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New report reveals vast inequalities in climate change impacts

The Climate Inequality Report 2023 reveals empirical data suggesting that the middle and low income countries will bear the maximum brunt of climate change, here's how.

Climate change has now become a part of our reality and in order to gauge the exact impact of climate change phenomenon on the world’s population, it is important to engage in empirical research and policy recommendations based on recorded data. This is precisely why the latest report of the World Inequality Lab at the Paris School of Economics holds importance. The report titled “Climate Inequality Report 2023: Fair taxes for a sustainable future in the global south” proves an important caveat in the international climate action discourse and that is related to the searing inequalities that exist in how the world’s population will be impacted by the climate change events. It has already been a matter of intense debate that ‘differentiated responsibilities’ need to become the central principle in tackling climate change as the developed world takes responsibility for its contribution to the factors aggravating global warming and climate change.

In other words, the contribution of the developed world to greenhouse gas or carbon emissions is significantly higher than the rest of the world, especially the low income countries. The question posed here is- who then becomes responsible for taking extensive measures for curbing this catastrophe? The higher income countries. The countries with the most resources and adaptive capacities need to take up responsibilities to build climate action policies.

This, in essence, has been the debate surrounding the climate action responsibilities between the global north and the global south. The Climate Inequality Report 2023 however gives us one more reason, a more humanitarian reason to pursue differentiated climate action policies based solely on the country’s contribution to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. The main premise of the report is that even though the bottom 50 per cent of the countries contribute less than 2 per cent to greenhouse gas emissions, they will bear about 75 per cent of the losses brought about by climate change events. This means that the people living in these regions, the people who already lack the necessary resources and capacities to deal with such events, will be the ones bearing the maximum brunt.

The report has divided the world’s economies into three groups - the bottom 50 per cent, the middle 40 per cent and the top 10 per cent.

This particular graph portrays the inequalities that exist even in the impact of the climate change events. The top 10 per cent economies, i.e. the developed world or the global north have the maximum capacity (76 per cent) to mitigate the losses that would be incurred after climate change events. These losses just amount to 3 per cent for these countries while their emission rates are the highest - 48 per cent. The differences that exist in the amount of losses to be incurred by the bottom 50 per cent and the top 10 per cent are too vast to be narrowed down through conventional policies. There is a need to bring about radical changes and shift the mitigation capacities to the middle and low income countries as well. The maximum share of the global population resides in these countries and hence any catastrophic climate change event will turn into a massive humanitarian crisis for the world.

Let us now consider the varying degrees of these impacts.

Climate change and global warming have had a direct impact on agricultural production and the agrarian societies have been the most impacted by the rising global temperatures. However, there is more to the story. Even in the case of agriculture, the impact is riddled with inequalities. For example, as per the report, the agricultural productivity in Africa has reduced by 35 per cent due to the effects of global warming and on the other hand countries like Canada and Russia have seen an increase in the agricultural production as a result of climate change. To understand the implication of this data, it is important to bear in mind that the maximum share of poverty ridden population in the world resides in Africa and the high rates of poverty are then coupled with food insecurity to aggravate the humanitarian crisis further.

Similar is the trend with the global warming driven mortality rates. The motarily risk in the cold regions will reduce as a result of global warming while those in the tropical or subtropical countries will have to deal with higher mortality as a result of heat strokes. Another intervening factor in this case is the adaptive capacities, the population in the low income countries have a lower adaptive capacity and access to the resources necessary for dealing with extremely warm climate conditions. This further adds to the mortality rates in these regions.

This map displays the differences in the level of global warming and the resulting mortality rates. The regions of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia are at the maximum risk of extremely high temperatures and this translates to the catastrophic effects it would have on the population of these regions especially the low income countries with limited assets.

The rise in global sea levels and the melting of ice sheets in the Antarctic and Greenland has resulted in another set of challenges posed by catastrophic floods. It has been reported that the rise in global sea levels from 2006-2015 was 2.5 times faster than the rise recorded from 1901 to 1990. Again, the inequalities of income and resources are intervening factors to the impact of floods on the global population. According to this report, nine of the ten countries at the risk of maximum floods are middle to low income countries and hence majority of the world’s population at the receiving end of catastrophic floods is going to be from poverty stricken societies of these countries.

All of this data combined just goes on to suggest that there is a disproportionate impact of climate change being borne by the people who have had very little to contribute to this in the first place. This points to the need for differentiated climate policies proportionate with the contribution to global emissions and the relative impact of their respective populations.

The report itself suggests the policy changes necessary to mitigate these inequalities and the most significant of these is the increase in the corporate or wealth tax with pollution top up for the wealthy population of the high income or top 10 per cent of the countries. Other policies such as removal of fossil fuel subsidies or banning investments in new fossils also seek to disincentive the population from carbon energy supply. The report also suggests introducing the system of carbon cards to track and monitor the carbon usage by the population. In the case of the bottom 50 per cent, there is a need to divert the resources to these countries so as to build capacities for greater investments in green energy transitions and low carbon emission equipment.

The Climate Inequalities Report 2023 has brought to light some of the pressing issues within the climate action discourse. It is safe to say that the people who will bear the maximum brunt of climate change events are the ones who have a minimal contribution of global emissions and this is something that needs to be considered in order to build an inclusive approach to climate action.


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