Mississippi Shouldn’t Have to Pay for Climate Change

This fall Congress will debate who should pay what to shrink <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America’s carbon footprint, in order to fight climate change. Yet it might surprise you to learn that international law entitles the State of Mississippi to an exemption from any climate policy that would harm its economic growth.

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After all, Mississippi didn’t cause global warming. The State only industrialized during the 1980s—about a century after the rest of the country. Because of this, the Eagle State’s historical contribution to U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is tiny. Congress needs to ask itself: Is it right to slow Mississippi’s economic growth to solve a problem for which it is not responsible?


Not according to international law, by which the nations of the world have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to fix global warming. That’s a diplomat’s way of saying that 30 developed countries—out of 193 states—are responsible for global warming, because they have been emitting GHGs longer than the other 160 countries.


This leads to some pretty interesting conclusions. China, which, like Mississippi, only industrialized in the 1980s, is now the world’s number-one greenhouse gas emitter. But the European Union, Japan, and other signatories of the Kyoto Protocol—the marquee global warming treaty—don’t expect China to lift a finger to fight global warming, because its historical contribution to present levels of GHGs in the atmosphere is low.


Congress should also keep in mind Mississippi’s “right to develop.” International lawyers assert that the countries of the world must achieve greater economic parity before developing nations are expected to pitch in to fight global warming, even though they account for more than 30 percent of annual global emissions.


Congress should respect Mississippi’s “right to develop” vis-à-vis the rest of the country. Mississippi’s per capita income is just below $25,000, which is almost $9,000 less than the average American. That’s 49th in the nation.


Mississippi’s “right to development” is especially important in light of its extensive coastline. Along the Gulf of Mexico, residents will have to adapt to a gradual sea level rise of about an inch per decade.


Resiliency—the capacity for adaptation in the face of change—is best measured by wealth. By virtue of its low per capita income, Mississippi is one of the least resilient states in America. If Congress taxed Mississippi’s energy use as part of its climate plan, it would slow down the state’s economic growth, and render Mississippians even more vulnerable to global warming. 


By unilaterally adopting emissions cuts while India and China go on belching out ever greater amounts of greenhouse gases, Congress implicitly endorses the twin pillars of international climate law: “common but differentiated responsibilities,” and the “right to develop.” Rights and responsibilities—the stuff of ethics—do not dissolve at state borders. Therefore, Congress should make its climate scheme optional for Mississippi.