Calls for developed countries to pay compensation to climate vulnerable nations: a growing majority?
by Mia Clement (she/they)
Image credit to Epoch Investment Partners: The Climate Debt: What the West Owes the Rest
The Bangladeshi government is calling for developed countries - responsible for the highest rates of global carbon emissions - to pay compensation to poorer nations for the loss and damage incurred through climate change.
Speaking ahead of the much anticipated climate summit COP26, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Bangladesh AK Abdul Momen told ITV News “it is fair and just for these bigger countries to pay compensation because they are the ones that abuse the resources and spoil planet Earth”.
Bangladesh is only responsible for 0.4% of the planet’s total carbon discharge yet loses around 2% of its GDP yearly to extreme climate events. Six million Bangladeshis have to date, become displaced as a consequence of climate change and by 2050, the country fears 17% of its coastline will vanish underwater creating 30 million climate refugees.
“This is an existential problem for Bangladesh,” Mr Momen said, adding: “The climate change issue is not a national issue, not a regional issue, it is a global issue and we all have to work together in collaboration and partnership to save this planet."
Developing countries are not only dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis now, but they are also having to pay for it. Their already limited funds are diverted to responding to climate disasters and rebuilding homes, roads and schools in the aftermath of deadly storms. Additionally, countries in the Global South need money to adapt to the rapidly changing climate, to help them build resilient communities and face challenges in bringing down their own climate change emissions.
It is unjust that rich nations who have contributed most to the climate crisis and built their wealth by burning fossil fuels, often by plundering the natural resources of countries in the Global South in the first place, get off “scot-free” when it comes to paying for the clean-up operation and dealing with the consequences. It is also far easier for rich countries to reduce their emissions while retaining the decent standard of living for citizens. The richest 10% of people in the world receive more than half of the entire global income and are responsible for over 50% of global climate emissions. In contrast, the poorest half of the world receive less than 10% of global income. A climate justice approach means implementing solutions that redress the balance, instead of increasing the burden on the poorest. Paying the climate debt is central to this.
What is climate debt?
The concept of climate debt includes a number of elements:
Climate justice is a necessity for all
Climate finance is not just a moral obligation, but a legal one. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) states that wealthy countries who have a historic responsibility for causing the crisis must assist poorer countries to reduce emissions, and adapt to impacts, by providing financial support. This principle was reaffirmed in the 2015 Paris Agreement. But so far, very little climate finance has reached the people who need it, and wealthy nations are refusing to acknowledge any liability for the loss and damage faced by poorer nations.
At the Copenhagen climate talks back in 2009, rich countries committed to giving 100 billion US dollars (that’s equivalent to around £80 billion) per year by 2020. A decade on and only about a third of that has materialised, and nowhere near enough commitments are coming forward to make up the shortfall. Every year, climate finance is a key fight at the UN climate talks with developing countries and climate justice campaigners, including Friends of the Earth International, calling for the rich countries to ‘show us the money.’
Achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is simply not possible without huge transfer of finance from the Global North to the Global South. Climate finance is an obligation, a debt owed, additional to any existing developmental aid, and should be paid with no strings attached.
With the UN climate talks (COP26) happening in Glasgow this year, it is more important than ever we demand our governments pay their climate debt in full.
The unfairness of that is self-evident, but so is the truth of it. For more than a century, the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, in total as well as per capita, have been the big developed nations, most notably the United States and the countries of Europe, which grew their economies by burning fossil fuels and spewing carbon from their factories, homes and cars. Today they still emit carbon and other greenhouse gasses disproportionately into the environment, although other big countries such as China and India have caught up.
Yet even as the wealthy nations drive the world toward ecological disaster, it is clearly the poor countries that will face the gravest consequences and have the most difficulty coping.
Political instability and violence, influenced in part by droughts and poor harvests, have already driven millions of people from their homes in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.
A recent study from Stanford University found that climate change is exacerbating global income inequality between wealthy nations in cooler regions, and poor nations in hotter parts of the world. This is due, at least in part, to the relative inability of poorer countries to pay for the projects necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change, including more extreme weather events and the deterioration of arable land in subsistence economies.
Climate justice is a necessity for all.
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The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference. It is scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021 under the presidency of the United Kingdom.