemate means that some sort of negotiated agreement remains the most likely way to improve the inequality of climate impacts. “It’s a positive step that this study is beginning to quantify the damage to these domestic actors, we can see that the scale of the damage is enormous,” said Carroll Muffett, chief executive of the Center for International Environmental Law.
“We are slowly moving towards some sort of accountability for this. As the evidence mounts and the record of US climate obstructionism is established, I don’t think this and other countries will be able to escape accountability in perpetuity,” Muffett added.
“The costs of climate damage are rising and ultimately someone will have to pay that cost. The question is who it will be and how it will be done.