Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary
SummaryBackgroundThis analysis proposes a novel method for quantifying national responsibility for damages related to climate change by looking at national contributions to cumulative CO2 emissions in excess of the planetary boundary of 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration. This approach is rooted in the principle of equal per capita access to atmospheric commons.MethodsFor this analysis, national fair shares of a safe global carbon budget consistent with the planetary boundary of 350 ppm were derived. These fair shares were then subtracted from countries' actual historical emissions (territorial emissions from 1850 to 1969, and consumption-based emissions from 1970 to 2015) to determine the extent to which each country has overshot or undershot its fair share. Through this approach, each country's share of responsibility for global emissions in excess of the planetary boundary was calculated.FindingsAs of 2015, the USA was responsible for 40% of excess global CO2 emissions. The European Union (EU-28) was responsible for 29%. The G8 nations (the USA, EU-28, Russia, Japan, and Canada) were together responsible for 85%. Countries classified by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as Annex I nations (ie, most industrialised countries) were responsible for 90% of excess emissions. The Global North was responsible for 92%. By contrast, most countries in the Global South were within their boundary fair shares, including India and China (although China will overshoot soon).InterpretationThese figures indicate that high-income countries have a greater degree of responsibility for climate damages than previous methods have implied. These results offer a just framework for attributing national responsibility for excess emissions, and a guide for determining national liability for damages related to climate change, consistent with the principles of planetary boundaries and equal access to atmospheric commons.FundingNone.