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Cutting emissions from the world's biggest polluters would have an outsized effect on climate change

A new report published in the science journal, Nature, shows that the world's top emitters, including the U.S. and China, make climate change worse for the countries surrounding them.

So if these countries could get their acts together, the report reasons, there would be outsized benefits for surrounding nations and the entire world.

Globally top emitters including China, India, the European Union, Russia, and the U.S. have an outsized role in climate change and regional climate events, according to the report.

"Overall, we find that the top five emitters—China, US, EU-27, India, and Russia—are playing a major role in driving global and regional warming and are increasing the probability for extreme hot years, both since the first IPCC report of 1990 and even only since the Paris Agreement of 2015," the report's authors write. "In the context of their current Paris Agreement emissions pledges, the US, Russia, China, and EU-27 would experience even more severe warming by 2030 if the whole world were to follow the same per capita fossil CO2 emissions as them."

This apportioning of blame is meant not just to name and shame, but to provide a sense for the global community about the responsibilities of specific countries to address harms.

While the burdens associated with global warming fall on the populations in nations that are least equipped to deal with the climate change, the responsibilities to pay for the damage rest almost entirely on the shoulders of some of the world's wealthiest countries.

As the authors write, "[identifying] the warming implications of commitments of individual countries can be a crucial element to increase transparency in the assessment of countries’ commitments."

Under the Paris Agreement, each country is required to update its national contributions to combating climate change. But beyond those contributions, it's up to those countries to work to limit global warming internationally -- and their efforts could be a huge contribution to reducing the worst impacts of a changing climate for everyone.

"Our results highlight the direct benefits of increased mitigation ambition by the top five emitters for not just less median warming but also a slower emergence of hot extremes already over the next decade," according to the Nature report.

Finally, the authors state smaller countries with larger per capita emissions aren't off the hook, they need to do more too.

"However, this does not imply that smaller emitters do not bear responsibility to increase their commitments. Per capita emission scenarios can be explored for any country and may serve as an intuitive tool to communicate the importance of single countries and their emission choices in driving climate change. This could especially help motivate small countries with large per capita emissions, such as Switzerland and similar-size countries, to pursue more stringent mitigation efforts, which are urgently needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals," the authors write.

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