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Poor Countries Face The Greatest Climate Change Challenges

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By Nigel Martin, Yves Pétillon, Mario Renaud and Pierre Véronneau

This blog was first published in French in the Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crises and Aid.

From November 30 to December 10, Paris is the stage of the international conference on climate change, better known as COP21. The conference's main objective is to reach an agreement on the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced through the burning of fossil fuels, and thus limit the temperature increase to a maximum of two degrees Celsius. Ideally, targets set at the conference will be binding and apply to all countries, regardless of their level of economic development and CO2 emission. Poor countries pollute less; however, their populations are most affected by temperature increase. Negotiations in Paris will seek to set up a special fund to help these countries face the impact of climate change as well as adopt their own measures to reduce emissions, albeit low.

Inequality in CO2 emissions

CO2 emission levels vary considerably from one nation to another and in most cases, they are tied to a country's standard of living. China currently accounts for 27.5 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions, the U.S. for 14.5 per cent and Canada for 1.4 per cent . Yet more significant are calculations prorated to each country's population size with 16 tons of CO2 emissions per person per year in the U.S., 14 tons in Canada, seven tons in China and only 0.1 ton in the poorest countries . The global average amounts to six tons per individual. Worse, the richest one per cent in North America produce 200 tons per person per year, which is 2,000 times the quantity produced by the poorest 10 per cent in Africa, according to economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel!

Poverty and vulnerability

It is the people in the poorest countries that are and will be most affected by the consequences of climate change. A recent World Bank report on the subject states that climate change will possibly lead more than 100 million people below the poverty line by 2030, in addition to the one billion individuals already living this harsh reality. As a consequence, the positive trend observed over the last 10 years in poverty reduction would be reversed and make obsolete the sustainable development objectives adopted by the United Nations' General Assembly.

Farmers in poor countries are and will be the most affected as they are directly exposed to climatic disasters that are becoming more frequent, such as heavy droughts and major floods. More generally, most communities in poor countries will be subjected to significant price increases for food caused by a decrease in production. Moreover, these same individuals will be more vulnerable to malaria and other diseases aggravated by weather extremes.

Global fund for poor countries

The current round of negotiations includes the establishment of a fund worth US$100 to 150 billion per year for poor countries to help them minimize the impact of climate change and adopt measures allowing them to reduce their CO2 emissions even though these are already low. The establishment of the funds is a prerequisite for poor countries to ratify to agreement under preparation.

So far, rich countries don't seem particularly eager to contribute despite their responsibility for the negative consequences of climate change. Concerns addressed by poor countries express the fear that funding promises will never be fulfilled as has happened on other occasions, or that these amounts are already included in public development aid numbers instead of being additional funds.

Economists Piketty and Chancel suggest several innovative strategies to grow the fund based on the "polluter pays" assumption, i.e. make contribute mainly those countries that produce the most CO2. One strategy, which implies payments by all those countries producing more than the global average per habitant, would see North America contribute 37 per cent, the European Union 20 per cent and China 15 per cent.

A second strategy, based on contributions by the top one per cent emitters, would bring North America's share to 57 per cent, the European Union to 15 per cent and China to six per cent.

Finally, another strategy suggests supplying the fund through a tax imposed on plane tickets: US$20 for economy class and US$160 for business class travelers. This tax alone would allow raising more than US$150 billion per year.

Assuming the current round of negotiations will give way to an acceptable agreement, the vigilance of all citizens, communities and civil society organizations will be necessary to make sure countries effectively apply the agreed-upon measures, which will also require changes in our individual and collective life style.

Nigel Martin, Yves Pétillon, Mario Renaud and Pierre Véronneau are former executive directors of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation - CCIC, the Centre d'étude et de coopération internationale - CECI, the Canadian International Development Agency - CIDA and Oxfam-Québec

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.


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