Green Tau issue 47

10th August 2022 

Loss and Damage

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as an insulator, keeping in the warmth of the sun that is radiated back by the earth. We see a similar affect when clouds act as an insulator. Under a clear night in the winter temperatures will plummet as the radiant heat escapes overnight. Whilst a cloudy night will maintain the temperature at a higher level as cloud cover keeps in more of the heat. Unlike cloud which can dissipate as quickly as it appears, atmospheric carbon dioxide stays put – unless it is absorbed by plants (on land) or by phytoplankton (in oceans).

The latest IPCC report suggests that for every 1000 billion of CO2 emitted temperatures will rise by approximately 0.45C. Since 1850 2500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere, and global temperatures have risen by about 1.2C between 1850 and 2020.

These carbon emissions come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and (to a lesser but still significant extent) making cement. The other notable contributor is change of land use. Where forests have been felled, the loss of CO2 absorbing capacity leads to a measurable increase in emissions. 

Considering cumulative carbon emissions (from fossil fuels, cement and changes in land use) since 1850 the USA has been the largest emitter, accounting for 20% of global emissions. The US is followed by China 11%, Russia 7%, Brazil 5%, Indonesia 4% (both these nations have seen significant deforestation), Germany 3.5%, India 3.4%, United Kingdom 3%,  Japan 2.7% and Canada 2.6%.  The distribution changes when emissions are calculated per capita for each national. Canada is now in top place, followed by the USA, Estonia (which has been heavily reliant on oil sands for energy), Australia, Trinidad and Tobago (having large oil, gas and chemical industries), Russia, Kazakhstan, United Kingdom (8th), Germany and Belgium. https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-which-countries-are-historically-responsible-for-climate-change/ 

Another way of looking at the distribution of carbon emissions across the globe, is to compare them with wealth. It was the early industrialisation of many European and North American countries that enabled them to become some of the wealthiest nations.  The richest half of the wealthiest nations account for 86% of the current annual CO2 emissions. Of the remaining nations, the very poorest, representing 9% of the global population account for just 0.5% of CO2 emissions. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions

The very poorest nations that account for the most minimal CO2 emissions, are Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Liberia and Niger. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/poorest-countries-in-the-world. These are countries which already face difficult situations and are highly vulnerable to the extremes of drought and floods. For them the effects of climate change will come sooner and with greater intensity than nations with more amenable climates. Their poverty makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change as they have limited resources with which to either mitigate or adapt. For example  there may be limited funding to build reservoirs and water distribution networks, weather warning systems, food stocks, search and rescue services etc, and limited resources to rebuild when disasters strike.

Another vulnerable group are the Small Islands Developing States which includes low-lying atoll nations in the Pacific like Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, which are only about six feet above sea level. The rising global temperatures that are already locked in mean that ice at both Poles will (as is  already beginning) melt, with a subsequent rises in sea levels, threatening the future existence of some of these islands.

It is clearly apparent that there is great inequality and injustice in the realm of climate change. Those who have contributed most are often the best able to insulate themselves from its effects, whilst those who contributed least are often doubly disadvantaged. 

Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks. People and ecosystems least able to cope are being hardest hit, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, 8th February 2022

To address this scenario, wealthy nations at the Copenhagen climate summit (COP25) in 2009,  agreed to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. This agreement was reiterated at COP 26 in 2022. It is still a promise that has yet to be met. To date the best year was 2020 when $83.3 bn was raised. Increasing finance for countries worst hit by climate impacts is therefore one of the key goals of Cop27 in Egypt. 

In addition to funding to help the most vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change, a call was made at COP26 for a “Loss and Damage” fund. These are funds that would compensate the worst affected and disadvantaged nations for damage caused by climate change. Like an insurance fund, it would compensate those who accrue loss and damage through events for which they are not responsible. However the developing countries’ proposal for a finance facility to address loss and damage was rejected in favour of a three-year Glasgow Dialogue to discuss funding arrangements – https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621382/bp-fair-finance-loss-and-damage-070622-en.pdf

Who should pay into this fund? Those nations who have contributed most to the climate crisis and those best able to pay. And what of the fossil fuel companies? Certainly taxation and in the current market, further windfall taxes should enable governments to obtain the necessary finance. 

In 2020-21 UN humanitarian appeals to address emergencies arising from climate change topped $20 bn.  Meanwhile the top 25 oil and gas companies generated $205 billion in profits – https://www.accountable.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/20220307-UPDATED-Oil-And-Gas-2021-Profits-1.pdf And at the same time, these fossil fuel companies were – and continue – receiving government subsidies. The campaign group Paid to Pollute analysed OECD date showing that between 2016 and 2020 companies received £9.9 billion in tax reliefs for new exploration and production and £3.7 billion in payments towards decommissioning costs.

Thursday 22 September is Loss and Damage Action Day – an international day to stand in solidarity with those living with the worst impacts of climate breakdown, and to call on rich countries and big polluters to pay compensation. 

  • Join Green Christian’s morning prayer event – register on the Green Christian website.
  • Join Make Polluters Pay’s social media action – follow @MakePolluterPay and @FFTCnetwork for details.
  • Hold a vigil for loss and damage. This is a powerful way to publicly show solidarity with those at the sharp end of climate breakdown. A guide to holding an interfaith vigil is available to download (below). More resources are available on the Make Cop Count website, including a leaflet to hand out and placards to display.
  • For more information,- https://ctbi.org.uk/loss-and-damage-action-day-22-sept-2022/

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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