Columnist Russ Vernon-Jones: Solving humanity’s shared climate crisis

Russ Vernon-Jones

Russ Vernon-Jones

A chart from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), shows the developed economies, or Global North, at top and developing economies, or the Global South, at bottom.

A chart from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), shows the developed economies, or Global North, at top and developing economies, or the Global South, at bottom. UNCTAD/via Wikipedia


Published: 03-14-2024 2:59 PM

A great many of us care about the climate crisis. Many of us have taken steps to reduce our carbon footprints. Many of us have advocated for good climate policy at the local, state, and national levels. We have voted for candidates who seemed most likely to promote effective climate action.

Collectively, we’ve made quite a difference. Public opinion polls now show almost three-quarters of U.S. adults want more government action on climate. U.S. emissions are slowly coming down, not fast enough, but coming down.

Emissions from the wealthiest nations have been the primary cause of the climate crisis. Ending these emissions is essential to solving the climate crisis. Other wealthy nations are also reducing their emissions, although also too slowly.

Now I want to invite you to take an even more global perspective. We know that climate change does not respect national borders. Greenhouse gas emissions anywhere, cause climate change everywhere. This means that if we care about the livability of the planet for humans, we need to care about what’s happening with emissions everywhere.

Most of the world’s lower-income nations (in Africa, Asia, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean), a group often referred to as the “Global South,” have contributed little to creating the climate crisis. However, it is estimated that by 2030 more than half of all global emissions will come from the Global South (even without accounting for emissions from China).

These nations must, of course, have the right to develop an energy infrastructure and provide a good life for their people. The problem is that these nations do not have the financial resources to build green economies and address the effects of climate change. Without help, those with fossil fuel deposits underground cannot afford to keep them there — they need the income they can earn by extracting them.

They are poor because of centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism — having had their resources taken by the countries of the Global North without fair compensation. (The value of the resources still being taken to benefit the Global North at the expense of the Global South is estimated to be on the order of $2.2 trillion per year.) They are also poor because of the devastating effects climate change is wreaking on their economies — their food supply, housing, infrastructure, and livelihoods.

It is in the interests of all of humanity that we make it possible for the nations of the Global South to reduce, and then eliminate, their greenhouse gas emissions as they develop. The sums needed are far beyond their reach. It is estimated that by 2030 these nations will need a mind-boggling $1 trillion per year of climate financing from external sources.

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If we don’t move large amounts of money from the Global North to the Global South for climate action, we risk runaway climate change and the very survival of our species.

Where could such large sums come from? If you need a lot of money, you need to go to where there is a lot of money. (I’m reminded here of the story of Willie Sutton, a famous American bank robber in the early 1900s. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”)

Fortunately, there is plenty of money to solve the global climate crisis. It is currently in the hands of the ultra-rich. They aren’t going to give it to us to solve the climate crisis, so we are going to have to take it through taxation. It makes no sense for a small elite to have vastly more money than they need while humanity’s survival depends on putting sufficient resources into solving the climate crisis.

Currently in the U.S., the richest 1% hold more than 30% of all wealth. The richest 10% hold 66.6%. The poorest 50% hold 2.6% of all wealth. None of the required funds need come from people who are poor, working class, or middle class.

Climate finance is expected to be a major topic at the next few U.N. climate conferences. Now is time to start building support for equitable global climate finance among everyone who cares about climate. I invite you to wrap your mind around this situation. Open your heart to it. And begin to talk to people you know.

Although moving this money to where it is needed for climate action seems like an impossible task, I think we have three things working in our favor: 1) It is in every person’s and nation’s self-interest to do what’s needed to solve the climate crisis; 2) Nothing else will work; and 3) Human beings have an immense capacity to care for each other and we can be inspired to see ourselves as part of one global community coming together to keep our planet livable.

Russ Vernon-Jones of Amherst is a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now (CAN). The views expressed here are his own. He blogs regularly on climate justice at and can be reached there.