4. “Climate Debtor” Nations Have “Colonized” the Atmosphere
The United States and other developed countries in the global north are responsible for 92% of all the excess carbon dioxide emissions driving global warming, according to a study in the September issue of The Lancet Planetary Health. The U.S. alone was responsible for 40%, followed by Russia and Germany (8% each), the United Kingdom (7%), and Japan (5%).
The study’s author, economic anthropologist Jason Hickel, told Sarah Lazare, of In These Times, that his research began from the premises that “the atmosphere is a common resource” and that “all people should have equal access” to a fair share of it. He calculated each nation’s fair share of a sustainable global carbon budget, based on population, along with an analysis of “territorial emissions from 1850 to 1969, and consumption-based emissions from 1970 to 2015.” In turn, this was used to calculate “the extent to which each country has overshot or undershot its fair share,” according to the study. Thus the above list of the largest climate debtors.
The results, he told In These Times, show that “the countries of the Global North have ‘stolen’ a big chunk of the atmospheric fair-shares of poorer countries, and on top of that are responsible for the vast majority of excess emissions… [T]hey have effectively colonized the global atmospheric commons for the sake of their own industrial growth.”
In contrast, the study found that “most countries in the Global South were within their boundary fair shares, including India and China (although China will overshoot soon).” The leading climate creditors to date are India (34% of global “undershoots”), China (11%), Bangladesh and Indonesia (5% each) and Nigeria (4%).
“High-income countries must not only reduce emissions to zero more quickly than other countries, but they must also pay down their climate debts,” the study said. “Just as many of these countries have relied on the appropriation of labour and resources from the Global South for their own economic growth, they have also relied on the appropriation of global atmospheric commons, with consequences that harm the Global South disproportionately.”
“Other studies and analyses have pointed to the disproportionate responsibility of the Global North, and wealthy countries, for driving the climate crisis,” Lazare noted. Most dramatically, a 2015 study by Oxfam International “found that the poorest half of the world’s population — roughly 3.5 billion people — are to blame for just 10% of ‘total global emissions attributed to individual consumption,’ yet they ‘live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change.’” She reported. “In contrast, the richest 10% of people in the world are responsible for roughly 50% of global emissions.”
“Corporate news outlets appear to have entirely ignored the findings of Jason Hickel’s Lancet study,” Project Censored noted. “Although it may be imperative to act “quickly and together” to reduce carbon emissions, as Vice President Harris asserted at the April 2021 climate summit, corporate media have failed to cover Hickel’s cutting-edge research, which demonstrates that the United States and other would-be leaders in addressing climate change are in fact, as the world’s worst climate debtors, disproportionately responsible for climate breakdown.”