Addressing the Disparity in Climate Change Discussions Between Poor and Rich Countries

By: Savannah Valentine November 8, 2021

Compared to wealthier countries, low-income countries emit far less pollutants. For instance, out of the ten biggest polluters, seven are wealthy countries. In 2021, China, the United States, and Russia together were responsible for emitting 47% of the world’s total greenhouse gasses. Yet, these poorer, developing countries are given the same goal as the wealthy, developed countries: stop relying on fossil fuels and stop emitting pollutants. Despite this disparity, low-income countries are still committed to helping the environment, often more so than their wealthier peers. For example, ahead of the COP26 climate negotiations this year, almost all developing countries submitted their climate plans on time while several members of the G20 have missed deadlines and submitted plans that have vague, long-term goals. 

Perhaps the reason lower-income countries have such motivation for climate change is because they are the countries that are most affected. Record-breaking heat and natural disasters are becoming the norm across the world, but developing countries are taking the brunt and are hard-pressed to keep up with the disasters. In 2020 the Caribbean had twenty-four tropical storms and six hurricanes—more than ever in a year—and has still not recovered. And in Uganda, a country that has emitted close to zero greenhouses gasses in 2021, communities are experiencing floods and landslides that are increasing in both numerosity and intensity, leading to some settlements being completely wiped out

Keeping up with these disasters is proving to be too financially burdensome for many countries. To adapt to their changing environment, these low-income countries need around forty billion dollars per year. For example, in Fiji, where there are severe droughts leading to water shortages because of the ever-increasing temperatures, the water systems are being redone to be able to adjust to the droughts. This plan was funded by New Zealand in accordance with the United Nations climate convention of 2009, where the European Union and twenty-three other wealthy countries pledges to give one hundred billion dollars per year to go toward these projects. This agreement was only met when several developing nations said they would leave the summit in protest of the wealthy countries refusal to help

Unsurprisingly, the countries who pledged to help have fallen short. In 2019, the total given was roughly seventy-nine billion, which was a slight increase from the previous year. Further, some contributions are not in line with what the country is responsible for polluting. Japan, for example, is a major polluter but also gives more money to lower-income countries than a lot of its peers for adaptation projects while Russia is the fourth biggest polluter yet gives less money than Romania, which is not even in the top twenty polluters. Even though there is no mandatory increase in contributions based on increased pollution, certainly the spirit of the deal was that the wealthy countries causing the pollution would be the countries to contribute the most to those feeling the impact of climate change.

During the COP26 summit last month, developing countries got more assertive, calling out rich countries for failing to meet their climate goals, not making more ambitious new goals, and not keeping their promise of giving one hundred billion dollars a year to developing countries to adapt to the changing climate. In response to the lack of support from wealthy nations, the President of Malawi said, “The money pledge to least developed nations . . . is not a donation, but a cleaning fee.” Meanwhile, developed countries said they will not be able to meet the monetary goal for a few years and gave weak statements of support for their worried peers. Hopefully, though, this most recent summit has given a voice to the countries who are most who are most in need of help and the countries who are able to help them have listened.

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