The 2020 Climate Transparency Report was released in November 2020 as a collaboration between over a dozen think tanks and nonprofits supported by the World Bank Group. The report examines the climate-friendliness of national policies based on G20 member nations, pulling data from the Greenness of Stimulus Index, Energy Policy Tracker, and other sources to analyze 100 indicators for climate-related adaptation, mitigation, and finance.
The 70-page study shows that the U.S. should have had enough reason to act on climate even prior to the coronavirus. Between 1999 and 2018, climate disasters like fires and floods in the U.S. resulted in $51.6 billion in economic losses every year over that period. No other countries even came close to losing that much: The next countries on the list are China and India, which racked up $35 billion and $14 billion respectively over that 19-year period.
The high annual average losses over that period were punctuated by extremes, including a record-setting 2017 when climate change-fueled disasters cost the U.S. $306 billion. That year saw supercharged hurricanes and wildfires made materially worse by carbon pollution.
Even compared to other G20 countries, which are all major polluters and together account for an astonishing 90% of all historical greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. isn't doing its due diligence on the climate crisis. The country has the fourth-highest per capita emissions in the elite group. That's in large part due to direct subsidies: "The U.S. has provided more unconditional financial support to the fossil fuel sector than any other G20 country has provided to all energy sectors combined," the report says.
As a result of all these failures, the US is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not on track to meet its depressingly-half-assed commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Now, one might argue that this detail is relevant, being that failed President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement. But even if we were still a part of that deal, the end result would be the same: the actual agreement was still only that "parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible" (emphasis mine). And even that "aim" was still up the discretion of each member nation, with no agreement about a target minimum surface temperature increase to aspire towards.
The day after my 30th birthday, the UN sponsored me to fly to Paris to report on the Climate Accord. That was pretty cool! But here's what I wrote about my disappointment with the deal at the time:
While the historical importance of this cooperation is certainly worth celebrating, it's also an easy distraction from the more … lackluster aspects of the climate deal.
Imagine those 195 nations involved in the agreement are 195 friends who all went out for dinner one night.
Now imagine the nightmare of trying to split the bill 195 ways. The Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn't want to go in on the $300 bottle of wine that the United States bought for the table. And the Marshall Islands had two more pieces of calamari than Brazil did, so Brazil wants them to pay the difference. Then, of course, there's Monaco, who only got a salad and yes OK paid for exactly what they ate plus a stingy tip, but they didn't factor in the tax and everyone else wants them to split the cost of the appetizers, too. And we haven't even gotten started on entrees yet!
Let's just say there was a lot of compromise involved. But hey, at least everyone had a good time, right?
I tried to stay positive then — "Hey, maybe human beings will actually act in good faith in the interest of the greater good for once!" But the US (notably, under Donald Trump's leadership) couldn't even uphold a non-binding pledge to kind-of-sort-of-maybe-try not to club ourselves in the kneecaps and shit on our homes.
We're just going to keep shooting ourselves in the foot as we dig our hole deeper, ignoring the fact that we exist in a world with other people, too.
Climate Change Has Hit the U.S. Harder Than Any Other G20 Country [Dharna Noor / Gizmodo]
Image: Public Domain via NASA/DoD photo by Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, U.S. Air Force