Climate change threatens livelihoods and is a problem…

Climate change threatens the livelihoods of all humanity, but the livelihoods and well-being of the most vulnerable countries and population groups are most at risk. Responsibility for the majority of emissions falls on industrialized countries and wealthier people due to high levels of consumption, but without appropriate policies, the cost of the necessary transition is likely to fall on the most vulnerable.

Inequalities in the global economy as well as within countries determine who is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and who is able to respond to negative impacts such as drought, extreme weather, unpredictable rainfall and loss ecosystem services, among others, and who will bear the costs.

For these reasons, societies around the world and also within countries must carefully assess these risks and costs, and we must design policies that manage the transition to ensure that vulnerable groups are not made worse and inequalities are reduced. .

Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on adaptation and mitigation acknowledge that inequality is a significant factor in our response to climate change.

The IPCC report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability published in February 2022 stated that:

“The vulnerability of ecosystems and populations to climate change differs significantly across regions (very high confidence), due to intersecting socio-economic development patterns, unsustainable ocean and land use , inequalities, marginalization, historical and current patterns of inequality such as colonialism. , and governance” (IPCC RID, 2022a, p. 11).

The subsequent IPCC report on climate change mitigation released on April 4, 2022 also states that “changing global pathways to sustainable development, including by reducing inequalities, can lead to mitigation” (IPCC RID, 2022b, p. 45).

The first quote recognizes the role of the economic system and development in creating vulnerability to climate change for the poorest, while the second emphasizes that tackling this inequality will be vital to mitigating climate impacts.

Climate change and international inequalities

The impacts of climate change are felt around the world, but the negative impacts are particularly concentrated in African countries and other southern regions. The fact that these countries suffer the harshest consequences of climate change is particularly unfair because they are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that have caused climate change.

Europe and the United States (US) produced almost half of the world’s combined production emissions. These countries are also better able to respond to the impacts of climate change due to their low poverty rates. Most of the world’s poor are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

According to world BankDue to the Covid-19 pandemic, extreme global poverty has increased in 2020 for the first time in 20 years, so the poorest countries have to deal with the overlapping consequences of climate change in the context of higher levels of poverty.

Internationally, the responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions lies largely with the first industrialized countries. The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was adopted in 1992 in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to recognize the unequal contribution to climate change of industrialized countries and therefore differentiated responsibility.

It was confirmed in the Kyoto Protocol, a climate agreement that placed more responsibility on industrialized countries, but was later avoided in the Paris agreement (Dovie and Lwasa, 2017). The power and influence of responsible countries within the UNFCCC has contributed to the lack of action around this principle.

Power dynamics within the UNFCCC have also influenced how climate finance has been spent to date. In 2009, the wealthiest countries agreed to provide climate funds of $100 billion per year to developing countries by 2020. However, this promise has not been kept. Due to issues with how this funding is tracked, there is variable views on the amount funded per year, with Oxfam only estimating around $20 billion for 2017 and 2018, compared to the OECD reporting funding of $54.5 billion in 2017.

No matter how you count it, the climate funds provided to date are far below what was promised.

Most climate finance (80%) has been targeted on mitigation actions and there are significant gaps in adaptation finance. Adaptation funding comes mainly from public sources, presumably because mitigation has more opportunities for profit. Climate impacts can reduce a country’s adaptive capacity through loss and damage costs and negative effects on economic growth. This means that if adaptation to climate impacts is not supported in the short term, it will become more difficult to do so in the future. long term. Adaptation is key to addressing climate impacts that are already affecting many African countries.

There is still a lot to understand about climate change, its impacts and how it can be addressed in countries of the South, and in particular in Africa, which is a region that experiences significant negative impacts. Higher temperatures and reduced rainfall have had a negative impact on economic output in most African countries. Agricultural productivity growth has been most affected in Africa compared to other regions.

For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, maize yields declined by 5.8% and wheat yields by 2.3% during the period 1974-2008 due to climate change. A major constraint to further research is the fact that since 1990 only 4% of global climate change research funding has focused on Africa and only 1% has gone to researchers in Africa. Africa. This unequal access to resources to deal with climate change is a major challenge for climate justice.

South Africa is in an unusual position in that we are among the Global South and have contributed far less to cumulative emissions than industrialized countries – however, we are also one of the most carbon intensive economies and the largest transmitter in Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, while we should expect support in the form of technology transfer and funding from industrialized countries within the UNFCCC, we are also more responsible for rising emissions than our neighbours.

Climate change and inequalities at the national level

At the national level, there is extreme inequality in responsibility for emissions based on consumption in South Africa, with the top 10% earning people contributing much higher emissions than the bottom 50%, as shown the graph below taken from a Oxfam report in 2015.

South Africa remains the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income, and if you look wealth inequality (asset ownership), it was recently found that the richest 10% of South Africans own 86% of the wealth. The graph shows that South Africa stands out among others due to the very high levels of emissions per capita of the top 10% of income, compared to the average.

Figure 1: Lifestyle consumption emissions per capita in G20 countries (where data is available). (Source: Adapted from Oxfam, 2015. *Note: This graph does not take into account consumption-based emissions from governments, capital and international transport, which account for approximately 36% of total consumption emissions.)

If we are to tackle climate change and inequality, there are at least three principles we need to adopt to shape our approach. First, the principle that polluters must pay. We cannot leave the burden of the cost of climate change mitigation and adaptation to those who are not responsible for it. Therefore, industrialized countries should support the countries of the South and the wealthiest people should contribute to the response to climate change.

Second, to address gender inequalities, the approach must integrate land, energy and water issues, as these are the main resources on which the reproductive economy depends. the reproductive economy includes work that is undervalued and often unpaid but essential to human survival, such as childcare, cooking, cleaning and subsistence farming.

Third, there must be proportionality in the way the costs of the transition from a carbon economy to a carbon neutral economy are managed, both in terms of those who pollute by paying, but also in terms of those who can bear the costs bearing a proportionately greater Cost.

The economics of climate change management in South Africa is a complex issue that will require extensive research and analysis. From the perspective of inequality, however, two other points are worth highlighting.

First, while the transition will have to involve the state playing an important role in socializing the costs of the transition, it is important to ensure that the countries, groups and individuals who caused the problem do not benefit from a “free spin”.

Second, one of the main reasons why South Africa has such high levels of inequality is that economic power is concentrated in a few hands and large segments of our population are marginalized. The transition to a less carbon-based economy will mean some pretty fundamental changes in the structure of the economy and the types of industries we have. During this transition, it is imperative to address the concentration of economic power and create economic opportunity for those who are currently marginalized. OBP/DM/MC

Professor Imraan Valodia is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Climate, Sustainability and Inequality at the University of the Witwatersrand. Julia Taylor is a research fellow at the Southern Center for Inequality Studies, working on climate change and inequality.


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