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Climate Credit versus Climate Debt

DurbanCan litigation save Island States?

At the 2011 Durban Climate Conference the US, with the help of its climate criminal lackeys Australia and Canada again succeeded in preventing requisite international climate change action. It was reported that Island States had again pleaded with other representatives to avert “climate genocide” but their pleas fell on deaf ears at Durban, as at Cancun, and as at Copenhagen.

However it is possible to quantitate the Climate Debt incurred by profligate high polluters such as the US Alliance countries and the Climate Credit allowing low polluters to advance economically on a path to eventual zero emissions in circa 2050. Quantitative, country by country analysis of the Climate Debt of Climate Debtor countries versus the Climate Credit of Climate Creditor countries may prove to be a valuable litigation weapon in the fight of Island States for their very physical survival. This approach may indeed help avert “climate genocide” (Google “Climate Genocide”).

The contribution of each country to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) can be calculated as Historical Climate Debt (1751-2006 CO2 pollution)  minus Climate Credit (its fair share of the World’s terminal CO2 pollution budget of 600 Gt CO2 between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050). With  CO2 pollution valued at $100 per tone CO2, mostly European countries and Japan have Net Climate Debts ranging up to $9.7 trillion (for the USA) whereas non-European countries typically have Net Climate  Credits ranging up to $6.5 trillion for India.

The World is increasingly threatened by man-made global warming  due to pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases (GHGs), principally  carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), with this GHG pollution deriving mostly from fossil  fuel burning and from land use  (agriculture and deforestation). According to I.C. Prentice et al “Before the Industrial Era, circa 1750, the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration was 280 +/- 10 ppm for several thousand years. It has risen continuously since then, reaching 367 ppm in 1999” (see “The carbon cycle and atmospheric carbon dioxide”, coordinating lead author I.C. Prentice). The atmospheric CO2 concentration reached 394 ppm in 2010 with a rate of increase of 2.4 ppm per year (see “Recent Mauna Loa CO2”, US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Note that CO2-equivalent (CO2-e) is the greenhouse gas (GHG) amount taking all GHGs other than  water (H2O) into account and expressing this in terms of CO2 equivalents, CO2 being largely responsible for the atmospheric GHG effect (excluding H2O) (Google “2011 Climate Change Course”).

Historical Climate Debt

The Historical Climate Debt of the World (Google “Climate Debt”) has been estimated at 12 Gt CO2 (12 billion tones CO2) in 1751-1900 and 334 Gt CO2-e for 1901-2008, for a total of 346 Gt CO2 in the period 1751-2008 (see “Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”, Wikipedia).

In a 2008 letter to Australia PM Kevin Rudd (see “Letter to PM Kevin Rudd by Dr James Hansen”, 2008:), NASA’s Dr James Hansen provided a breakdown of global responsibility for fossil fuel-derived CO2 pollution between 1751 that is summarized below as a percentage (%) of the Historical  Climate Debt (1751-2006) of 346 Gt CO2.

  • Ships/air (4%):  4% of 346 Gt CO2 = 13.84 Gt. This has been allocated proportionately to the other groups.
  • Thus India (2.5%) = (0.025 x 346 = 8.65) + (2.5 x 13.84/96 = 0.36) = 9.01 Gt CO2.
  • Japan (3.9%) = 13.49 + 0.56 = 14.05 Gt CO2.
  • UK (6.0%) = 20.76 + 0.87 = 21.63 Gt CO2.
  • Germany (6.6%) = 22.84 + 0.95 = 23.79 Gt CO2.
  • Russia (7.4%) = 25.60 + 1.07 = 26.67 Gt CO2.
  • China (8.2%) = 28.37 + 1.18 = 29.55 Gt CO2.
  • USA (27.5%) = 95.15 + 3.97 = 99.12 Gt CO2.
  • Canada-Australia (3.1%) = 10.73 + 0.45 = 11.18 Gt CO2 -> Canada 5.59 Gt CO2 & Australia 5.59 Gt CO2.
  • Rest of Europe (18.0%) = 62.28 + 2.60 = 64.88 Gt CO2.
  • Rest of World (12.8%) = 44.29 + 1.85 = 46.14 Gt CO2.

The above compilation shows the Climate Debt for major polluters in the period 1750-2006. It should be noted that this is a big under-estimate of Historical Carbon Debt because it is based solely on fossil fuel-derived CO2 and ignores that due to other GHGs, cement manufacture and de-forestation. For countries in the “Rest of Europe” category, their Historical Climate Debt was calculated based on their proportion of the 2011 population (see “List of countries by population” (2011), Wikipedia).

