Energy & Environment

Wealthy nations responsible for 74 percent of ecological harm: study

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Wealthy nations are responsible for nearly three-quarters of ecological damage worldwide, according to research published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health

Researchers assigned responsibility by calculating fair shares of resources, subtracted from nations’ actual use of resources.

They found the U.S. led with 27 percent of excess resource use, followed by the European Union with 25 percent. China, which is the overall largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide, was responsible for 15 percent of excess material use, according to the research. 

Meanwhile, nations in regions like the Caribbean and the Middle East, as well as low-income African and Latin American nations, collectively only comprised 8 percent of excess resource use. 

“These results indicate that rich countries owe an ecological debt to the rest of the world, and should lead the way in repairing the damages they have caused,” lead author Jason Hickel, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology in Barcelona, told The Hill in an email. “The first step is that they need to bring their resource use back within sustainable levels, which will require a 70% reduction on average from existing levels.” 

The study covered ecological damage other than climate change, but Hickel noted that the team had done prior research indicating similar breakdowns in responsibility. “When it comes to both of these crises, rich countries are overwhelmingly responsible for the problem and need to take the lead in addressing it,” he said. 

Asked what an international plan to address these disparities would look like, Hickel called European Union legislation to cap resource use “a big step.” 

“But we also need the US on board, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other rich countries, if we want to see real change,” he said. “China should be part of such a coalition as well.  People talk a lot about climate legislation and climate policy, which is important, but we need similar action on resource use if we are going to halt biodiversity loss and regenerate our biosphere.” 

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