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10 hungriest countries contribute just 0.08% of global CO₂ – new report

As UK recovers from new temperature record and a continuing trend toward hotter weather, new report points out disproportionate impact on poor nations
  • Climate & Food Vulnerability Index shows 10 most food-insecure countries emit considerably less than half a tonne of CO₂ per person per year
  • Burundi is world’s most food-insecure and smallest per person emitter
  • The average Briton generates as much CO₂ as 212 Burundians
  • IPCC blockers Russia, USA and Saudi some of the worst offenders

Scientists of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meet in Geneva this Thursday to publish their Special Report on Climate Change and Land – and a new report by the development charity Christian Aid shows that climate change is having a disproportionate impact on the food systems of the country’s least responsible for causing the climate crisis.

The IPCC report is expected to show how climate change will affect global food supply, spiking prices and reducing nutrition. It is also likely to recommend that countries will need to drastically cut emissions if global food security is to be protected.

The new report, Hunger Strike: The Climate & Food Vulnerability Index, shows that the top ten most food-insecure countries all generate less than half a tonne of CO₂ per person and just 0.08% of global carbon emissions.  Meanwhile, the countries that have been blocking the adoption of recent IPCC science reports at UN meetings: Russia (12.2 tonnes), the USA (15.7) and Saudi Arabia (19.4) all have huge per capita carbon footprints. 

Climate and Food Insecurity Index Top 10

Climate & Food Vulnerability Index rankCountry Food Insecurity score CO₂ emissions per capita (tonnes)CO₂ emissions per capita rank (out of 113)
2Congo (Dem. Rep.)26.10.043112
5Sierra Leone29.20.173103

Topping the Index is Burundi, which, perversely, also happens be the country with the lowest CO₂ per capita emissions, a tiny 0.027 tonnes. This is so low it is often rounded to zero.  This means that the average Russian generates the same CO₂ as 454 Burundians, an American 581 and a Saudi 719.  In the UK the average Brit generates the same CO₂ as 212 Burundians.

Other selected countries

Climate and Food Vulnerability Index rankCountryFood Insecurity score CO₂ emissions per capita (tonnes) CO₂ emissions per capita rank (out of 113)Equivalent number of Burundians emissions per person
69South Africa65.58.24523305
82Saudi Arabia72.419.3935719
89South Korea75.613.20711489
110United Kingdom855.72937212
110United States8515.7419581

Philip Galgallo, Christian Aid’s Country Director for Burundi, said:

Burundi is a living testament to the injustice of the climate crisis. Despite producing almost no carbon emissions, we find ourselves on the front line of climate change, suffering from higher temperatures, lower crop yields and increasingly unreliable rains.

In a just world our problems would be something we could address ourselves. But because we haven’t caused this climate breakdown, we alone cannot solve it. We need richer, more polluting, countries to cut their emissions rapidly if we’re going to hold back the ravages of climate change and reverse its affects. Because of the global nature of climate change this is an opportunity for the world to act together in solidarity and fairness.

We have great potential for clean energy but we need funding and support to unlock it. We have renewable resources of wind and solar with which we can power our development but we don’t have the finances or technology to harness them.

It is vital that developed country governments heed the warnings of the UN scientists and cut their emissions urgently. The lives of millions of the poorest people demand that they do.

Report author Dr Katherine Kramer, Christian Aid’s Global Climate Lead, said although personal actions were important to drive down emissions, it was action from Governments and big business that needed to happen the most:

This report outlines in stark details the global inequality of climate change and how it is the most vulnerable that are contributing least to the problem and suffering the most.

That is why we need to see rapid and radical emissions reductions in richer, high emitting countries, ending the fossil-fuelled era forever. Additionally, these countries need to provide financial support and new technology to help poorer countries to develop cleanly and become resilient to existing and future climate impacts.

Dr Doreen Stabinsky, Professor of Global Environmental Politics at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, said:

Climate change poses enormous threats to our ability to feed ourselves. The poorest and most vulnerable are currently suffering the most from the impacts on food production and already many across the world are migrating from their homes in order to be able to feed their families.

These are warning signals that all of us ignore at our peril, for agriculture ultimately is one of the most threatened of our economic sectors and most fundamental for the healthy functioning of our societies and our communities. Both the Christian Aid report and the upcoming IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land begin to make clear how serious a threat this is, and how urgently we need to act.

Only last month a study in Lancet Planetary Health showed that over the next 30 years, climate change combined with increasing carbon dioxide could significantly reduce the availability of critical nutrients like protein, iron, and zinc.

One of the authors of that study, Dr Samuel Myers, Principal Research Scientist at Harvard University’s Department of Environmental Health, said:

Our research shows that rising concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere are reducing the nutritional quality of the food we eat and that the most vulnerable people to these impacts are those least responsible for rising global CO₂ concentrations. From this, and other, research, what is quite clear is that climate change is not only a global health crisis, it is a moral crisis.

Christian Aid’s full report can be downloaded here.

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  1. In a MMGW piece on BBC news (this morning I think) the guest explained that whatever other nations do to combat climate change it won’t make enough of a difference – because their CO2 reductions will be massively outweighed by the CO2 generated by the US, China and India.

    The fact that China’s per capita CO2 is lower than many doesn’t stop its overall output being huge – and the fact that India isn’t mentioned at all – may be irrelevant to this report’s purpose but is very relevant to MMGW given that it’s the world’s governments that have to initiate the changes necessary to reverse it.
    It seems that persuading three of the governments least able (for different reasons) to change – to make huge changes – is crucial to our survival.

    I wonder if Saudi Arabia’s high number is based on CO2 generated in-country or on its oil exports?
    That’s an awful lot of driving and air conditioning.

    Whether per capita or national CO2 output should determine a nation’s responsibility will be the cause of much argument I suspect.

  2. Saudi Arabia – plans to install loads of solar farms, not because they’ve got a sudden rush of greenwash, but so that they can feed their aircon units so that they can export even more oil. (Much of the oil they currently extract goes to running the nation’s air conditioning and cheap driving.)

    As far as reducing CO2 (and CH4) emissions goes, it isn’t going to happen until we collapse capitalism. Indeed, there are some that want global warming to happen, as once most of the ice is gone, they can then go in and extract even more resources from the Arctic (and ultimately, Antartica):

  3. So, starving people generate little CO2.
    The point of research should be to provide a solution to a known problem which this does not.
    The outstanding problem here is that all these poor people, and the not so poor people of China, India, and South America, aspire to be two car families.
    Solve that problem or we are doomed. Vegeburgers won’t hack it.

    1. You have put your finger on it : it’s really a statement of the bleedin’ obvious that substitutes mere guilt for action.

      The political problem of taking action is the key issue and, as you say,vegan dreaming isn’t anywhere near a solution.

  4. Yes and despite 10 trillion bail out for the banks in 2008 mainly in the main polluting West (plus other big polluters are China and I think India) but the World Bank and IMF impose Neo-Liberal policies on the poorest and least polluting countries.
    So hopefully a Corbyn led Labour Govt can be the first to break the Neo-Liberal chain as an example for the World to follow then hopefully we address global poverty and climate change.
    Ironically some of the poorest countries have searing heat and searing poverty and perhaps we can use the first (solar power harnessing the free energy of the sun) to help address the second.

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