Those who suffer most from the effects of climate change are not those who most contribute to it. Those who have the highest standard of development produce the most greenhouse gases and have the heaviest carbon footprint. Effectively they have prospered by using more of the world’s resources from the poorest majority. The wealthy and middle classes in newly developing countries also leave irresponsibly large footprints, but the difficulties are much more than those created by individuals.
ACT International, of which CWS is a member, argues this makes climate change more than just an environmental issue. It is a matter of justice and human rights. “Reducing the hazards, helping people to protect themselves and compensating for any damage caused can no longer be left to voluntary actions here and there by the perpetrators of climate change. They have become a spiritual and human rights obligation of us all.”
In southern Africa, CWS partners in ACT International have said: “Not enough is being done to reverse or slow climate change as the liberalisation of trade rules and the growth of capitalism hinders northern countries’ reduction efforts and reduces aid assistance to enable poor African countries to adequately assist the victims of the changed climate.” They are calling for people in developed countries to demand that the “ governments that emitted the most carbon, and reaped the benefits of intense use of fossil fuels, provide the financial support to enable people in developing countries to adapt to the changes in their climate.”
CWS shares the concerns of sister organisation, Christian Aid, that poorer countries may lose their right to develop. “This does not mean they or anyone else necessarily has a right to add further CO2 to the atmosphere, but that if they are to achieve more secure, sustainable and dignified lives, with greater opportunities, this is dependent to some extent on access to energy… The tried-and-tested method of development through high fossil fuel dependency, now demonstrably unsustainable, is no longer possible.” (Christian Aid 2008: The race for climate justice)
The UN Human Development Report 2007 -2008 focuses on climate change. It says that:
• If every person in the developing world had the same carbon footprint as the average for wealthy countries then we would need six planets to feed our habits.
• The carbon footprint of the earth’s poorest 1 billion is around 3 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint.
• The UK (population 60 million) emits more CO2 than Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam (total population 472 million).
• The state of Texas (population 23 million) has a deeper footprint than the whole sub-Saharan Africa (720 million people).
• The 19 million people living in New York have a deeper footprint than the 766 million people living in the 50 least developed countries.
Places like Bangladesh and Kiribati – areas losing their land to rising sea levels – emit only 0.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita. Compare this to New Zealand at 7.7, Australia at 16.2 and the US at 20.6. See the Human Development Report 2007-2008
A carbon footprint is a measure of an individual’s, organisation’s or country’s impact on climate change. It measures the amount of greenhouse gases we produce in our day to day lives. This includes burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation. You can calculate your carbon footprint on the Nature Conservatory website.