why is it important
As I wrote about a few weeks ago in the newsletter, one of the main discussions at COP27 was whether wealthier countries should help poorer and more vulnerable countries pay for the impacts of climate change. Climate disasters were top of mind this year, especially after devastating pakistan floods killed more than 1,000 people, displaced millions more. Total cost estimates exceeded $40 billion.
After two weeks of negotiations, COP27 delegates reached an agreement on the financing of losses and damages… sort of. There will be a fund, but its amount and operation are unclear. You guessed it, the details are expected to be ironed out at another UN climate conference – COP28 is scheduled for next year in Dubai.
Countries that contribute to the fund for loss and damage do not admit liability or accept liability for climate damage. But the creation of the fund and all the discussions around climate damages raised the question: who got us into this mess? And who should pay for it?
Not so old story
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, history matters. Here’s what I mean by that:
- Some greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are long-lived: they are not very reactive, so they remain long after they are emitted.
- Warming is a function of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- So when we talk about climate responsibility, we should consider total emissions throughout history.
When I first learned about climate science, this logic floored me. It’s so intuitive, but it recast the debate around national climate responsibility in my head. I had always heard that China was the country we should all talk about when it comes to emissions. They are the biggest climate polluter today, after all.
But when you add up the total emissions, it’s very clear: the United States is by far the largest total emitter, responsible for about a quarter of all emissions ever recorded. The EU comes next, with around 17% of the total. Finally, we have China, which comes in third place.