carbon capture and storage emissions

Developed countries owe $170tr to mitigate carbon emission damages, study finds

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Industrialised nations could be liable to pay a total of $170tr in compensation or reparations by 2050 to ensure climate change targets are met, according to University of Leeds researchers.

This amounts to nearly $6tr per year or about 7 per cent of annual global GDP, which would be distributed as compensation to low-emitting countries that must decarbonise their economies more rapidly than would otherwise be required.

At a climate change summit in Egypt last year, nations agreed upon a loss and damage fund to cover such costs, although the details regarding who would provide the funds – and how – were not agreed upon.

The researchers have developed an interactive website which allows people to explore which countries could be entitled to receive compensation and how much, and which countries could be liable to pay.

It is the first scheme where countries historically responsible for excessive CO2 emissions are held liable to fund compensation.

Study leader Dr Andrew Fanning said: “For the world to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, all countries must urgently stop burning fossil fuels and other activities that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But not all countries have contributed equally to this problem.

“It is a matter of climate justice that if we are asking nations to rapidly decarbonise their economies, even though they hold no responsibility for the excess emissions that are destabilising the climate, then they should be compensated for this unfair burden.”

The data suggests that the UK could be liable to pay $7.7tr for excessive CO2 emissions over the period to 2050 – that is equivalent to an annual payment of nearly $3,500 per capita each year until 2050.

The US could be liable to pay $80tr over the period or an annual per capita payment of more than $7,200 until 2050.

India historically has been a low carbon emitter and could be entitled to receive compensation of $57tr, or nearly $1,200 per capita each year until 2050. 

The compensation system is based on the idea that the atmosphere is a natural resource for everyone to use equitably and sustainably.

To set a monetary value on the losses incurred, the researchers obtained the most recent remaining global ‘carbon budgets’ estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and calculated an equality-based ‘fair share’ of that total carbon budget for 168 countries, based on population size.

They compared each country’s fair share allocation against how much CO2 that country has released historically from 1960, together with an ambitious scenario where it decarbonises from current levels to ‘net zero’ by 2050.

Some countries were within their fair share allocation, while others, most notably the industrialised nations of the global North, have already significantly overshot their allocation.

The UK has used 2.5 times its fair share and the US has used more than four times its fair share. India, on the other hand, has used just under one quarter of its fair share.

“We find 55 countries would sacrifice more than 75 per cent of their fair shares, including most of sub-Saharan Africa and India,” Fanning added.

“Our results show this group of low-emitting countries would be entitled to receive an average compensation of $1,160 per capita per year, in a world that keeps global warming below 1.5 degrees.

“Meanwhile, countries that would have less of their fair shares appropriated would likewise be entitled to less compensation. We find 13 countries that would sacrifice less than 25 per cent of their fair shares under our net zero scenario, including China, which would be entitled to receive $280 per capita per year, on average.”

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