Climate Justice Hypocrisy

Over the last several years, a group of so-called Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have been pressuring the United Nations "for enhanced measures to be taken on combating climate change, especially in speeding up the availability of funds for poorer nations to adapt to global warming."  These small island countries said "the world was not moving quickly enough to either mitigate the effects of climate change or support the poorest countries as they tried to adapt to them."  More recently, the SIDS have indicated they "are seeking to take the issue of climate change before the International Court of Justice."  However, there has been relatively little critical examination of who these SIDS are, and what validity their claims for climate justice may -- or may not -- have.

The list of current SIDS members across the Caribbean; the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans; and the South China Sea is as follows: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cook Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, the Seychelles, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

The first question is whether or not all of the SIDS members are poor.

Singapore -- a prominent SIDS member -- has one of the highest per capita gross national incomes (GNI) on the planet, coming in at $42,930 during 2011 (ahead of France, Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Spain...and on the list goes).

Among the 39 SIDS, only three members (Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, and Haiti) had a 2011 per capita GNI below the World Bank's low income cutoff of $1,025.  In contrast, a greater number of SIDS classify as high-income states (pcGNI>$12,475): the Bahamas, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago.  A further 13 SIDS qualify as high-middle-income nations (pcGNI of $4,036 to $12,475): Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, the Maldives, Mauritius, Palau, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Suriname, and Tuvalu.

Given their very vocal stance on the purportedly impending and urgent nature of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, one would also reasonably expect all these nations to have already taken drastic steps to cut their own carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and to also have CO2 per capita emission rates lower than almost all other countries.

Antigua and Barbuda has apparently "pledged to curb its 'already minuscule' greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020." Yet, between 1990 and 2009 (the latest year for which comprehensive data is available), this nation actually increased its carbon dioxide emissions by 54%.  Looks like Antigua and Barbuda has a lot of work cut out for itself to meet its target over the next few years.  By comparison, the USA only increased its total CO2 emissions by 9% between 1990 and 2009, the EU declined 12%, and the OECD overall was up 8%.  On a per capita basis, Antigua and Barbuda increased its CO2 emissions by 9% over this period (compare with corresponding U.S., EU, and OECD declines of 12%, 17%, and 7%, respectively).  Antigua and Barbuda's per capita CO2 emissions in 2009 were also higher than that of Sweden, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and 122 other nations.

Among the 33 SIDS with complete CO2 emissions data from 1990 to 2009, the average change in CO2 emissions was +112% (again, compare this to the corresponding 9% U.S. increase, 12% EU decrease, and 8% OECD increase noted above), ranging up to +567% for the Maldives, +548% for the Seychelles, +294% for St. Kitts and Nevis, +258% for Cape Verde, and +182% for Trinidad and Tobago, to name but a few SIDS with massive CO2 emissions increases over this timeframe.  The situation is no better for per-capita CO2 emissions among the SIDS.  The average change for this group was +68% between 1990 and 2009 (vs. -12%, -17%, and -7% for the U.S., EU, and OECD), with particularly large increases of +420% for the Seychelles, +369% for the Maldives, +220% for St. Kitts and Nevis, +156% for Trinidad and Tobago, and +154% for Cape Verde.

Trinidad and Tobago has the second-highest per-capita CO2 emissions (36 metric tons per capita per year [tpcy]) among all countries, behind only Qatar at 44 tpcy, and well ahead of the USA at 17.3 tpcy.  Other notorious per-capita CO2 emitters within the SIDS (and their rank among 197 nations with 2009 emissions data) are Palau (10.3 tpcy, 21st), the Seychelles (8.4 tpcy, 35th), the Bahamas (7.6 tpcy, 42nd), Singapore (6.4 tpcy, 52nd), Barbados (5.8 tpcy, 62nd), St. Kitts and Nevis (5.0 tpcy, 72nd), and Suriname (4.8 tpcy, 77th), etc.  The global average in 2009 was 4.7 tpcy, while the average for lower-middle-income and middle-income states was 1.6 and 3.5 tpcy, respectively. In other words, a number of the SIDS have some of the highest per-capita CO2 emission rates across all nations, and their rates are -- in general -- increasing rapidly.

Trinidad and Tobago is also a modest oil producer (particularly for its small population), deriving oil rents at about 13% of its GDP (for comparison, the USA obtains <1% of GDP as oil rents, Canada is at 3.2%, and Norway is at 11%). It seems hypocritical at best that a nation whose high-income status was obtained in large part via oil production is within a club that claims to be poor and is also advocating for "climate justice" due to the global use of fossil fuels.  Pot, meet kettle...which is a statement that adequately describes the overall case the SIDS have for any "climate justice" at the West's expense.

The SIDS are generally not low-income nations; many members have high population normalized CO2 emissions, and they have displayed a general lack of commitment toward reducing their own CO2 emissions over the past two decades.  All this leaves aside the clear uncertainty regarding anthropogenic climate change, but we need not delve into that issue in order to easily dismiss the SIDS' case.