New Internationalist

Climate Justice - The Facts

Issue 357

1 The heat is on

Last year was the second warmest since 1860 – the hottest was 1998. Fossil-fuel use is mainly to blame – with the rich world doing most of the damage.

To stabilize the global climate will require huge cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions – and a big increase in justice. The UN-endorsed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that emissions reductions of 60% by 2050 are essential.1 But many experts now think even this is not enough – 70 or 80% is needed.2

In 2002 the British Meteorological Office’s Hadley Centre reported that climate change was happening 50% faster than originally believed. By 2040 they predict most of the world’s forests will begin to die.4

2 Big emitters

The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

EU average: 10.3; Britain: 11.4; New Zealand/Aotearoa: 14.1; Japan: 10.2.5 * Recent figures indicate sharp reduction due to contraction of steel industry.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is responsible for over 50% of global warming.

3 Balance the books

Balance: If account were taken of their rampant use of polluting fossil fuels, industrialized countries would have totted up an environmental debt of $141-$612 billion to the highly indebted poor countries.3

4 Kick fossils

More than 80 per cent of human-made carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels for our energy requirements.2


Between the late 1990s and 2020 global energy consumption is projected to rise by nearly 60 per cent. Most of this growth will occur in the developing world where some two billion people currently have no access to electricity or piped gas.7


Wind and solar power are the fastest growing energy sources in the world. Renewable energy technologies have the potential to meet energy demand several times over.7

  • Solar photovoltaics (PV) are providing more than a million households in the developing world with electricity for the first time. More than 100,000 households in richer countries now support their utility power with PV systems.7
  • Enough windpower is now generated worldwide to supply 14 million households in 45 countries.7
  • If current growth rates for PV solar and wind persist to 2020 they could provide 45% of global electricity needs.7
  • A third of the world’s greenhouse gases come from transport. Universally applied, zero-emission hydrogen-fuel technology could have a dramatic impact – providing the hydrogen was produced using clean energy.

And while oil exploration costs rise, renewable costs are tumbling due to improved technology and economies of scale:

Renewables are said to be uneconomic. This is often untrue – and subsidies favour fossils.

  • Fossil fuels and nuclear power get $150 -$300 billion a year in government subsidies worldwide.7
  • Canada gives fossil-fuel subsidies of $1,300 million compared with just $12 million to renewables.2
  • US fossil-fuel subsidies and tax loopholes total $29 to $46 billion per year.2
  • An investment of $660 million would make solar competitive in price – that’s 0.5% of the $89,000 million spent by oil companies on exploration in 1998 alone.8

And while oil exploration costs rise, renewable costs are tumbling due to improved technology and economies of scale:

  • WIND POWER cost 010 times more 20 years ago.7
  • SOLAR PV cost 15 times more 25 years ago.2

  1. UN World Meteorological Organization.
  2. Guy Dauncey with Patrick Mazza, Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society 2001).
  3. Christian Aid, Who Owes Who: Climate Change, Debt, Equity and Survival(1999).
  4. Ross Gelbspan, Another Tragically Beautiful Day, interview, February 2003.
  5. Hal Turton and Clive Hamilton, The Australia Institute, Comprehensive emissions per capita for industrialized countries, September 2001,, based on UNFCCC 2001a; UNFCCC 2001b; World Bank 2001.
  6. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre, Emissions for Fossil Fuel Burning and Cement Manufacturing, World Resources 2000-2001,WRI.
  7. Janet L Sawin, 'Charting a New Energy Future' in Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2003.
  8. Greenpeace International, Solar Fact Sheet, 1999.
  9. Carbon Trade Watch, The Sky is Not the Limit, Transnational Institute Briefing Series, 2003.

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This article was originally published in issue 357

New Internationalist Magazine issue 357
Issue 357

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