Climate Hypocrisy Ensures Global Warming

Yves here. Even though most readers likely know the broad outlines of this argument, that advanced economies, who have been and remain the biggest carbon emitters, are big on empty talk about climate change. Countries in the so-called global South have particular reason to be upset about this because many have major cities at low altitudes that are particularly vulnerable to sea rises and climate-change-induced severe storms. This article fleshes out this case.

By Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and University of New South Wales (Australia), who held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, who was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. Originally published at Jomo Kwame Sundaram’s website

Rich country governments claim the high moral ground on climate action. But many deny their far greater responsibility for both historic and contemporary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, once acknowledged by the Kyoto Protocol.

Climate Injustice

Worse, responsibility has not been matched by commensurate efforts, especially by the largest rich economies in the G7, which dominates the G20. Its continued control of international economic resources and policymaking blocks progress on climate justice.

“That is the greatest injustice of climate change: that those who bear the least responsibility for climate change are the ones who will suffer the most”, says Mary Robinson, former Eire President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On a per capita basis, the US and close allies – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and Canada – produce more than a hundred times the planet-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of some African countries.

The African population produced about 1.1 metric tonnes of carbon (dioxide equivalent) emissions per person in 2019, under a quarter of the 4.7 tonnes global average. The US emitted 16.1 tonnes – nearly four times the global average.

GHG emissions accumulate over time and trap heat, warming the planet. The US has emitted over a quarter of all GHG emissions since the 1750s, while Europe accounts for 33%. By contrast, Africa, South America and India contributed about 3% each, while China contributed 12.7%.

Wealth inequalities worsen climate injustice. The world’s richest 5% were responsible for 37% of GHG emissions growth during 1990-2015, while the bottom half of the world’s population accounted for 7%!

Poor regions and people take 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 worsening global warming, but also have the least means to cope and protect themselves.

Thus, climate justice demands wealthy nations – most responsible for cumulative and current GHG emissions – not only reduce the harm they cause, but also help those with less means to cope.

Rich Hypocrisy

Wealthy countries have done little to keep their 2009 promises to provide US$100 billion annually to help developing countries. Most climate finance has been earmarked for mitigation. But this ignores their needs and priorities, as developing countries need help to adapt to climate change and to cope with losses and damages due to global warming.

The OECD club of rich countries has been criticized for exaggerating climate finance, but acknowledges, “Australia, Japan and the United States consider financing for high-efficiency coal plants as a form of climate finance.”

It reports climate finance of US$79.6bn in 2019, but these figures are hotly contested. However, ‘commercial credit’ is typically not concessional. But when it is, it implies official subsidies for “bankable”, “for profit” projects.

Many also doubt much of this funding is truly additional, and not just diverted (‘repurposed’) from other ends. Private finance also rarely goes where it is most needed while increasing debt burdens for borrowers.

Leading 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 his ‘Build Back Better’ (BBB) package of proposed social and climate spending would be a cornerstone of restoring international trust in the US commitment to stem global warming.

At the G7 Summit in June 2021, Biden announced his vision of a “Build Back Better World” (B3W) would define the G7 alternative to China’s multitrillion USD Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

All this was premised on US ability to lead from the front, with momentum growing once BBB became law. But his legislative package has stalled. Unable to attract the needed votes in the Senate, BBB is ‘dead in the water’.

Putting on 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 declining political fortunes, likely ‘horse-trading’ to pass the bill will almost certainly further undermine Biden’s promises.

Meanwhile, breaking his 2020 campaign promise, Biden approved nearly 900 more permits to drill on public land in 2021, more than President Trump in 2017. While exhorting others to cut fossil fuel reliance, his administration is now urging US companies and allies to produce more, invoking Ukraine war sanctions.

Aid Laggard

At COP26, Biden promised to help developing nations reduce carbon emissions, pledging to double US climate change aid. But even this is still well short of its proportionate share of the grossly inadequate US$100bn yearly rich nations had pledged in 2009 in concessional climate finance for developing countries.

Considering its national income and cumulative emissions, the US should provide at least US$43–50bn in climate finance annually. Others insist the US owes the developing world much more, considering their needs and damages due to US emissions, e.g., suggesting US$800bn over the decade to 2030.

