Climate Change

US emissions inflict $1.9 trillion in global losses

A report found that the emissions caused by the US has inflicted severe losses on poorer countries through heatwaves, crop failures and other environmental consequences

By Susan Chacko
Published: Thursday 14 July 2022

United States greenhouse gas emissions have inflicted $1.9 trillion (Rs 15,200,000 crore) in economic damage on other countries across the world, according to a new study.

A recent study conducted by Dartmouth College, US, has found that the emissions of a few top emitting countries are responsible for causing major economic losses for developing countries.

The report, published July 12, 2022, in the journal Climatic Change, found that the emissions caused by the US have inflicted severe losses on poorer countries through heatwaves, crop failures and other environmental consequences.

The US was followed by China, which had caused $1.83 trillion and Russia, which had caused $986 billion in damage. India is largely responsible for nearly $809 billion of economic damage.

Also read: Taking off from CoP26: Is Green Grids Initiative the way forward for India?

The top five emitters — the US, China, Russia, Brazil and India — have collectively caused $trillion in income losses from global warming since 1990, according to the study. This amounts to 14 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product.

However, the distribution of warming impacts from historical emitters is highly unequal. The report highlights inequalities by identifying high-income, high-emitting countries as causing harm to low-emitting developing countries.

“This research provides an answer to the question of whether there is a scientific basis for climate liability claims — the answer is yes,”  Christopher Callahan, a PhD candidate at Dartmouth and study author, said. 

“We have quantified each nation’s culpability for historical temperature-driven income changes in every other country,” he added.

Pattern of global inequity

Greenhouse gas emissions from high-emitting countries have caused substantial economic losses in tropical developing countries. At the same time, emissions have been contributing to enormous economic gains for high-income, mid-latitude regions.

The study assessed the economic effects of warming attributable to each country’s emissions. Income changes are reported to be positive in the high latitudes, mild in the mid-latitudes and negative in the tropics.

Losses in South America, Africa and south and southeast Asia are concentrated around 1-2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc).

These regions are prone to temperature shocks, which can damage economic factors of production such as labour productivity and agricultural yields.

Gains in Canada, Russia and Scandinavia exceeded 3-4 per cent of GDPpc. Since these countries are located at cold baseline temperatures, they can derive the economic output of global warming.

The cool, relatively wealthier countries that have gained from anthropogenic warming are the historic emitters.

Nearly all the high-emitting nations in North America and Eurasia are in the top two GDP per capita income groups, though China, India and Indonesia are exceptions.

Countries in the lowest income quintile, primarily in Africa and parts of Asia, have caused nearly zero effects on other countries. At the same time, they have suffered the greatest disadvantages from the emissions of larger economies.

Global income changes attributable to the US and China’s emissions over the years 1990–2014 exceed $1.8 trillion in both losses and benefits. Losses and benefits induced by Russia, India and Brazil each exceed $500 billion.

The $6 trillion in cumulative losses attributable to these five countries alone is comparable to some 14 per cent of annual world GDP. The US contributes the most, responsible for 16.5 per cent of losses and 18 per cent of benefits, followed by China.

Large emitters make disproportionate contributions to climate damage. The top 10 most damaging countries are together responsible for more than 67 per cent of losses and 70 per cent of benefits.

“The culpability for warming rests primarily with a handful of major emitters and this warming has resulted in the emitters’ enrichment at the expense of the poorest people in the world,” Justin Mankin, an assistant professor of geography and senior researcher on the study, said in a statement.

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