Why Climate Action Will Help Create a More Equitable World
Last year, faith leaders from Pope Francis to the Dalai Lama pointed out that climate change affects the poor and vulnerable most acutely – and it’s our moral obligation to come to the aid of those who are suffering through little fault of their own.
A new study by researchers at the University of Queensland quantifies the inequities of climate change – the nations who contribute the most carbon emissions tend to be the ones least vulnerable to its effects, while those with low emissions are often most at risk of impacts. A researcher quoted in this Washington Post article likened the situation to second-hand smoke – the neighbor of the smoker suffers health effects even if they never touch cigarettes.
While pointing fingers at industrialized nations isn’t productive, the idea of moral responsibility has been shown to resonate strongly. Most Americans believe caring for the poor and protecting future generations is important, so showing them how climate action helps provide better health and economic conditions for vulnerable communities can help build support for solutions. Wealthy nations also have a huge opportunity to use their investment power and their technological advancements to help not only their own citizens, but nations around the world to transition to clean energy. As Pope Francis made clear, we are all in this together, and it’s up to us to create a prosperous future that everyone can share.
By Chris Mooney, contributor to The Washington Post
With his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” Pope Frances went further than perhaps anyone has before to reframe the entire debate around climate change by focusing on the world’s poor and the duty to protect them from environmental harms that they did not cause themselves.
Now, new research in the journal Scientific Reports has underscored the pope’s message by showing that when it comes to climate change, it is indeed the countries with the most to lose that tend to contribute to the problem least — and also the other way round. The countries that contribute most to the problem — such as China and the United States, the current top two emitters — tend to show less relative vulnerability to the impact compared with nations that have quite low levels of emissions, the research finds.
“The general rule is, at a global scale, if you’re a nation that is going to suffer from climate change, you’re very likely not contributing to the problem,” says James Watson, a professor in the school of geography at the University of Queensland in Australia who also works with the Wildlife Conservation Society on climate change. Watson conducted the study with two colleagues from the University of Queensland.
Image credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images