My Say: Climate Hypocrisy Ensures Global Warming

Rich country governments claim the high morality of climate action. But many deny their far greater responsibility for historic and contemporary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions once recognized by the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate injustice

Worse still, accountability has not been accompanied by commensurate efforts, especially by the larger, wealthier economies of the G7, which dominates the G20. Its continued control of international economic resources and policy-making is blocking progress on climate justice.

“This is the greatest injustice of climate change: those who bear the least responsibility for climate change are those who will suffer the most,” said Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner to human rights.

On a per capita basis, the United States and its close allies – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Canada – produce more than 100 times the emissions of global warming greenhouse gases (GHGs) of some African countries.

Africa’s population produced around 1.1 metric tonnes of carbon emissions (carbon dioxide equivalent) per person in 2019, less than a quarter of the global average of 4.7 tonnes. The United States emitted 16.1 tonnes, nearly four times the global average.

GHG emissions build up over time and trap heat, warming the planet. The United States has emitted more than a quarter of all GHG emissions since the 1750s, while Europe accounts for 33%. In contrast, Africa, South America and India contributed around 3% each, while China contributed 12.7%.

Wealth inequality compounds climate injustice. The richest 5% of the world were responsible for 37% of the growth in GHG emissions between 1990 and 2015, while the bottom half of the world’s population accounted for 7%!

Poor regions and populations bear the brunt of global warming. The tropical zone is much more vulnerable to rapid climate change. Most of these countries and communities bear little responsibility for the GHG emissions that make global warming worse, but also have the least means to cope and protect themselves.

Thus, climate justice demands that rich countries – those most responsible for cumulative and current GHG emissions – not only reduce the damage they cause, but also help those with fewer means to cope.

Rich hypocrisy

Rich countries have done little to fulfill their 2009 pledges to provide US$100 billion (RM440 billion) a year to help developing countries. Most climate finance has been earmarked for mitigation. But this ignores the needs and priorities of developing countries, which need help to adapt to climate change and deal with loss and damage from global warming.

The OECD wealthy country club has been criticized for overstating climate finance, but acknowledges that ‘Australia, Japan and the United States view funding for high-efficiency coal-fired power plants as a form of climate finance “.

It reports climate finance of US$79.6 billion in 2019, but these numbers are hotly disputed. However, “trade credit” is generally not concessional. But when it does, it involves official subsidies for ‘bankable’, ‘for-profit’ projects.

Many also doubt that much of this funding is truly additional, and not simply diverted (“re-allocated”) for other purposes. Private finance rarely goes where it is most needed while increasing borrowers’ debt burdens.

lead from behind

At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021, US President Joe Biden described climate change as “an existential threat to human existence” and pledged to cut US emissions by up to 51% by 2030.

Biden had claimed that his “Build Back Better” (BBB) ​​social and climate spending agenda would be the cornerstone of restoring international confidence in the United States’ commitment to stemming global warming.

At the G7 summit in June 2021, Biden announced that his vision for a “Build Back Better World” (B3W) would define the G7’s alternative to China’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

All of this hinged on the ability of the United States to lead from the front, with momentum growing once BBB became law. But its legislative package has stalled. Unable to attract the necessary votes in the Senate, BBB is “dead in the water”.

Wearing a brave face, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promises to bring the legislation to a vote early next year. But with their party’s waning political fortunes, the likely “bargaining” to push the bill through will almost certainly further undermine Biden’s promises.

Meanwhile, breaking his 2020 campaign promise, Biden has approved nearly 900 more permits to drill on public lands in 2021, more than former President Trump did in 2017. While urging others to reduce reliance on fuels fossil fuels, his administration is now urging US companies and their allies to produce more, citing Ukraine’s war sanctions.

Help latecomer

At COP26, Biden pledged to help developing countries reduce their carbon emissions, pledging to double US aid for climate change. But even that is still far short of its proportionate share of the US$100 billion a year that rich countries pledged in 2009 in concessional climate finance for developing countries.

Given its national income and cumulative emissions, the United States should provide at least US$43-50 billion in climate finance each year. Others insist that the US owes the developing world much more, given its needs and the damage from US emissions, for example, suggesting US$800 billion over the decade to 2030.

In 2017-18, the United States contributed $10 billion of the $100 billion annual climate finance pledge, less than Japan’s $27 billion, Germany’s $20 billion, and Germany’s $15 billion. dollars from France, although the US economy is larger than the three combined.

Former President Obama pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – the UN’s flagship climate finance initiative – but only paid out $1 billion. Trump has totally repudiated this modest promise.

At the April 2021 Earth Day Leaders’ Summit, Biden pledged to nearly double Obama’s pledge to $5.7 billion, with $1.5 billion for adaptation. But even that amount is well below what the United States should contribute, given its means and total emissions.

After the President of the European Commission pointed this out in September 2021, Biden pledged to double the US contribution again to $11.4 billion a year by 2024, boasting that it would “make states a leader in international climate finance”.

At COP26, the United States cited this increased GCF promise to block developing countries’ call for a revenue share from voluntary bilateral carbon trade. The United States also opposed developing countries’ call for a financing facility to help vulnerable nations deal with loss and damage from global warming.

Worse still, the US Congress has only approved US$1 billion for international climate finance for 2022, just $387 million more than in the Trump era. At this rate, it would take until 2050 to reach US$11.4 billion. Unsurprisingly, Biden made only passing mention of climate and energy in his final State of the Union address.


Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions from 2008 to 2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former professor of economics, was United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic Development. He is the recipient of the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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