Thus according to the UN Population Division Europe had a population of 738.2 million in 2010 and accordingly the “Rest of Europe” has a population of 738.2 million – 62.3 million (UK) – 81.7 million (German) – 142.9 million (Russia) = 451.3 million. Thus, for example, Switzerland (part of “Rest of Europe”) has a population of 7.9 million and its Historical Climate Debt is 7.9 million x 64.88 Gt CO2 /451.3 million = 1.14 Gt CO2.

For countries in the “Rest of World” category, their Historical Climate Debt was also calculated based on their proportion of the 2011 population. Thus according to the UN Population Division the World had a population of 6,980.3 million and accordingly the “Rest of World” population = 6,980.3 million  - 62.3 million (UK) – 81.7 million (Germany) – 142.9 million (Russia) – 1,210.2 million (India) – 1,339.7 million (China) – 127.7 million (Japan) – 312.7 million (USA) – 34.5 million (Canada) – 22.8 million (Australia) – 451.3 (“Rest of Europe”) = 3,194.5 million. Thus, for example, Turkey (part of “Rest of World” ) has a population of 73.7 million and so its Historical Climate Debt is 73.7 million  x 46.14 Gt CO2/3,194.5 million  = 1.06 Gt CO2.

It should be noted that this analysis is rather unfair to India, China, the “Rest of World” and indeed much of the “Rest of Europe” because it ignores the reality that most of these countries were variously subject in this period of 1751-2006 to colonial subjugation or crippling hegemony by the major polluters, namely the UK, Germany, the USA, Russia and Japan (see Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”, and William Blum’s “Rogue State”).

Further, one can value this Historical Carbon debt by applying a Carbon Price and here we will use $100 per tone CO2, roughly the price that could achieve a transition from dirty coal and gas burning to clean, renewable wind energy. Thus the Historical Climate Debt of the US can be expressed either as 99.12 Gt CO2 or as 99.12 Gt CO2 x $100 / t CO2 = $9,912 billion = $9.912 trillion. By way of comparison, the GDP of the US is currently $14.5 trillion. China has a Historical Climate Debt of 29.55 Gt CO2 or $2.955 trillion.

Of course a Carbon Price of $100 per tone CO2 is only based on what is required to implement wind power competitively in the current World Order. A more valid price would be that based on the value of a human life and the avoidable death associated with carbon burning. Thus at a "value of a statistical life" (VOSL) of $7.6 million per person  ($73 billion pa for10,000 pa  Australian carbon burning-related deaths) and $9 billion pa in fossil fuel subsidies, the minimum Carbon Price to cover carbon burning-derived deaths and carbon burning subsidies is $554 per tone of carbon as compared to the recently Australia legislated Carbon  Price of $23 per tone CO2-e (see “Australian carbon burning-related  deaths and carbon burning subsidies =>  minimum Carbon Price of  A$554 per tone carbon”, Yarra Valley  Climate Action Group).

Historical Climate Debt can be expressed on a per capita basis simply by dividing the Historical Climate Debt for a country (e.g. see the data tabulated above) by the present population of the country. For all “Rest of World” countries, the Per Capita Historical Carbon Debt (US$ per person) = 46.14 billion tones CO2 X $100 per tone CO2/ 3,194.5 million persons = $1,444.4 per person.  For all “Rest of Europe” countries, the Per Capita Historical Climate Debt (US$ per person) = 64.88 billion tones CO2 X $100 per tone CO2/ 451.3 million persons = US$14,376.2 per person. 

Post-2010 Climate Credits

In 2009 the WBGU which advises the German Government on climate change estimated that for a 75% chance of avoiding a disastrous 2C temperature rise (EU policy), the World must emit no more than 600 Gt CO2 between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050. From this information it was possible to use data for annual per capita GHG pollution (i.e. of CO2-e; see “List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita”, Wikipedia) to calculate years left to zero emissions for every country in the  world (see  Gideon Polya, “Shocking analysis by country of years left to zero emissions”, Green Blog, 1 August 2011). If we accept that “all men are created equal” then the annual per capita “terminal budget “share is 600 Gt CO2/ (40 years x 7 billion people) = 2.14 t CO2 per person per year.

