In a November 2021 article for The Conversation, Sonja Klinsky outlined how and why poorer regions are disproportionately affected by climate change. Wealthier nations, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, release roughly 100 times the per-capita greenhouse gas emissions as many African countries, yet the responsibility for undoing this damage has long fallen on the shoulders of the most vulnerable victims of climate change.
Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, where it lingers for hundreds of years. CO2 locks in heat, and its gradual buildup warms the planet, leading to the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and catastrophic natural disasters such as wildfires and floods. But the primary emitters of carbon are often not the ones bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. As sea levels rise, people in small island countries, such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, will struggle to survive. In 2019, according to a Quartz Africa report by Tawanda Karombo in 2021, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Niger all experienced drastic, unpredictable changes in temperature and precipitation, causing food shortages, economic disasters, and hundreds of avoidable fatalities. “Many of these countries and communities bear little responsibility for the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. At the same time, they have the fewest resources available to protect themselves,” Klinsky observed.
Only 5 percent of the world’s population was responsible for 36 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 to 2015. The impoverished half of the global population accounted for less than 6 percent of all emissions in that period. But because greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, it is misleading to consider only a twenty-year window. According to Klinsky, since the 1750s, the United States has emitted 29 percent of all global CO2 emissions, or 457 billion tons, while the entire continent of Africa has emitted only 3 percent, or 43 billion tons.
The 2015 Paris Climate Accords included a lofty promise by the United States to address the needs of low-income countries that suffer the disastrous effects of climate change. The United States guaranteed that industrialized nations would contribute $100 billion a year to tackle climate change, beginning in 2020. However, they missed the mark that year and again in 2021. Even $100 billion, should it ever materialize, would not be sufficient to address the catastrophic impact of climate change in the Global South. According to Karombo, Zimbabwe required $1.1 billion to rebuild from just a single cyclone in 2019. And Mozambique has been experiencing average annual losses of about $440 million from cyclone-related floods.
Corporate outlets such as Time and the New York Times have started reporting on environmental racism in the United States. Missing from this coverage, however, is the US role in speeding up the effects of climate change in the Global South. Last year, Project Censored’s #4 story concerned the outsize contribution of the US and the Global North to the burgeoning climate crisis. This broad topic is on our list once again, because corporate media still are not reporting on the situation in full; in particular, they are not covering adequately the egregious role played by the United States.
Sonja Klinsky, “Climate Change Is a Justice Issue—These 6 Charts Show Why,” The Conversation, November 3, 2021.
Tawanda Karombo, “These African Countries Are Among the World’s Worst Hit by Climate Change,” Quartz Africa, January 27, 2021, updated December 1, 2021.
Student Researcher: Lena Anderson (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)