In 2017-18, the US delivered US$10bn to the pledged US$100bn annual climate finance – less than Japan’s US$27bn, Germany’s US$20bn and France’s US$15bn, despite the US economy being larger than all three combined.

President Obama pledged US$3bn to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – the UN’s flagship climate finance initiative – but delivered only US$1bn. Trump totally repudiated this modest pledge.

At the April 2021 Earth Day leaders’ summit, Biden vowed to nearly double Obama’s pledge to US$5.7bn, with US$1.5bn for adaptation. But even this amount is far short of what the US should contribute, given its means and total emissions.

After the European Commission president highlighted this in September 2021, Biden vowed to again double the US contribution to US$11.4bn yearly by 2024, boasting this would “make the US a leader in international climate finance”.

At COP26, the US cited this increased GCF promise to block developing countries’ call for a share of revenue from voluntary bilateral carbon trading. The US has also opposed developing countries’ call for a funding facility to help vulnerable nations cope with loss and damage due to global warming.

Worse, the US Congress has approved only US$1bn for international climate finance for 2022 – only US$387m more than in the Trump era. At that rate, it would take until 2050 to get to US$11.4bn. Unsurprisingly, Biden made only passing mention of climate and energy in his last State of the Union address.

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  1. Anthony G Stegman

    In the United States nothing has fundamentally changed with respect to the climate crisis. Nobody cares. The airports are full of travelers (despite the many delays), used car lots are having trouble getting inventory sufficient to meet the increasing demand, July 4th weekend travel by automobile is expected to be above pre-pandemic levels despite high gasoline prices. And so on. For those who do care about the climate crisis all of this is very disconcerting and discouraging.

    1. Ghost in the Machine

      I know it takes some time for high energy prices to work through the economy, but it is amazing how there is seemingly little impact on crowds and travel. My mother is very ill and I have been flying more to arrange care. Flying causes me great anxiety, to the level of panic attacks, as I know it is the most environmentally destructive thing I do. I do all these things to lower my impact, and then flying pretty much overwhelms those actions.

  2. Susan the other

    In all of these summaries of the cost estimates of global warming there is so little constructive detail. I agree things seem to be going nowhere fast – but, ideally, where and how should it all be going? Mitigating losses how? Establishing a fund doesn’t do anything except reassure people that the money is available. Which is good, but it is more important to talk actual action, doable mitigation plans. Therein lies the worst of the denial – because if there were concrete plans they could actually be followed. I wish they would nail it all down. Then financing would have some meaning. If they’ve got the statistics to estimate all the billions required to “cope with loss and damage” then they know the details. At least some of them, and thus they have some idea about best solutions. The financing is clearly required because low lying countries are already suffering damages, but it would be far more reassuring to hear what the solutions are, rather than what their estimated costs and obligations will be.

    1. podcastkid

      Do basically like Atlanta’s mass transit (I remember from the 90s)? Decent trains carry the flax to the depots, and mule wagons take it from there?

      Up hill all the way (and in topsy turvy world it gets hotter the higher you go).

      “Scientists reckon some seventeen trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide—at least double the amount in the Earth’s entire atmosphere—is locked in the tundra. A similar quantity of methane is stored there and at the Arctic Ocean’s bottom, and methane is twenty-eight times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. If all that’s released, you’ll get temperatures that aren’t in the historical record.”

    1. Anthony G Stegman

      In California I am amazed at the numbers of polluting vehicles I see on the road. How do these vehicles pass a smog test? Apparently, the smog check equipment can be modified to show a passing test when in fact the tested vehicle is failing.

  3. John Steinbach

    Back in the very early 1970s while an undergrad at the University of Michigan, I was a member of the Association for the Promotion of Appropriate Technology for Developing Countries (APROTEC). We consisted primarily of foreign students from Africa and South Asia. Our position back then was that it would be ecologically impossible for the entire world to aspire to energy and natural resource usage of the U.S. and Europe; that the idea of rising the “developing world” to U.S. standards would be omnicidal. The conclusion we made 50 years ago was that, in order for humanity to survive, the industrialized world must radically reduce consumption. We didn’t clearly understand the implications of global warming back then, but the handwriting was clearly “written on the Wall.”