Thus relative to mid-2010, Australia (population 22.8 million in 2011) at its current rates of GHG pollution had only 1.1 years left to zero emissions and thus by about August 2011 had used up its” fair share of this terminal global GHG pollution budget and is now stealing the entitlement (Climate Credits) of other countries i.e. it has approximately zero Carbon Credits. A more precise calculation of Australia’s Carbon Credits is 2.14 t CO2 per person per year x 22.8 million persons x 1.1 years = 53.7 Mt CO2 (million tones CO2) = 0.054 Gt CO2. Note that these estimates derive from consideration of CO2-e.

While the Climate Credits of the US = 2.14 t CO2 per person per year x 312.7 million persons x 3.1 years = 2,074 Mt CO2 = 2.074 Gt CO2 = $207.4 billion, the Climate Credits of China = 2.14 t CO2 per person per year x 1,339.7 million persons x 18.5 years = 53,039 Mt CO2 = 53.04 Gt CO2 = $5,304 billion. .

These Climate Credits can be expressed either as Gt CO2 or in US dollars by applying a Carbon Price of $100 per tone CO2 e.g. the Climate Credits of Australia, the US and China is $5.4 billion, $207 billion and $5.3 trillion, respectively.

Per capita Climate Credits each country can simply be obtained by dividing Carbon Credits by the population. Per capita Climate Credits (US$ per person) = years to zero emissions x 2.14 tones CO2 per person per year X $100 per tone CO2.  

Net Climate Debt and Net Climate Credit

Net Climate Debt equals Historical Climate Debt minus Climate Credits. Thus the Net Climate Debt of the US is + $9.912 trillion - $0.207 trillion = $9.705 trillion. In contrast China has a Net Climate Debt of $2.955 trillion - $5.304 billion = - $2.349 trillion i.e. China has a Net Climate Credit of + $2.349 trillion.

Listed below is the Per Capita Net Climate Debt (US$ per person) for all the Climate Debtor countries (those with a Net Climate Debt) and the Net Climate Credit for all the Climate Creditor countries (those with a Net Climate Credit).  One note that just as the debtor countries of Europe are expected to meet their financial obligations, so the Climate Debtor countries must also be brought to account for their profligacy. The data is expressed country by country as Per Capita Historical  Climate Debt minus  Per Capita Climate Credit = Net  Per Capita Climate Debt (US$ person).To obtain the total Net Climate Debt or Net Climate Credit for a country simply multiply the per capita value (in US$ per person) by the population (see “List of countries by population” (2011), Wikipedia ).

Net Per Capita Climate Debt (US$ per person) of Climate Debtor countries

United Kingdom (33,307), United States (31,035), Germany (27,856), Australia (23,900 or 24,265 if including the effect of its huge GHG Exports on its Climate Credits), Russia (17,529), Canada (15,560), Luxembourg (13,649), Estonia (13,520), Ireland (13, 456), Czech Republic (13,263), Netherlands (13,242), Belgium (13,306), Finland (13,199), Denmark (13,135), Norway (13,028), Greece (12,942), Cyprus (12,878), Slovenia (12,857), Austria (12,835), Iceland (12,835), Ukraine (12,793), Poland (12,771), Belarus (12,579), Slovakia (12,707), Spain (12,707), Italy (12,707), France (12,600), Sweden (12,322),  Switzerland (12,193), Bulgaria (12.300), Serbia & Montenegro (12,300), Hungary (12,300), Portugal (12,236), Malta (11,851), Croatia (11,765), Macedonia (11,723), Romania (11,573), Lithuania (11,509), Bosnia & Herzegovina (10,931), Latvia (11,780), Japan (10,017), Moldova (8,213), Albania (7,357).

Belize (1,273), Qatar (1,166), Guyana (1,148), Malaysia (1,038), United Arab Emirates (1,016), Kuwait (1,228), Papua New Guinea (909), Brunei (845), Antigua & Barbuda (845), Zambia (824), Bahrain (802), Trinidad & Tobago (738), Panama (653), New Zealand (653), Botswana (567), Saudi Arabia (503), Venezuela (460), Indonesia (417), Equatorial Guinea (374), Turkmenistan (353 ), Singapore (353), Liberia (332), Nicaragua (289), Oman (246), Palau (246), Brazil (246), Uruguay (225), Mongolia (135), Israel (135), Nauru (118), South Korea (53), Kazakhstan (32), Libya (11), Myanmar (11).

