FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Paying the Climate Debt

Last week’s G8 meeting presents a worrying model of how climate talks will play out in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit in December. While rich countries fail to grasp the scale of the solution required to deal with climate change, larger developing countries are blamed for a lack of ambition.

While the very richest can’t agree on meaningful, let alone ambitious, targets for reducing their own emissions, one of Ed Milliband’s key challenges for the year is to get developing countries to “move away from business as usual”.

The hypocrisy springs from an inability or unwillingness to grasp the nature of the environmental problem. Meanwhile, countries like Bolivia are proposing real solutions, and ones which terrify Western leaders: you can’t, they believe, deal with climate change unless you accept that rich countries are in significant debt to the poorest and embrace the concept of redistribution.

Their argument is simple and based on a premise which isn’t disputed. The rich world has gobbled up far more than its fair share of the earth’s atmosphere in order to develop. In essence, industrialised countries colonised the atmosphere, in the same way they did other resources.

Those rich countries now owe poorer countries a two-fold ‘climate debt’: first for over-using the Earth’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases and thereby denying atmospheric space to those who need it most. Second for the destruction that those emissions are causing.

The solution: rich countries need to ‘pay’ through redistributing a fairer share of limited atmospheric space, as well as helping poorer countries adapt to the mess they find themselves in. Environmental justice is little different from other forms of economic justice – redistribute resources so that those who’ve lost out from a specific model enjoy the same benefits as those who’ve done well from it.

But ‘those who’ve done well’ often don’t see things in the same way. The limited and hazy agreements made by the G8 go nowhere near a fair distribution of the earth’s atmosphere. Right up to 2050, even if an 80% cut in emissions were to be implemented, the G8 will consume far more of the earth’s limited resources than they deserve, such is the scale of their current over-use.

The G8 could get away with cutting emissions by less than they should because they are demanding steep developing country cuts as well – recognising the need for overall emissions to shrink. In effect developing countries would ‘subsidise’ the necessary reduction which rich countries should really be taking, thereby preventing the developing world accessing the environmental space they need to build decent standards of living.

The climate debt of the rich world would just keep getting bigger. But rather like the banks who gambled with the future of millions of people, the richest propose that many of their debts to the poor simply be written off.

Payment of the other part of the debt – to help clean up the mess – is even further ‘off track’, with tiny amounts of money committed to helping developing countries adapt and develop (or share, through relaxed intellectual property rights) new technologies to help their lower-carbon growth. Instead, proposals on the table to date include large quantities of new loans (so the real creditors become the debtors in economic terms) run through the World Bank, an institution which has championed high carbon growth for decades.

So the battle lines are drawn. Developing countries will not sit idly by while the rich go on consuming their dwindling chances for development and justice. They don’t see why they should make the first move – sacrificing their own development before the rich pay off their debts.

That’s why Bolivia has received substantial support for its proposals from a range of developing countries. It has also received support from civil society across the world, especially the Climate Justice Now Network, an umbrella covering groups like Friends of the Earth, World Development Movement, People & Planet and Christian-Aid.

Developed countries will spend the next six months in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit trying to marginalise these countries – doubtless with a good bit of bribery and arm-twisting along the way, helping them to meet the ‘ambition’ the rich feel that the poor somehow owe them.

Of course, achieving a just outcome would not be easy. Predicting the future impacts of climate change is very difficult. Moreover, it would mean big changes to the way those who currently run the world live, and more political vision than we’ve seen for many decades. But the principles are clear: that the polluter pays for the excessive consumption of the rich, not the poor, and that in a civilised society redistribution is a critical way of righting historical injustice.

The developing world has set out its ambitious agenda. It’s for us to move away from business as usual if we’re to come close to meeting it.

Nick Dearden is director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is part of the Put People First platform.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Nick Dearden is director of the Global Justice Now and former director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
Mark Harris
Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later
Katie Fite
Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After
Thomas Knapp
A Loophole for the Lawless: “Qualified Immunity” Must Go
REZA FIYOUZAT
Best Enemies Forever: The Iran-U.S. Kabuki Show
Jeff Mackler
Worldwide Furor Sparked by U.S. Assassination of Iran’s General Suleimani
William deBuys
The Humanitarian and Environmental Disaster of Trump’s Border Wall
Binoy Kampmark
A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis and Sporting Officialdom
James Haught
GOP Albatross
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Robert Koehler
Nuclear Hubris
Patrick T. Hiller
Instead of Real-Time Commentary, Eight Common-Sense Reason for Not Going to War with Iran
Charles Andrews
A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism
Jeffrey St. Clair
Some Trees: Los Angeles
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
James McFadden
The Business Party Syndicate
Ajamu Baraka
Trump Prosecutors Make Move to Ensure that Embassy Protectors are Convicted
David Swanson
CNN is Trash
Rev. William Alberts
Finally a Christian Call for Trump’s Removal
Dave Lindorff
The ERA Just Got Ratified by Virginia, the Needed 38th State!
W. T. Whitney
Mexico Takes Action on Coup in Bolivia and on CELAC
Steve Early
How General Strike Rhetoric Became a Reality in Seattle 
Jessicah Pierre
Learning From King’s Last Campaign
Mark Dickman
Saint Greta and the Dragon
Jared Bernstein - Dean Baker
Reducing the Health Care Tax
Clark T. Scott
Uniting “Progressives” Instead of Democrats
Nilofar Suhrawardy
Trump & Johnson: What a Contrast, Image-wise!
Ron Jacobs
Abusing America’s Children—Free Market Policy
George Wuerthner
Mills Are Being Closed by National Economic Trends, Not Environmental Regulations
Basav Sen
Nearly All Americans Want Off of Fossil Fuels
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail