Greenhouse gas emissions work like ‘second hand smoke’ according to a new study from the University of Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Many countries with high emissions will suffer relatively little from a warming world, while some of the lowest emitters will face catastrophic effects.
Carbon emissions are produced in-country, but their impact is global and affects different parts of the world in different ways. The study plotted climate change vulnerability against emissions levels, and found that there was a serious mismatch. Many of the world’s biggest emitters are essentially free riders. 20 out of the 36 countries with the largest footprints are also among the least vulnerable, including the US, Canada and most of Western Europe.
Conversely, some of the countries with the lowest emissions are the most vulnerable, especially island nations or in Sub-Saharan Africa. Several countries, including Gambia, Comoros and the Solomon Islands, were in the lowest quintile on emissions and the highest quintile for vulnerability. These are referred to as ‘forced riders’ in the report, and appear in dark green in the map below.
“This is an issue of environmental equity on a truly global scale” says the report, which is hard to argue with.
If unaddressed, climate change could turn out to be a justice issue on the scale of the slave trade, with a legacy every bit as raw and divisive.