TWN Info Service
on Climate Change (Nov09/06)
find attached an article by Naomi Klein, a well known author of several
books including the 'Shock Doctrine' and journalist on the
issue of climate debt which appeared in Rolling Stone,
a widely-read popular magazine in the
With best wishes,
Published in Rolling Stone
One last chance to save the world—for months, that's how the United Nations summit on climate change in Copenhagen, which starts in early December, was being hyped. Officials from 192 countries were finally going to make a deal to keep global temperatures below catastrophic levels. The summit called for "that old comic-book sensibility of uniting in the face of a common danger threatening the Earth," said Todd Stern, President Obama's chief envoy on climate issues. "It's not a meteor or a space invader, but the damage to our planet, to our community, to our children and their children will be just as great."
was back in March. Since then, the endless battle over health care reform
has robbed much of the president's momentum on climate change. With
faith in government action dwindles, however, climate activists are
Among the smartest and most promising—not to mention controversial—proposals is "climate debt," the idea that rich countries should pay reparations to poor countries for the climate crisis. In the world of climate-change activism, this marks a dramatic shift in both tone and content. American environmentalism tends to treat global warming as a force that transcends difference: We all share this fragile blue planet, so we all need to work together to save it. But the coalition of Latin American and African governments making the case for climate debt actually stresses difference, zeroing in on the cruel contrast between those who caused the climate crisis (the developed world) and those who are suffering its worst effects (the developing world). Justin Lin, chief economist at the World Bank, puts the equation bluntly: "About 75 to 80 percent" of the damages caused by global warming "will be suffered by developing countries, although they only contribute about one-third of greenhouse gases."
Climate debt is about who will pick up the bill. The grass-roots movement behind the proposal argues that all the costs associated with adapting to a more hostile ecology—everything from building stronger sea walls to switching to cleaner, more expensive technologies—are the responsibility of the countries that created the crisis. "What we need is not something we should be begging for but something that is owed to us, because we are dealing with a crisis not of our making," says Lidy Nacpil, one of the coordinators of Jubilee South, an international organization that has staged demonstrations to promote climate reparations. "Climate debt is not a matter of charity."
Looremeta, an advocate for Maasai tribespeople in
case for climate debt begins like most discussions of climate change:
with the science. Before the Industrial Revolution, the density of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere—the key cause of global warming—was about
280 parts per million. Today, it has reached 387 ppm—far above safe
limits—and it's still rising. Developed countries, which represent less
than 20 percent of the world's population, have emitted almost 75 percent
of all greenhouse-gas pollution that is now destabilizing the climate.
important, the idea is supported by the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change—ratified by 192 countries, including the
reparations movement has brought together a diverse coalition of big
international organizations, from Friends of the Earth to the World
Council of Churches, that have joined up with climate scientists and
political economists, many of them linked to the influential Third World
Network, which has been leading the call. Until recently, however, there
was no government pushing for climate debt to be included in the
of people—in small islands, least-developed countries, landlocked countries
as well as vulnerable communities in Brazil, India and China, and all
around the world—are suffering from the effects of a problem to which
they did not contribute," Navarro told the packed room. In addition
to facing an increasingly hostile climate, she added, countries like
The solution, Navarro argued, is three-fold. Rich countries need to pay the costs associated with adapting to a changing climate, make deep cuts to their own emission levels "to make atmospheric space available" for the developing world, and pay Third World countries to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go straight to cleaner alternatives. "We cannot and will not give up our rightful claim to a fair share of atmospheric space on the promise that, at some future stage, technology will be provided to us," she said.
speech galvanized activists across the world. In recent months, the
"If we are to curb emissions in the next decade, we need a massive mobilization larger than any in history," Navarro declared at the end of her talk. "We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth. This plan must mobilize financing and technology transfer on scales never seen before. It must get technology onto the ground in every country to ensure we reduce emissions while raising people's quality of life. We have only a decade."
A very expensive decade. The World Bank puts the cost that developing countries face from climate change—everything from crops destroyed by drought and floods to malaria spread by mosquito-infested waters—as high as $100 billion a year. And shifting to renewable energy, according to a team of United Nations researchers, will raise the cost far more: to as much as $600 billion a year over the next decade.
the recent bank bailouts, however, which simply transferred public wealth
to the world's richest financial institutions, the money spent on climate
debt would fuel a global environmental transformation essential to saving
the entire planet. The most exciting example of what could be accomplished
is the ongoing effort to protect
because of the beauty of the Yasuní, the plan has generated widespread
point to a huge range of other green initiatives that would become possible
if wealthy countries paid their climate debts. In
But to ensure that climate reparations are real, advocates insist, they must be independent of the current system of international aid. Climate money cannot simply be diverted from existing aid programs, such as primary education or HIV prevention. What's more, the funds must be provided as grants, not loans, since the last thing developing countries need is more debt. Furthermore, the money should not be administered by the usual suspects like the World Bank and USAID, which too often push pet projects based on Western agendas, but must be controlled by the United Nations climate convention, where developing countries would have a direct say in how the money is spent.
such guarantees, reparations will be meaningless—and without reparations,
the climate talks in
In the past, President Obama has recognized the principle on which climate debt rests. "Yes, the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century still have a responsibility to lead," he acknowledged in his September speech at the United Nations. "We have a responsibility to provide the financial and technical assistance needed to help these [developing] nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development."
shunning the high price of climate change carries a cost of its own.
Setting aside the morality of building high-tech fortresses to protect ourselves from a crisis we inflicted on the world, those enclaves and resource wars won't come cheap. And unless we pay our climate debt, and quickly, we may well find ourselves living in a world of climate rage. "Privately, we already hear the simmering resentment of diplomats whose countries bear the costs of our emissions," Sen. John Kerry observed recently. "I can tell you from my own experience: It is real, and it is prevalent. It's not hard to see how this could crystallize into a virulent, dangerous, public anti-Americanism. That's a threat too. Remember: The very places least responsible for climate change—and least equipped to deal with its impacts—will be among the very worst affected."
in a nutshell, is the argument for climate debt. The developing world
has always had plenty of reasons to be pissed off with their northern
neighbors, with our tendency to overthrow their governments, invade
their countries and pillage their natural resources. But never before
has there been an issue so politically inflammatory as the refusal of
people living in the rich world to make even small sacrifices to avert
a potential climate catastrophe. In
outside our borders, the climate crisis doesn't look anything like the
meteors or space invaders that Todd Stern imagined hurtling toward Earth.
It looks, instead, like a long and silent war waged by the rich against
the poor. And for that, regardless of what happens in