Elpidio V. Peria
13 September 2015


The news site Motherboard recently reported on a path-breaking study which calculated the carbon debt developed countries owe developing countries and in that reckoning, the US comes out on top, owing US$ 4 trillion (yes, not billion), in the words of the writer of the report, “for trashing the world’s climate.”

The study, done by H. Damon Matthews , of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, considered only national CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, which from 1990 to 2013 totalled 250 billion tonnes of CO2, representing 40% of cumulative world emissions since 1990.

He also elaborated what are carbon and climate debts, which he defined as the amount by which national climate contributions have exceeded a hypothetical equal per-capita share over time.

The US, which has emitted about 100 gigatons of carbon beyond the baseline since 1990, is culpable for 40 percent of the planet’s climate debt, while Russia is a distant second, at about 9 percent, followed by Japan, Germany, Canada, the UK, and Australia. These are the world’s climate debtors.
If this amount of emission is calculated using the US’s own social cost of carbon—the dollar value damage each ton of CO2 pollution does, currently pegged at $40 a ton—then the climate debtors’ total is massive. There are 250 billion tons of carbon debt accumulated since 1990, Matthews figures, so that amounts to $10 trillion, yes, trillion— that polluting industrial nations owe climate creditor nations like India, China, and Nigeria who have stayed under their carbon budgets.


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