US carbon emissions have caused nearly $2tn in climate-related losses to other countries, study finds

This kind of research could help smaller or poorer nations make a legal claim for reparations over the climate crisis, the study authors say

Ethan Freedman
Climate Reporter, New York
Wednesday 13 July 2022 20:23 BST
Greta Thunberg calls out 'forces of greed' in surprise Glastonbury climate speech

Global warming caused by carbon pollution created by countries including the United States and China has heatedd the planet enough to stifle the economies of other nations — by trillions of dollars, a new study finds.

The study, published this week, is one of the first to assign a cost to potential damages caused by individual countries’ emissions, with some of the world’s wealthiest nations and biggest polluters topping the list.

This kind of research could help smaller or poorer nations make a legal claim for reparations over the climate crisis, the authors say.

“This research provides an answer to the question of whether there is a scientific basis for climate liability claims—the answer is yes,” Christopher Callahan, a PhD student at Dartmouth and a study author, said in a statement.

Researchers assessed the volume of greenhouse gas emissions each country has emitted since 1850, and how much the global climate has changed due to each contribution.

This allowed them to calculate the financial damage wrought on other nations by the big emitters’ carbon footprints.

Increased temperatures can depress economies as it can lead to lower crop, labour or industrial outputs, according to the study published in the journal Climatic Change.

The two countries with the biggest responsibilities were the US and China, each totalling over $1.8trillion in global impacts between 1990 and 2014. Both superpowers have emitted the most greenhouse gasses of any two countries in history — both with hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide released since the 19th century.

Russia, India and Brazil round out the top five most damaging nations — each with over $500billion in responsibility between 1990 and 2014, the study adds.

Overall, the top ten highest-emitting countries — the aforementioned five plus Indonesia, Japan, Venezuela, Germany and Canada — were responsible for over two-thirds of total losses.

At the same time, many of these countries have also suffered climate change-related damage. The US alone caused over $100bn in losses to each Venezuela, Brazil, Indonesia and India, the Associated Pressreported.

Many of the calculated damages were in the tropics, in countries that were already hot before the climate crisis pushed temperatures even higher. Countries most hurt by emissions from the US on a per capita basis included the desert nations of the United Arab Emirates, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia.

The study found that in each of those countries, US emissions alone could have dropped the per capita GDP by around 2 per cent over the 25-year period examined.

While tropical countries stand to lose as the planet gets hotter, some colder countries could make gains as their climates warm. The study noted that US emissions might have raised the per capita GDP in countries like Mongolia, Finland, Russia and Iceland.

These potential gains are “disproportionately” focused in some countries, and “do not negate the losses suffered in others,” the authors’ statement noted.

This study only looked at the effect of global heating, and not other impacts of fossil fuel pollution like air quality, they added.

These kinds of analyses could be used in future disputes between countries to account for the havoc wreaked by the climate crisis.

In recent years, some smaller and poorer nations have fought to raise the concept of “loss and damage” funding at international climate summits - arguing that wealthier nations, with long industrialised histories, should shoulder financial costs for destruction they face on the frontlines of the crisis.

For the most part, wealthier nations have been not willing to entertain such an idea.

“The responsibility for the warming rests primarily with a handful of major emitters,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth and a study author, via their statement.

“And this warming has resulted in the enrichment of a few wealthy countries at the expense of the poorest people in the world.”

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