Net Per Capita Climate Credit (US$ per person) of Climate Creditor countries

Taiwan (11), Cambodia (75), Peru (118), Paraguay (118), South Africa (182), Argentina (225), Central African Republic (268), Suriname (353), Gabon (396), Ecuador (439), Bolivia (460), Cameroon (589), Iran (589), Côte d’Ivoire (610), Seychelles (631), Guatemala (631), Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire) (631), Uzbekistan (674), Azerbaijan (824), Angola (867), Bahamas (888), Benin (931), Zimbabwe (931), Laos (974), Mexico (974), Nepal (995), Colombia (995), Namibia (995), Chile (995), Congo, Republic (1,124), Madagascar (1,124), Jamaica (1,166), Barbados (1,209), Mauritania (1,316), Turkey (1,316), Costa Rica (1,423), Lebanon (1,466), North Korea (1,530), Thailand (1,573), Jordan (1,701), China (1,753), Honduras (1,830), Sudan (1,915), Algeria (2,236), Iraq (2,236), Sierra Leone (2,236), Syria (2,408), Tunisia (2,729), Dominican Republic (2,964), St Kitts & Nevis (3,221), Nigeria (3,221), Fiji (3,221), Guinea (3,371), Mauritius (3,371), Cuba (3,542), Togo (3,542), Vanuatu (3,692), Philippines (3,692), Malawi (3,692), Mali (3,884), Chad (3,884), Sri Lanka (4,077).

Uganda (4,269), Dominica (4,269), St Lucia (4,269), Egypt (4,483), Niue (4,483), Ghana (4,483), Grenada (4,719), El Salvador (4,976), Guinea-Bissau (4,976), Tanzania (4,976), Djibouti (4,976), Pakistan (5,254), Samoa (5,254), Tonga (5,254), Morocco (5,575), Senegal (5,575), Georgia (5,575), Armenia (5,896), St Vincent & Grenadines (6,281), Kenya (6,281), Maldives (6,666), Kyrgyzstan (6,666), Burkina Faso (6,666), India (7,837), Cook Islands (7,137), Bhutan (7,629), Yemen (8,207), Tajikistan (8,207), Mozambique (8,207), Rwanda (8,207), Burundi (8,207), Lesotho (8,849), Swaziland (8,849), Eritrea (9,577), Haiti (9,577), Solomon Islands (12,573), Vietnam (12,573), Cape Verde (12,573), Niger (12,573), Ethiopia (12,573), São Tomé and Príncipe (13,985), Afghanistan (15,697), The Gambia (15,697), Bangladesh (15,697), Comoros (20,598), Kiribati (24,278).


Using readily available data this analysis attempts to estimate Net Per Capita Climate Debt or Net Per Capita Climate Credit for all countries of the World. Note that it is domestic GHG pollution that is being considered and thus the grievous culpability of fossil fuel exporters like Australia and Saudi Arabia is not evident from this data set, although all the major fossil fuel exporters end up in the Climate Debtor list. The assumptions and methodology are clear, this enabling more precise revisions. The total amounts of Net Climate Debt and Net Climate Credit can be readily determined from the above per capita data simply by multiplying by the population. Thus, by way of key examples, the Net Climate Debt is $9.7 trillion (for the USA), $2.3 trillion (Germany), $2.1 trillion (UK), $0.5 trillion (Australia) and $0.5 trillion (Canada) whereas the Net Carbon Credit is $6.5 trillion (India), $2.3 trillion (China), $2.2 trillion (Bangladesh) and $0.9 trillion (Pakistan).

After the disastrous inaction of the Durban Climate Conference and the derisory First World offer of a $100 billion climate fund for poor nations, it is apparent that the greedy climate criminals (notably the US, Australia and Canada) and the other Climate Debtors will not repay their debt nor indeed stop polluting the atmosphere. One hopes that the Climate Creditor countries will insist on full reparations for a polluted planet. Hopefully this analysis will be useful in International Court of Justice (ICJ) litigations and International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutions against Climate Debtor countries by Climate Creditor countries. I would urge everybody, and in particular citizens of threatened megadelta and Island States, to inform their leaders about this Climate Debt and Climate Credit analysis. The First World EU governments in the current EU financial crisis are   insisting on financial debt repayment and fiscal responsibility by debtor countries. Climate Creditor countries should likewise insist on repayment of Climate Debt and a rapid global move to cessation of greenhouse gas pollution. The Climate Debtors are stealing from the poor Climate Creditors and should be held to account by the Climate Creditors at the ICJ and the ICC.

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