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Compensation for Atmospheric Appropriation

Compensation for Atmospheric Appropriation

Wealthy, industrialised nations of the global North, such as the United States and Germany, are responsible for 90% of excessive levels of carbon dioxide emissions, and could be liable to pay a total of $170 trillion in compensation or reparations to ensure climate change targets are met by 2050.

These funds amount to an annual transfer of nearly $6 trillion or about 7% of annual global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which should be distributed to low-emitting countries, such as India and Nigeria, as compensation for decarbonising their economies far more rapidly than would otherwise be required.

In our new open-access study, published in Nature Sustainability, we analyse 168 countries and quantify historical responsibility for climate breakdown (or lack thereof), based on excess CO₂ emissions beyond equality-based fair shares of global carbon budgets.

We propose an evidence-based compensation mechanism that takes into account historical responsibility for both causing and averting climate breakdown in an ambitious scenario where all countries decarbonise from current levels to 'net zero' by 2050, which keeps global heating below 1.5°C.

Although ambitious mitigation to reach net zero by 2050 in all countries could limit warming to 1.5°C, the global North would overshoot its collective fair share of the 1.5°C carbon budget by a factor of 3, appropriating half of the global South’s fair share in the process. This is unjust.

Use the interactive line charts below to select and compare historical cumulative CO₂ emissions across countries to 2019, together with an ambitious net zero scenario and a business-as-usual scenario to 2050. Cumulative emissions are shown with respect to a country's fair share of the 1.5°C global carbon budget (as well as the 'safe' 350 ppm planetary boundary and the far riskier 2°C target).

Cumulative emissions with respect to fair shares of global carbon budgets (1.5°C fair share = 1)

A handful of overemitting countries would be responsible for more than two thirds of total excess emissions under our net zero scenario, especially the United States. At the same time, a handful of low-emitting countries would sacrifice a majority of total appropriated emissions to balance the excess of overemitting countries and keep global heating within 1.5°C, especially India.

Bar chart of top 5 overemitting and low-emitting countries showing shares of total excess or appropriated emissions from 1960 to 2050, and annual per capita compensation until 2050

Use the bubble chart below to explore average annual compensation due for atmospheric appropriation on a per capita basis until 2050, based on the extent that countries either stay within or overshoot their 1.5°C fair shares under our net zero scenario. Hover/tap on individual country bubbles or on the country list for numerical values.

Annual compensation per capita until 2050 versus cumulative emissions with respect to 1.5°C fair shares, net zero scenario

The data on this page are from our 2023 article Compensation for atmospheric appropriation. You can download the full country-level dataset used to render the charts above here, and you can also download the published article's Supplementary Information spreadsheet here. The source data and custom R code used to generate the analysis are archived on Zenodo.

Please cite the following scientific journal article if using these results: