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'Profound Implications for Justice': Report Shows Extent of Inequality Exacerbated by Climate Crisis

"If climate change is particularly bad for poor countries, that means climate change would make elimination of poverty extremely difficult."

Smoke stacks.

Smoke stacks. (Photo: Library of Congress)

The climate crisis is making global economic inequality worse. 

That's the verdict from a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

The results of the study presented by Stanford University professors Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Marshall Burke paint a dire picture of the current and future effects of climate change on wealth and resource inequality around the world. 

While the world has become more equal over the last few decades, climate change has held the progression in check. 

"The global warming caused by fossil fuel use has likely exacerbated the economic inequality associated with historical disparities in energy consumption," the study's authors write. 

And unless there's a change in how the world powers itself, said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and the one-time U.N.'s special envoy on climate change, inequality is going to get worse, because continued rises in global temperatures will only add to the problem and make things worse for poorer countries and communities. 

"They will suffer the most, they will suffer disproportionately, as they are already," Robinson told TIME last fall. 

"Not only will #ClimateChange hit people in poverty hardest, new study found it has already been contributing to global inequality," said Bassam Khawaj, senior advisor to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

The effects of climate change are felt more in warmer countries than cooler countries, according to the study, meaning that the so-called Global South—in modern history the more impoverished and exploited part of the planet—will continue to be hardest hit by the changes. 


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"If you're a really cool country you've been helped a lot," Burke said in an interview with The New York Times. "If you're a really warm country, you've been hurt a lot. And if you're in the middle, the effects have been smaller or much more muted."

Branko Milanovic, a professor at the City University of New York, told CNN Business that the effects of climate change could prove disastrous for the globe's long-term economic health.

"If climate change is particularly bad for poor countries, that means climate change would make elimination of poverty extremely difficult," said Milanovic.

 But eventually, as Tech Review editor James Temple pointed out, nobody will be immune from the impacts of a rapidly warming world.

"Few nations will be spared as temperatures rise further," said Temple. 

There are also major ramifications in how we interact with one another in the results of the study, according to Celine Guivarch, a climate change and policy expert at CIRED, the Paris-based International Research Center on Environment and Development.

"We already knew that the countries most vulnerable to climate change did not contribute much to emissions that caused that same climate change," said Guivarch. "We now have the quantification of how much."

"That has profound implications for justice between countries going forward," she said.

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