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Rising temperatures due to use of fossil fuels have caused enormous financial losses to poorer, warmer countries such as India and have fattened wealthier and cooler nations like those in northern Europe

Millions of people in India are living in increased poverty and squalor due to climate change (Photo by Billy Cedeno)

Millions of people in India are living in increased poverty and squalor due to climate change (Photo by Billy Cedeno)

In the past few decades, climate change has been blamed for extreme weather events like erratic rainfall, super cyclones, and flooding and rise in sea levels. Now, researchers from Stanford University in the US have found that fossil fuel use — which is the main reason for the rise in global temperatures — have enriched cooler and more prosperous countries such as Sweden and Norway, while dampening down economic growth in warmer but poorer nations such as India, Brazil and Nigeria.

Although income inequality has decreased among nations in the last 50 years, the gap could have been narrower between 1961 and 2010 if not for climate change, says the new study published this week in the peer-reviewed Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The difference between the wealthiest and poorest countries is wider by as much as 25% than it would have been in a world without global warming, the study said.

“The global warming caused by fossil fuel use has likely exacerbated the economic inequality associated with historical disparities in energy consumption,” the authors of the study said. “Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) has been reduced 17–31% at the poorest four deciles of the population-weighted country-level per capita GDP distribution, yielding a ratio between the top and bottom deciles that is 25% larger than in a world without global warming.”

The study found more than 90% likelihood that per capita GDP would have been higher in poorer nations if global warming had not occurred. “Our results show that, in addition to not sharing equally in the direct benefits of fossil fuel use, many poor countries have been significantly harmed by the warming arising from wealthy countries’ energy consumption,” said the study authored by Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke of the Department of Earth Systems Science at Stanford University.

Poor suffer the most

“Our results show that most of the poorest countries on Earth are considerably poorer than they would have been without global warming,” said Diffenbaugh, lead author of the study. “At the same time, the majority of rich countries are richer than they would have been.”

The study builds on previous research published in Nature journal in which Burke and other researchers analysed 50 years of annual temperature and GDP measurements for 165 countries to estimate the effects of temperature fluctuations on economic growth.

“The historical data clearly show that crops are more productive, people are healthier and we are more productive at work when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold,” Burke told Stanford News Service. “This means that in cold countries, a little bit of warming can help. The opposite is true in places that are already hot.”

“The countries that are most responsible for global warming are different from the countries that are bearing the brunt of global warming,” Diffenbaugh told National Geographic magazine. This is in line with the well-established fact that although the wealthier countries are responsible for most of the global warming, it is people in impoverished nations that bear most of the brunt.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 shows that intense cyclones, excessive rainfall and severe floods make India and its neighbours among the worst affected countries in the world. It is the poorer countries that are most affected in its long-term index, as eight of the 10 countries most affected between 1998 and 2017 are developing economies. See: India, neighbours most vulnerable to climate change

Changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures will cost India 2.8% of its GDP and will drag down living standards of half its population by 2050, a World Bank study said last year. Almost half of South Asia’s population lives in areas vulnerable to climate change and will suffer from falling living standards, mainly due to shrinking farm yields, lower labour productivity and related health impacts. Some of these areas are already underdeveloped, suffer from poor connectivity and are water stressed, the study said. See: Climate change will worsen living standards in India

Temperature fluctuations amplified by climate change will hit the world’s poorest countries hardest, a team of researchers from the Universities of Wageningen, Montpellier and Exeter said in a study last year. “The countries that have contributed least to climate change, and have the least economic potential to cope with the impacts are facing the largest increases in temperature variability,” said lead author Sebastian Bathiany of Wageningen University.


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