  4. John

    Were it profitable to mitigate, to even reverse, the activities that are driving climate change, it would happen in a heartbeat. But as the first commenter said, “…nothing has fundamentally changed…” nor will it.The Jackpot is coming.

  5. drumlin woodchuckles

    This article would like me to support giving Africa money so that Africa can buy underpriced Chinese solar panels made by underpaid Chinese workers, in order to exterminate what little is left of the American solar panel industry. I will never support that. This article can call me all the hypocrite it likes and try every from of psychological extortion and moral blackmail it wants to on me. I will not support giving American money to Africa for Africa to buy solar panels from America’s most dangerous trading enemy.

    I support giving American money to Africa if Africa strictly and only buys American solar panels with their free gift from us Americans of American money. If the author of this article really cares about America helping Africa mitigate and reduce carbon skyflooding, she will support giving American money to Africa even if and even only if Africa spends that money in and only in America. If she doesn’t support that, then she reveals that “global warming” is not her concern and not her agenda. If she doesn’t support that, she reveals that her real agenda is destroying America and building Chinese World Hegemony.

    Meanwhile, if any Americans really want to see America reduce its rate of carbon skyflooding, they will work to abolish Free Trade and take America off the International Corporate Globalonial Plantation. A United States of Autarkamerica , sealing the carbon skydumping production from all the worst carbon skyflooders of toDAY’S world . . . like China . . . would be free to downcarbonize itself behind a Big Beautiful Wall of Eco-Protection from trading enemy carbon skydumping production.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If we had rigid protectionism, it would be safe for us to do so, because we could ban them from selling their underpriced panels into our market. We could reserve our own panels market for our own panels makers, and they could protectionise their countries and reserve their own panels-market for their own panels makers. If we had that, I could treat your advice as worth serious consideration.

        But under the current Forced Free Trade environment, I dare not do so. They, or Chinese investors in their panel makers, would simply dump panel product into our market in order to destroy what panel makers we have left.

        But the question is so good that you should ask it of China. Why doesn’t China give them money so they can make their own panels? Or why doesn’t Europe in general, or Spain in particular?

        And why doesn’t the author of this article ask that question? Is it because her real agenda is to destroy America and make China the Total World Hegemon? I sincerely have to wonder.

        ( By the way, in my comment up above, I forgot to type the word “out” after the word “sealing”. I meant to write ” sealing out” trading enemy carbon dumping production from entering our country.)

        1. podcastkid

          Well, there was that article here that said the alt currency will have technical problems, but I guess China still is the one (even in the old system) that has the dough? If the east backs more and more away from our bonds, what real money will we have to give, if any?

          The thing Jacques Ellul identified as technique seems to have won out.

          By 2050, as the seas submerge some of its major cities and heat begins to ravage its agricultural heartland, China will have no choice but to abandon whatever sort of global system it might have constructed. And so, as we peer dimly into the potentially catastrophic decades beyond 2050, the international community will have good reason to forge a new kind of world order unlike any that has come before.
          Alfred W. McCoy (I don’t exactly agree with him on Putin)

          Search engines won’t find me anything on NAFTA 2’s “rule of origins” success (?) if I put in “2021.”

          1. podcastkid

            “rules of origin” I guess is correct…can’t find something recent, but haven’t looked at Global Trade Watch’s fb page in about a month or 2…I think Wallach had written something germane. Probably NC too, but I missed it.

  6. RobertC

    View from the summit: A self-defeating G7 fails on all fronts Leaders struggle to meet the moment on Ukraine, climate change, inflation, food and energy.

    ZUGSPITZE, Germany — If they needed reminding about the urgency of climate change and their role in stopping it, all G7 leaders had to do was look up.

    High above the opulent Schloss Elmau, the resort in which the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies have held earnest (and not so earnest) discussions over the past three days, Germany’s largest — soon to be last — glacier sits in a saddle at the top of the 2,962-meter Zugspitze mountain.

    The glacier is dying, losing 250 liters of water — more than a bathtub — every 30 seconds. A scientific survey last year found it would likely disappear within the next decade. In any case, scientists say, it is melting and can’t be saved.

    As they wrapped up their talks, the world’s most powerful leaders seemed to be tinkering at the margins and failing on all fronts — powerless to stop Russia’s war or stop prices from racing out of control, unable to stop the Zugspitze glacier from melting, or to even to end the blockade of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain vitally needed to feed the developing world.

