Historical emissions and adaptation costs


in Canada, Economics, Politics, Rants, The environment

Emily at a coffee shop in Kensington Market, Toronto

It is widely acknowledged that developing countries will suffer a great deal from climate change. They are vulnerable to effects like rising sea levels and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather. They also have more limited means available to respond, as well as other serious problems to deal with. Providing adaptation funding is therefore seen as an important means of getting them on-side for climate change mitigation. It could be offered as an incentive to cut emissions.

That being said, there is a strong case to be made that developing countries should not need to do anything in exchange for adaptation funding. Making them do so is essentially akin to injuring someone, then demanding something in return for the damages they win against you in court. The historical emissions of developed states have primarily induced the climate change problem; as such, developing states suffering from its effects have a right to demand compensation.

Very roughly, the developed world as a whole is responsible for about 70% of emissions to date. The United States has produced about 22% of the anthropogenic greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere; Western Europe is responsible for about 17%; Canada represents something like 2% of the total. It can be argued that – by rights – states like Bangladesh and Ghana should be dividing their total costs for adaptation and sending the bill to other states, on the basis of historical emissions.

That being said, it is only fair to say that developed states are only culpable for a portion of their total emissions, on account of how the science of climate change was not well understood until fairly recently. Exactly where to draw the line is unclear, but that doesn’t especially matter since developing states simply don’t have the power to demand adaptation transfers on the basis of past harms. States that developed through the extensive use of fossil fuels will continue to use the influence they acquired through that course of military and economic strengthening to make others bear most of the costs for their pollution.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. May 23, 2008 at 11:23 am

In a perfect world, those who knowingly caused damage would make reparations to those who suffered as a result.

Unfortunately, in our world it is unlikely that big cash transfers to developed states would be used equitably and effectively to address the consequences of climate change. Financial transfers from the outside world always finance whatever project a government had at the margin. In many cases, that will not be climate change adaptation.

Sarah May 23, 2008 at 10:42 pm

I don’t understand is why there is so little attention to the soaring global population and skyrocketing birthrates – a problem which handily shares a common solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic ie. provision of information and effective contraception, especially condoms. China are surely right to claim that their population policies have slowed emissions growth, so why isn’t the West providing adequate funding for such programs in Africa & elsewhere in the developing world?
I agree that the West bears some responsability for mitigating the effects of climate change on poor nations such as Bangladesh, but it’s also clear that over-population will make the problems more severe and that few states are introducing policies to cut birthrates.

. May 25, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Anger over climate change loans

In UK Politics

The government is accused of making stealth cuts to a fund set up to help poorer nations deal with climate change.

Milan April 28, 2009 at 5:26 pm
. June 3, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Nicholas Stern’s heresy: conceding the West’s climate burden

Posted 10:15 PM on 2 Jun 2009
by Geoffrey Lean

Put simply, Stern suggested—in answer to a question after a speech to the Hay literary festival in Wales—that Britain, the United States and other rich countries should take ownership of part of the greenhouse gas emissions of rapidly industrializing countries like China and India.

These have long been one of the chief stumbling blocks in the negotiations, a new bout of which opened in Bonn at the beginning of this week. These emissions are increasing fast; China’s carbon dioxide emissions doubled in just ten years between 1996 and 2006, and the country is believed to have recently overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest polluter. China announced in January that it planned to increase coal production by another 30 percent by 2015.

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