Pioneering study attributes $6 trillion to global warming…

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There’s no denying it anymore – countries that have historically grown on cheap and dirty fossil fuels have caused measurable financial harm to poorer countries and a new study, the first of its kind, has the numbers and the physics to back it up. substantiate this claim above.

The authors explain that the study points out “that the responsibility for warming lies primarily with a handful of large emitters and that this warming has led to the enrichment of emitters at the expense of the world’s poorest people”, adding that they “quantify these costs. to each country and who is specifically responsible for it”.

Through this end-to-end integrated attribution analysis conducted by researchers at the prestigious Dartmouth College, a solid scientific basis for climate liability claims between different countries has been established. “The lack of scientific evidence linking individual emitters to downstream impacts of warming has been the primary evidence gap in climate litigation,” the authors state. Thanks to this study, this lack of evidence has been considerably reduced.

Among the main conclusions of the National attribution of historical climate damage study, is that five national greenhouse gas emitters – through their contributions to global warming – generated $6 trillion (or approximately R102 trillion) in global economic losses from 1990 to 2014.

At the sociological level, the study provides a solid scientific basis for showing that human-caused global warming “constitutes a substantial international transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich”.

Published in the journal Climate changethe summary of the study sets out the context.

“Quantifying the nations responsible for the economic impacts of anthropogenic warming is key to informing climate litigation and claims for restitution of climate damages. However, for countries seeking legal redress, the extent of economic losses from warming attributable to individual emitters is not known, compromising their right to climate liability claims.

This “veil of denial”, as the authors describe it, has been lifted with this study which combines historical data with “climate models of varying complexity in an integrated framework” that quantifies each nation’s “culpability for historical changes in temperature-induced income” in other countries. The study, explain the authors, provides “a critical overview of climate responsibility and national responsibility for climate policy”.

justin mankinassistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College and principal investigator of the study team, answered some of Our Burning Planet’s questions about South Africa’s unique place in the study and its implications for the climate negotiations of the UN.

“South Africa has harmed other countries because of the warming caused by its emissions. South Africa, according to our analysis, caused $144.7 billion in damage to other countries, given its territorial emissions from 1990 to 2014. The countries that South Africa damaged are usually found in the countries of the South, with already warm temperatures, their economies are more limited by global warming.

However, some of the warming caused by South Africa has also benefited other countries. Mankin elaborated on this saying: “South Africa has caused about $131.7 billion in benefits to other countries from the warming caused by its territorial emissions from 1990 to 2014. Those countries that have benefited are not the same as those who suffered.

Illustrative image | Sources: Students gather outside Parliament during the climate crisis to protest governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming on March 15, 2019 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Steam from the cooling towers of Eskom Holdings SOC’s coal-fired Matla power station in Mpumalanga on March 21, 2022. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images) | rawpixel

In terms of damage to the country due to global warming, “South Africa has also suffered from warming caused by emissions from other countries – we estimate the South African economy to be $118 billion richer million if other countries had given up their territorial emissions over the period 1990-2014,” Mankin said.

Among the study’s remarkable findings is that the top five emitters – the United States, China, Russia, Brazil and India – have “collectively caused $6 trillion in income due to global warming since 1990, which is comparable to 14% of the annual world gross product”. domestic product”.

However, while much of the damage caused can be attributed to a handful of countries, the distribution of these impacts of warming is very uneven. These high-emitting countries have largely benefited while harming low-income, low-emitting countries, “highlighting the inequalities inherent in the causes and consequences of historic warming.”

The study’s authors say its analysis is an important step forward in enabling plaintiffs to sue for climate-related damages.

“The legal requirement to prove standing to sue for climate-related damage means that plaintiffs must credibly link the damage they have suffered to a specific actor responsible for that damage” and “attributing economic damage to global warming writ large is not considered legally sufficient to prove the causal role of any specific emitter,” they explain, adding that “the lack of scientific evidence linking individual emitters to downstream impacts warming has been the main evidentiary gap in climate litigation”.

Nicole Loser, head of the pollution and climate change program at the Center for Environmental Rights (CER) answered some of OBP’s questions about potential implications for legal proceedings.

Loser, who was admitted as a barrister at the High Court in 2013, said: “Over the past few years…the science of what they call attribution…has become much more sophisticated. [A] a few years ago, it was very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to say: “this country or this company is responsible for X climate damage”.

“What that means is that in the past…we couldn’t make those causal links, it’s a lot easier to do that. [now]… Whether or not a court accepts this difference depends. And there are a number of cases that have been brought against what they call the ‘carbon majors’… with minimal success sometimes, but these cases are also becoming more mainstream, and we’re seeing some successes .

“It’s kind of a rapidly growing area of ​​law, and I think we’re going to continue to see some really interesting things coming out of this whole loss and damage thing,” Loser said.

Other findings of the study, particularly regarding the spatial distribution of economic damage from warming, are illuminating. While the countries least responsible for historic emissions are also by far the most affected countries, emitters are also the beneficiaries. “The global revenue changes attributable to US and Chinese emissions over the period 1990-2014 each exceed $1.8 trillion in losses and benefits; the losses and profits induced by Russia, India and Brazil each individually exceed $500 billion.

The Russian Federation presents an interesting case study of how global warming somehow benefits other countries. In Decree No. 3183-r from the Russian government, the first stage of adaptation to climate change is presented which defines economic and social measures to “…reduce the vulnerability of the Russian population, economy and natural objects to the impacts of climate change, as well as to take advantage of the opportunities created by such changes”.

Some of these “opportunities” have resulted in decreased energy consumption in cold regions, expansion of agricultural areas, and new opportunities for navigation and exploration in the Arctic Ocean formed by melting sea ice. .

The study speaks to this reality saying that “losses are concentrated around 1-2% of GDP per capita in countries in South America, Africa and South and Southeast Asia, where thermal shocks can damage economic factors such as labor productivity and agricultural yields. while on the other hand, “gains exceed 3 to 4% of GDP per capita in Canada, Russia and Scandinavia; cold reference temperatures mean that warming facilitates economic production in these countries.

According to the study authors, the spatial pattern of attributable damage “has clear distributional implications.”

“Countries that are losing income are hotter and poorer than the global average, usually located in the tropics. Income-earning countries are cooler and wealthier than the global average, generally located in mid-latitudes.

“Global warming to date has amplified, and will continue to amplify, this existing pattern of global economic inequality,” they write. OBP/DM

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