Amid the doom and gloom on the climate change front, we are occasionally treated to some good news. That was the case this week with the announcement by Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault that rich countries have finally reached their goal of providing $100 billion US annually to help poorer countries combat and adapt to climate change. They are two years behind schedule but let’s not quibble.

The world’s richest nations pledged the annual $100 billion in 2009 at the United Nation’s COP15 conference in Copenhagen, the funds to be spent on projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as those that help mitigate the effects of climate change. The agreement was based on the recognition that the developed world is mainly responsible for emissions that now disproportionately affect poorer countries. The COP climate summits are global decision-making forums set up to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Canada and Germany have responsibility for administering the fund and making sure the signatories pay up.

According to Carbon Brief, the United States has produced 20 percent of global CO2 emissions since 1850, China 11 percent and Russia seven percent. However, emissions are produced by people, not countries. On a per capita basis, the picture is very different. Since 1850 the top three polluting peoples are New Zealanders, Canadians and Australians with Americans fourth. The Chinese don’t even make the top 20. The numbers include the burning of fossil fuels plus land use and forestry. (New Zealand ranks at the top of the per capita list because of extensive deforestation during the 19th century.)

Four large developing countries (China, India, Brazil and Indonesia) account for 42 percent of the world’s population, but just 23 percent of cumulative emissions, while six developed countries (the U.S., Russia, Germany, the UK, Japan and Canada) account for just 10 percent of the world’s population but 39 percent of cumulative emissions. That the rich owe a huge debt is beyond question.

Some Canadian fans of the oil industry suggest we shouldn’t worry because after all we are a small country and our emissions make up a small amount of the total. In fact, each Canadian is responsible for twice the pollution of the average Chinese, eight times of the average Indian. These attempts to weasel out of our responsibility are a national embarrassment.

The cost of climate change is increasing steadily. At the next COP later this year, a new climate finance goal will be negotiated. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that by 2025 developing countries will need around $1 trillion US annually for climate investments and financing, increasing to $2.4 trillion US by 2030. Climate Action Network Canada is calling on the federal government to triple our commitment over the next five years.

That the world’s wealthy meet future goals as they did the $100 billion is essential. And on the due dates from now on would be helpful. Fair play, to say nothing of the future of civilization, depends on it.

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