Econ-Atrocity: Greenhouse Injustice

By James Boyce, Professor of Economics, UMass-Amherst

In a state-of-the-art forecast on the impacts of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported this month that low-income countries in Africa and Asia will suffer the greatest harm from the build-up of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The distribution of the long-term costs of fossil fuel consumption is therefore a mirror image of distribution of its short-term benefits: while the transitory pleasures of rapacious fossil fuel consumption are concentrated among the world’s affluent classes, the brunt of the long-term costs will fall on people who have never ridden in an automobile, much less owned one.
The IPCC projects that average surface temperatures will rise by 2.5 to 10 degrees Farenheit in this century, following a one-degree rise in the 20th century. Even if the costs of climate change were distributed equally across humankind, the poorest would suffer the most because they are starting from an abysmally low base. But ironically, many of the worst-hit places will be precisely where they live, notably by virtue of worsening droughts in Africa and increased flooding and cyclones in low-lying regions of tropical Asia. For both reasons, the IPCC report concludes,: The effects climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life and relative effects on investment and the economy.’

Meanwhile, international negotiations aiming to reach a treaty on steps to combat global warming remain stymied by the U.S. insistence that developing countries agree to do more to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases.


IPCC,: Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers,’ approved by IPCC Working Group II in Geneva, 13-16 February 2001.

‘Global Warming’s Big Losers: Poor Countries and Island Nations,’ The International Herald Tribune, 19 February 2001, p. 4. (

Web resources:

For the IPCC report, go to:

For more on greenhouse injustice, see the excellent website of India’s Centre for Science and the Environment:

The Environmental Protection Agency has a Global Warming links page at

Econ-Atrocities are a periodic publication of the Center for Popular Economics. They are the work of their authors and reflect their author’s opinions and analyses. CPE does not necessarily endorse any particular idea expressed in these articles.