Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Unfair air: the inequity of climate change

A large coal loading belt in New South Wales, Australia A large coal loading belt in New South Wales, Australia cbpix
12 Feb
2016
Developed countries are exporting unfair proportions of greenhouse gases to vulnerable, less-developed countries

Climate change has no borders. While fossil fuels are gathered up and kept close by nations, the greenhouse gases they produce are disowned and free to intermix with in the international climate. Most emissions are the by-products of developed countries, who are generally safer from their impacts than less-developed countries. New research has quantified the full extent of the inequity between vulnerability and emissions.

‘The latest data shows that around four per cent of the world’s nations are generating over 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions,’ says Dr Glenn Althor, researcher at the University of Queensland and lead author of the study. ‘This is a critical issue as the impact on the Earth’s climate from these emissions is felt by all nations, but on a disproportionate level.’

Screen shot 2016 02 12 at 14.27.38Climate change equity for 2010 (a) and projected for 2030 (b). Least vulnerable and most emitting ‘free riders’ are shown in red and most vulnerable and least emitting ‘forced riders’ are shown in dark green (Image: Althor et al)

The study found that a staggering 20 of the 36 highest emitting countries – such as the US, UK, Canada, and Australia – are among the least vulnerable to climate change’s impacts. Like filling up the swimming pool from the safety of the shallow end, these ‘free riders’ are relatively safer from climate change than their less polluting neighbours.

Meanwhile, 11 of the 17 countries with low or moderate greenhouse gas emissions are acutely vulnerable. ‘This is clearly unfair,’ says Althor. These ‘forced riders’ – such as such as the African nation of Gambia and the island of Vanuatu – are more at risk from climate threats such as flooding, drought and sea level rise.

As far back as 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has acknowledged the inequity of emissions and the burden of climate change with the commitment to ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. It is the same principle that applies to countries such as India, which was given leeway to increase fossil fuel usage in order to develop its economy. It also implies that already developed countries have more responsibility to reduce emissions sooner, having benefited from fossil fuels for so long. However, according to the study, a poor understanding of the scale of global inequity in emissions and impacts prevents the developed world from fulfilling that responsibility.

The authors urge the policy makers to redress the balance, saying: ‘It is time that this persistent and worsening climate inequity is resolved, and for the largest emitting countries to act on their commitment of common but differentiated responsibilities.’

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Energy

The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…

Tectonics

Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away

Climate

Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…

Wildlife

Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…

Oceans

A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…

Climate

The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…

Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…

Nature

New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…

Geophoto

The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…

Wildlife

The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…

Climate

One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…

Wildlife

Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…

Energy

A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…

Oceans

The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…

Geophoto

With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…

Wildlife

Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…

Wildlife

The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…

Tectonics

Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…

Energy

Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…

Energy

Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…