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The UK owes £6.2 trillion in climate reparations by 2050, according to a ground-breaking new study that quantifies how much highly industrialised nations should be liable to pay for emitting more carbon than others.
The study published in the scientific journal Nature Sustainability finds that countries in the global north, including the US and the UK, owe a staggering £137 trillion in total in climate reparations for emitting more carbon than countries in the global south.
The research is groundbreaking as it quantifies for the first time the amount of reparations owed by affluent nations for surpassing their allocated carbon budget.
The carbon budget represents the limited amount of carbon emissions that the world can release before reaching dangerous levels of global heating.
The researchers took the carbon budget available for the world in various scenarios, such as the 1.5 or 2C agreed by countries in the Paris Agreement.
Starting from 1960, the carbon budget is equivalent to 1.8 trillion tons of CO2 in the 1.5C scenario, according to the UN’s top scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The researchers then calculated a “fair share” of that total carbon budget for 168 countries, based on population size.
The study highlights that rich industrialised nations have already significantly exceeded their share of the global carbon budget, depriving poorer nations of their rightful allocation that could be used by them to develop and grow their own economies.
Consequently, developing countries are faced with the challenge of decarbonising their economies at an accelerated pace, despite contributing significantly less to global greenhouse gas emissions.
The top five historical emitters, which include the US, UK, Germany, Russia and Japan, are alone responsible for paying £105 trillion for overusing the climate budget, the study noted.
Climate change reflects clear patterns of atmospheric colonisation.
Jason Hickel, co-author and professor
The US, which has used more than four times its fair share to become the richest country in the world, would be responsible for £64 trillion in reparations.
On the other hand, the UK has used 2.5 times its fair allocation and would be liable to pay £6.2 trillion for its excessive emissions by 2050.
The reparation amount proposed by the research, which comes to about £4.83 trillion per year, should be paid to developing and poor countries deprived of their share of the climate budget and forced to mitigate and adapt faster because of the worsening impacts of the climate crisis, the study says.
“It is a matter of climate justice that if we are asking nations to rapidly decarbonise their economies, even though they hold no responsibility for the excess emissions that are destabilising the climate, then they should be compensated for this unfair burden,” said Andrew Fanning, lead author and visiting research fellow at the University of Leeds’ Sustainability Research Institute.
The study takes several scenarios of carbon budget into consideration. Based on the target of limiting the average global temperature increase by 1.5C, which is a more idealistic target of the Paris Agreement, approximately 75 per cent of the carbon budget of regions like sub-Saharan Africa and India was already found to be utilised by rich countries.
In a net-zero scenario, five low-emitting countries with large populations – India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and China (currently the world’s largest emitter) – would be entitled to receive £82 trillion for sacrificing their fair share of the carbon budget.
India has historically been a low carbon emitter and could be entitled to receive compensation of £45 trillion each year until 2050.
While some countries are still within their fair share of the global carbon budget, many other rich nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the EU bloc have already massively overshot.
Rich countries are responsible for most of the planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions, which have already warmed the world up by approximately 1.2C, leading to more frequent and extreme weather events.
“Climate change reflects clear patterns of atmospheric colonisation,” said Jason Hickel, co-author and professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
“Responsibility for excess emissions is largely held by the wealthy classes [within nations] who have very high consumption and who wield disproportionate power over production and national policy. They are the ones who must bear the costs of compensation.”
There have recently been increased calls to compensate vulnerable countries that are facing devastating impacts of climate crisis. At the recent UN climate summit held in Egypt, Cop27, countries agreed to set up a loss and damage fund for nations that have faced irreversible damages.
However, reports show rich nations have so far failed to honour their previous pledges for climate finance to facilitate poorer countries to meet climate goals and adapt to a rapidly heating world.