A study published by international development charity, Christian Aid, highlights the devastating economic impact climate change will inflict on Commonwealth countries.
Ahead of the coronation of long-time environment campaigner King Charles III, the new report lays out the grim economic future facing Commonwealth countries and underlining the deep climate inequality within the bloc.
The study, titled “The climate cost to the Commonwealth”, was led by Marina Andrijevic, an economist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna. By 2050 and 2100 the economies of these countries are still expected to be higher than they are today. This study highlights the amount of damage caused to their GDP by climate change, compared to a scenario where climate change didn’t take place.
Estimates based on peer-reviewed methodology by Burke et al show that on current climate policies, where global temperature rise reaches around 2.7C by the end of the century, Commonwealth countries can expect to suffer an average GDP hit of -19% by 2050 and of -63% by 2100. Even if countries keep global temperature rise to 1.5C as set out in the Paris Agreement, Commonwealth nations face a mean GDP reduction of -13% by 2050 and -32% by 2100.
According to Christian Aid, this underlines the need to get the new Loss and Damage Fund up and running urgently with rich countries providing their fair share of finance, based on the polluter pays principle, even if countries succeed in keeping global heating under 1.5C.
The country facing the worst projected GDP hit is Nigeria, which last year was struck by flooding in West Africa which killed more than 600 people and displaced 1.3 million. Christian Aid’s study shows that under current climate policies Nigeria faces a GDP reduction of -26% by 2050 and -75% by 2100 compared to if there was no climate change. Even in a 1.5C scenario, Nigeria can expect a GDP blow of -18% by 2050 and -43% by 2100.
Per person the UK emits 64 times more carbon than fellow Commonwealth nation Malawi. Canada emits more than 179 times more and Australia, 188 times.
In fact, the per capita emissions of the Commonwealth’s richest four countries (UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand), is 41.1 tons of C02, which is 23 times larger than the 10 least emitting per capita Commonwealth countries combined (1.78 tons).
The study estimates the economic damage caused by climate change on GDP for 40 of the 56 Commonwealth countries where data is available. The methodology used here doesn’t factor in adaptation measures, so greater investment in adaptation could potentially alleviate some of the damage. The derisory amounts that richer governments are committing to adaptation support for the poorest is one of the issues that climate campaigners are demanding is addressed at COP28 in Dubai.
The countries most affected are also the ones with very low capacities to adapt, as outlined the ND GAIN index of vulnerability and adaptative capacity so it is unreasonable to expect that they will be able to reduce these damages very substantially.
In her foreword to the report, Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate activist, said: “The Commonwealth, as a group of nations, captures the severe inequality of climate change. Within its ranks are some of the world’s biggest polluters per capita – Australia with its coal industry, Canada with its tar sands. The average citizen of those countries is responsible for as much carbon as 100 people from my country, Uganda.
“Nowhere should the case for action to drastically cut emissions and increase financial support be clearer than among this group of nations. The leaders of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK like to speak warm words about their Commonwealth ‘family’, but so far, their action to address the climate crisis has fallen tragically short.
“It need not be this way. The Commonwealth is a group of countries that can demonstrate what true climate cooperation can look like. As it enters a new era under the leadership of King Charles, its existence is questioned by more and more people as it seeks to find its purpose and relevance in a modern world. Climate action, something that is dear to the heart of King Charles, is the perfect issue where the Commonwealth can lead the world and be a model for others to follow.”
Mohamed Adow, Director of climate and energy think tank, Power Shift Africa, said: “The Commonwealth has great potential to be a force for good on climate change. It contains both some of the most impacted nations and also some of the most responsible. If the historic polluters really care about the Commonwealth ‘family’ they need to slash their emissions and increase the financial support to help those on the front line of the crisis. I’ve seen first-hand the suffering being caused in East Africa right now by terrible drought and it shows that climate breakdown is not a future problem, but one already hitting parts of the Commonwealth hard.”
Marina Andrijevic, an economist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, who led the study, said: “This analysis shows the huge strain that climate change will be on the economic development of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth countries assessed here make up more than a quarter of the world’s population and span every populated continent. Many of these countries face a number of challenges and the climate crisis poses a major threat to their ability to sustainably develop. This study is based on just the impact of rising temperatures, not the effects of extreme weather events. This means that they might be conservative estimates, because the economic harm of extreme weather events causes massive losses that will likely have their own impact on economic performance.”
Patrick Watt, Christian Aid CEO, said: “These findings underline the deep injustice at the heart of the climate crisis. The Commonwealth countries that contribute least to the problem stand to be worst affected by rising average temperatures. By the same token, the historic carbon emissions of a handful of the richest Commonwealth members are causing escalating damage to millions of the world’s poorest people.
“The Commonwealth, as a body that brings together some of the heaviest climate polluters and the most climate-vulnerable countries, has a genuine opportunity to model a just and sustainable response to the climate crisis. Commonwealth countries should take a lead in getting the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP27 up and running, with rich nations contributing their fair share. And we need to see the major polluters taking immediate action to cut their emissions, to put us on a collective path to a sustainable future.”