Developed nations that drive climate change incur relatively few of the costs whereas countries that produce few greenhouse gas emissions will be hard-hit, like nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke.
“Less than 4 percent of countries are responsible for over half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Glenn Althor, of the University of Queensland.
“This means that the majority of countries are unfairly bearing the burden of a problem that they did not create. Clearly, this isn’t fair by any definition. It’s much like a non-smoker being trapped in a room and getting cancer from second hand smoke while a heavy smoker continues to puff away in good health.”
Althor and colleagues at the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society have just published a study analyzing the contributions to climate change by the world’s nations versus the effect that climate change will have on those countries.
“We found that developed nations, such as Australia, the United States, Canada and Russia, are essentially climate free riders, driving the problem of climate change while incurring relatively few of the costs, such as devastating flood, increased extreme weather and rising sea levels.”
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable countries, many of which are in Africa or are small island states, produce few greenhouse gas emissions. The study is in the Nature publication Scientific Reports. [Glenn Althor, James E. M. Watson and Richard A. Fuller, Global mismatch between greenhouse gas emissions and the burden of climate change]
“While it’s important that this issue is defined by scientists, it needs to be acted on by global leaders. The Paris Climate Agreement, finalized in December last year, was widely seen as a positive step forward in addressing climate change. However, there must be an urgent and meaningful mobilization of the policies outlined in the Paris Agreement if we’re to help the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change while achieving global emissions reductions.”
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]
Editor's note: a previous version of this story mistakenly identified the speaker as co-author James Watson.