The people of the wealthy world create carbon emissions that are roughly 300 times higher per capita than the people of the world’s poorest countries. Yet, it is the impoverished nations that have to deal with the most negative effects of the climate crisis.
Unequal Carbon Emissions
In 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the world’s leaders there were only a dozen years left in which to make dramatic changes in carbon dioxide emissions. Without the changes very bad stuff will happen.
Writing for Deutsche Welle, Irene Banos Ruiz notes that “The report doesn’t paint a promising future: If global warming goes beyond the two degrees Celsius limit set forth in the Paris Agreement, what will likely happen is that fruitful land will turn to desert, infrastructure will crumble as permafrost thaws, and drought and extreme weather events will put the food system at risk.”
On a per capita basis, the top four biggest carbon emitters are Saudi Arabia (16.3 metric tonnes), Australia (16.2), the United States (15.0), and Canada (14.9).
At the other end of the scale are Burundi (0.027 metric tonnes per capita), the Democratic Republic of Congo (0.043), Mali (0.051), and Chad (0.062).
For climate change policies to be effective, the biggest contributors to global heating will have to make the biggest transformations.
Germany is one of the more advanced rich nations when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. It has subsidies for electric cars, higher taxes on gasoline, and rapidly expanding solar and wind energy sectors. Even with its aggressive attacks on global heating, Germany won’t achieve the cuts necessary to avoid the IPCC’s predicted calamity.
In August 2019, the charity Christian Aid reported that three of those countries (Mali is the exception) are in the list of the ten most food insecure nations in the world.
One of the authors of the report, Katherine Kramer, told Deutsche Welle, “What really surprised and shocked me was how strong the negative correlation was between food poverty and very low per capita emissions. It was much stronger than we expected.”
The global south is where the impact of global heating on food production will be most seriously felt. In most southern hemisphere countries agriculture is small-scale and highly vulnerable to droughts and other extreme weather events. The climate crisis predictions are that heatwaves, dry periods, and floods will be more extreme and more frequent in those regions.
Richer countries are at a much lesser risk because they have built infrastructure such as dams to store irrigation water, and highways and railroads. Rich countries have food safety-net programs, and they are not heavily dependent on domestic agriculture. If they face a large crop failure, wealthy countries have the financial resources to buy imported food.
The Lancet Planetary Health report of July 2019 noted that “increased concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2)—by directly affecting plants—worsen the nutritional quality of food by decreasing protein and mineral concentrations by 5–15%, and B vitamins by up to a 30%.” Global heating will also lead to many plants accumulating higher levels of carbohydrates and lower levels of minerals such as zinc and iron. Deficiencies of micro-nutrients lead to increased susceptibility to diseases and lower intellectual development.
Madagascar and the Climate Crisis
The island nation off the east coast of southern Africa serves as a microcosm of the climate crisis in action.
It is one of the world’s lowest carbon dioxide emitters, with 0.163 tonnes per capita. Nine out of 10 of the country’s population lives in extreme poverty with incomes of less than $1.90 a day.
The island is in the path of major tropical storms (cyclones) that are predicted to become more common and more intense because of global heating. Rising sea levels are drowning the mangrove swamps that provide coastal protection from cyclonic storm surges.
Rainfall patterns are changing; in some places, there’s too much, in others, there’s not enough.
Christian Aid says that “Climate change and environmental degradation exacerbate these risks while the increasing fragility of the ecosystem intensifies vulnerability to shocks and food insecurity.” Already, the malnutrition rate among children under five is the fourth highest in the world.
Madagascar’s problems are made worse by the farming practices. The island was once densely forested, but 90 percent of the trees have gone through slash and burn activity to open land for small-scale farming. That means that heavy rain, of which there’s an increasing amount, causes top soil to be washed away, further depleting the food supply.
In Madagascar, the future can be seen today for many food insecure countries if the rich world doesn’t grapple with carbon dioxide emissions.
Climate change is making Madagascar increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters such as cyclones and droughts which hamper development efforts. These disasters, which devastate staple crops such as rice, significantly jeopardize the country’s food security.
The World Bank
- According to NASA in 2019, the “Global sea level rose about eight inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and is accelerating slightly every year.”
- Atmospheric carbon levels have fluctuated many times through Earth’s life but they never rose about 300 parts per million, until 1950. In May 2019, the level hit 414.7 parts per million, the highest in the planet’s history.
- According to The Lancet “As of 2017, 821 million people globally are food insecure, with 22% of children (151 million) stunted and 7·5% (over 50 million) wasted.” Meanwhile, the global pet food market value exceeds $91 billion a year.
- Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that human activity is responsible for global heating.
- In March 2015, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz told the Texas Tribune that “The global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.”
- “Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions.” Union of Concerned Scientists, October 11, 2018.
- “The Global Injustice of the Climate Crisis.” Anne-Sophie Brändlin, Deutsche Welle, August 28, 2019.
- “Hunger Strike: The Climate and Food Vulnerability Index.” Joe Ware and Dr. Katherine Kramer, Christian Aid, August 2019.
- “IPCC: Radical Energy Transformation Needed to Avoid 1.5 Degrees Global Warming.” Bob Berwin, InsideClimate News, October 8, 2018.
- “IPCC Report: The World Gets Hungrier, but the Land Is Exhausted.” Irene Banos Ruiz, Deutsche Welle, August 8, 2019
- “Elevated Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations and Climate Change Will Affect Our Food’s Quality and Quantity.” Kristie L. Ebi and Irakli Loladze, The Lancet, July 2019.
- “Building Madagascar’s Climate Resiliency to Ensure Food Security and Preserve Livelihoods.” World Bank, December 4, 2015.
© 2019 Rupert Taylor