By the end of this century, global warming should not have exceeded 1,5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels, and by 2050 the emissions should be net-zero. To reach these goals, drastic action needs to take place in many countries. In September 2019, the Climate Action Summit was held in Madrid. During this Summit, 70 countries made commitments in line with strategies of having net zero emissions by 2050 (Secretary-General on the 2019 Climate Action Summit and the Way Forward in 2020, 2019). Although this is great, to reach the global climate goals it will not be enough. It is complex to make commitments with 195 nations on combating climate change. Countries might not want to invest more in combating climate change than what is ‘fair’ compared to the others. What is fair is, of course, difficult to say. Every country is different, with a unique history and economy, and with its own problems that are possibly more focussed on than on the global problem of climate change. The fact that every country is different contributes to the complexity of what is fair in combating climate change. An example of an issue that arises here is the question: should developing countries be allowed to have higher emissions in order to increase their development? Many wealthy countries had high emissions in the past, which benefitted their development.
What is tragic in this environmental justice is that poorer regions, that generally have far fewer emissions, are hit the hardest by the consequences of global warming. A well-known example of a case like this is Bangladesh. In 2014, Bangladesh had an average CO2 emission per capita of 0,47 tons, while the CO2 emissions of high-income countries were on average 10,93 tons per capita (The World Bank, 2019). Floods and cyclones as a result of climate change hit Bangladesh hard. The average elevation level of Bangladesh is only about 9 meters above sea level (World Population Review, 2019), and there are little altitude differences within the country. Next to this, the high population density and weak infrastructure are factors that make Bangladesh vulnerable to the consequences of global warming. In 1999, there was a large flood by which over a million people became homeless. In large flood events like this, harvests are destroyed as well. Since it is a poor region, it is more difficult to recover from this. To be protected against these kinds of events is a greater challenge for lower-income countries compared to higher-income countries.
Even though there are tragic cases like in Bangladesh, it is worldwide not easily said what is justice in combating climate change among nations. A positive development is that climate change is being taken more and more seriously, which will have its benefits on the global climate. Despite this being a great development, there is still a long way to go to reach the global climate goals.
Secretary-General on the 2019 Climate Action Summit and the Way Forward in 2020 (2019) REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE 2019 CLIMATE ACTION SUMMIT AND THE WAY FORWARD IN 2020. United Nations
The World Bank (2019) CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita) – Bangladesh, Netherlands, high income. Retrieved on February 3rd, 2020 from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?end=2014&locations=BD-NL-XD&start=2014&view=bar. The World Bank Group
World Population Review (2019) Where is Bangladesh? Retrieved on January 28th, 2020 from http://worldpopulationreview.com/country-locations/where-is-bangladesh/
This Girugten article was first published in GEO PROMOTION MAGAZINE, 6th of March, 2020.