As the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, the US bares outsized responsibility for the world’s climate changing for the worse. Researchers have now put a value to some of those damages: $1.9 trillion.
In the first study of its kind, academics at Dartmouth College quantified the link between emitters, like the US, and the economic damage their emissions have caused to individual countries around the globe. They did this by looking at the losses and gains in gross domestic product in 143 countries for which data were available.
“Greenhouse gases emitted in one country cause warming in another, and that warming can depress economic growth,” says one of the researchers, Justin Mankin, in a statement about the work. “This research provides legally valuable estimates of the financial damages individual nations have suffered due to other countries’ climate-changing activities.”
US emissions’s effect on economies around the world, 1990-2014
The research, which combined historical data and climate models, focused on the economic impact of warming temperatures as a consequence of emissions released between 1990 and 2014. Countries that saw the greatest headwinds to per-capita GDP growth because of these US emissions were disproportionately in the global South. A few countries saw outsized gains in their economies because of the emissions, including Russia, Iceland, Finland, and Greenland.
The harm attributed to the five biggest emitters, the US, China, Russia, Brazil, and India, collectively caused $6 trillion in income losses, or 11% of global GDP, according to the research.
Quantitative assessments of culpability like these are useful in developing fair mitigation policy and agreements, and, potentially, in providing basis for climate litigation and restitution.
“This research provides an answer to the question of whether there is a scientific basis for climate liability claims—the answer is yes,” said one of the study’s authors, Christopher Callahan.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Dartmouth College as Dartmouth University and included the study’s finding that $6 trillion in income loses was equivalent to 14% of global GDP within the study period. This value was incorrect in the published paper and it has been updated to the correct figure of 11%.