The countries most responsible for the climate crisis revealed

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Table collaboration.

Analysis of countries’ total carbon dioxide emissions since 1850 has revealed the nations with the greatest historical responsibility for the climate emergency. But six of the top 10 have yet to make ambitious new commitments to cut their emissions ahead of the crucial UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

All six include China, Russia and Brazil, which are only behind the United States as the largest accumulated polluters. The UK ranks eighth and Canada tenth. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and the accumulated amount of CO2 emitted is closely related to the 1.2 C of warming that the world has already seen.

Cumulative emissions from fossil fuels, cement, deforestation, and land use change from 1850 to 2020. Video: Carbon Brief

In the UN negotiations, historic emissions support the demands for climate justice made by developing nations, along with the disparity in the wealth of nations. Countries that got rich on fossil fuels have the greatest responsibility to act, developing countries say, and to provide financing for low CO2 emissions.2 development and protection against the impacts of global warming.

The UK is hosting COP26 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged this responsibility in a speech to the UN in September.

the analysis, produced by Carbon Brief, includes for the first time emissions from forest destruction and other land use changes alongside fossil fuels and cement production. This places Brazil and Indonesia in the top 10, as opposed to when only fossil fuel emissions are considered.

The data also shows that the world has now used 85 percent of the CO2 budget that would give a 50% chance of limiting heating to 1.5 C, the danger limit agreed in Paris in 2015.

The United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada are the only top 10 nations that have committed to further reducing emissions ahead of COP26. While the US has said it will double its contribution to climate finance for developing nations, some still see this as very little of the world’s largest economy.

Russia has made a new commitment, but allows emissions to rise and the Climate Actions Monitoring Group (Cat) classifies it as “critically insufficient” compared to the Paris targets. China and India have yet to make new promises, while those of Brazil, Indonesia and Japan do not improve on previous promises.

Six of the top 10, including China and Russia, have yet to show their emission reduction plans before # COP26. #ClimateChange #ClimateEmergency

“There is a direct link between the 2.5 billion tons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere since 1850 and the 1.2 C of warming that we are already experiencing, ”said Simon Evans of Carbon Brief. “Our new analysis places a vital focus on the people and countries most responsible for warming our planet.

“We cannot ignore the CO2 of forestry and land use change because it represents almost a third of the total accumulated since 1850. Once that is included, it is really surprising to see Brazil and Indonesia jumping into the top 10. “

Mohamed Nasheed, ambassador of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a group of 48 nations, and the Speaker of Parliament in the Maldives, said: “Basic justice demands that those who have done more to cause the climate emergency must take the initiative. in tackling it. This new analysis makes it clear where the responsibility lies: mainly in the United States, but also lately in China and Russia.

“Historic emitters have absorbed the entire 1.5 C carbon budget and spent it on their own development. In that sense, we have loaned them our carbon budget and they owe it to us. As we approach (COP26), we have seen an increase in funding promises, but it is still well below the $ 100bn (£ 73.5bn) a year that the CVF is asking for. “

Tom Athanasiou, Partner of the Climate equity benchmark project, said the differing ability of rich and poor nations to finance climate action was important. “Historical accountability is a key equity principle, but it is not the only one,” he said. “Considering capacity is essential if we want to prevent climate action from happening at the expense of the poor.”

Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that about 85 percent of cumulative emissions from the US and China come from burning fossil fuels and 15 percent from deforestation, with the opposite in Brazil and Indonesia. Indonesia has made some progress in stopping logging, but the Forest clearing in Brazil has accelerated under current president Jair Bolsonaro.

Inclusion of deforestation emissions pushes Australia from 16th to 13th – Australia is believed to have cleared almost half of its forest cover in the last 200 years. Australia’s emission reduction commitment to COP26 does not raise its ambition and is rated “highly insufficient” by Cat.

The United States has been the largest cumulative polluter from 1850 to the present. Russia was the second largest polluter until 2007, when its emissions were surpassed by those of China, whose emissions began to rise rapidly from the 1970s. The United Kingdom was the third largest emitter for a century, from 1870 to 1970, when it was overtaken by Brazil.

“We started the industrial revolution in Great Britain. We were the first to send the great puffs of acrid smoke skyward on a scale to alter the natural order. ” Johnson told the UN General Assembly in September. “We understand when the developing world seeks us to help them and we assume our responsibilities.”

COP26 President Alok Sharma said: “Big emitters, especially those in the G20, have a responsibility to send a strong and powerful message to the world that they are increasing ambition and accelerating action on climate change. While those who have contributed most to the problem of global warming must take the lead, all countries and parts of society have a role to play in meeting this shared challenge. “

Robbie Andrew of Cicero, a Norwegian climate research center, said: “While historical emissions are very significant, nearly two-thirds of our fossil CO emissions2 They’ve come since about 1980, and about 40 percent since 2000, (and) it’s what’s happening now that we can do something about it. “

Last week, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that developed economies should take the lead and Greta Thunberg raised the issue of historical responsibility as well as.

“I recognize that the countries that have emitted the most carbon (dioxide) did not do so with the intention of damaging the climate,” Nasheed said. “The internal combustion engine was invented for mobility, not to drown island nations. So I’m calling for a collective approach to this, where we act together to rapidly scale the clean technologies we need rather than playing a post-colonial blame game. “

The Carbon Brief analysis used data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Our World in Data, Global Carbon Project, Carbon Monitor and studies on emissions from deforestation and changes in land use. It begins in 1850, before which reliable data are scarce, so it does not include emissions from deforestation that occurred before that time. It represented changes in national boundaries over time, but did not attribute emissions from previously colonized countries to the colonizing nation.

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