    …The self-sabotage continued apace in Bavaria this week.

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had made it “much more urgent and led to many more actions so that we accelerate that transition off of our reliance on oil and gas altogether as a world.”

    But neither that sentiment, nor the supposed actions, were reflected in the leader’s final statement. Putin’s war gave them urgent cause to shift off fossil fuels, they said, but only those from Russia.

  7. Herb

    The Healthy Planet Action Coalition a group I helped start consistening of scientists and public policy experts from a dozen countries strongly advocates what I have dubbed the climate triad – accelerated Emission Reductions, large scale carbon dioxide removal and most importantly in the short run direct cooling of the climate by a portfolio of techniques.

    This set of actions if implemented urgently by the world community could significantly reduce the temperature increases we are experiencing within a matter of months.

    Nothing could be more equitable to the global south than for the US and other rich countries to pay for the Triad while consulting with global south and other countries to ensure it is implemented in an equitable fashion.

  8. drumlin woodchuckles

    Since I only have a few minutes before I have to clock in for work, I zipped over to the Healthy Climate Action site referrenced just above and speed-skimmed it for about 30 seconds. In the 30 second view, it looks promising enough to me that I will take some time later to look at it deeper. At first insta-glance, it looks like it will in part focus on habitat restoration to drive water-cycle restoration, among other things.
    I didn’t see an immediate horns-blaring sign of surrounding the world with a sulfuric acid shroud or other such geo-engineering schemes, though deeper looking may find them in there. ( Those opposed to geoengineering should expect Chindia (( China plus India)) to begin doing mass global-scale geoengineering on their own starting in 10-15 years, with or without world “permission”. At which point, opposition becomes purely performative and recreational anyway).

    So here is the website in case anyone wants to take a few minutes look.

  9. Justin Cidertrades

    in the best-case scenario the Earth will reflect some of the photons from the Sun before they are absorbed, converted to heat. In the best-case scenario Earth’s black body radiation will radiate energy back into outer space.

    in the worst case scenario Earth will keep all the energy. How long will this worst case require to raise the temperature of the Earth by 1 Kelvin?

    Assume that the aggregate specific heat of Earth is 1000 joules/kg. Assume that the total mass of Earth is 5.97237×10^24 kg. Thus 5.97237×10^27 joules will raise the temperature of Earth by one Kelvin.

    Now assume that the radius of the Earth is 6,367 kilometers. Thus the area of Earth facing the Sun is π * 6,367^2 or π * 40,538,689 or 127,356,047 square kilometers. Assume TSI, total solar irradiance is 1.365 kilo⁠watts per square meter (kW/m²), and 1,365,000 kilowatts/square kilometer. Thus Earth receives 127,356,047 * 1,365,000 kilowatts or 1.73841×10¹⁴ kW. from the sun, 1.73841×10¹⁴ kWh each hour. Assume that one kWh = 3.6 megajoules. Thus each hour we get 6.25827615×10²⁰ joules from the Sun each hour, 5.97237×10^27 joules every 9,542,563 hours, the time required to heat us all up by 1 Kelvin. Assuming 8765 hours / year, thus 9,542,563 hours is merely 1,088 years. The best case Étude will take longer. Will significant AGW require more than one Kelvin?


    In the meantime acid rain by its increased osmolarity lowers the freezing point of water, melts the glaciers.

  10. MaryRayfield

    Very informative and interesting article. I know that there are a lot of fo people who think that global warming is a myth, but for me, the threat is real. The climate has already changed and will continue doing it.

  11. LisaArthur

    Very informative and interesting article. I also believe that the climate has already changed, and will continue doing it. Some time ago, I took part in a conference at my uni, which was dedicated to global warming and its causes. When I was looking for the information, I came across this source where I read some interesting plastic pollution essay samples, and it turned out that it also affects climate change. Heat and sunlight cause plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, leading to an alarming feedback loop. As climate changes, the planet gets hotter, and the plastic breaks down into more methane and ethylene, increasing the rate of climate change and perpetuating the cycle. So, actions should be taken to reduce plastic on our planet and to prevent catastrophes.

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