Repay the climate debt

A just and effective outcome for Copenhagen


We the undersigned groups, including development, environment, gender and youth organisations, faith-based communities, indigenous peoples, and social and economic justice movements in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and North America call on the rich industrialized world to acknowledge its historic and current responsibility for the causes and adverse effects of climate change, and to fully, effectively and immediately repay its climate debt to poor countries, communities and people.

Climate change threatens the balance of life on Earth. Oceans are rising and acidifying; ice caps and glaciers are melting; forests, coral reefs and other ecosystems are changing or collapsing. The existence of some communities is imperilled, while others face growing barriers to their development. Unless curbed, an impending climate catastrophe risks increasingly violent weather, collapsing food systems, mass migration and unprecedented human conflict.

Poor countries, communities and people have contributed least to the causes of climate change, yet are its first and worst victims. At greatest risk are women, indigenous peoples, poor people, small farmers, fisher-folk and forest communities, people relying on scarce water resources, youth and other groups susceptible to harm and health impacts.

A wealthy minority of the world’s countries, corporations and people, by contrast, are the principal cause of climate change. The developed countries representing less than one fifth of the world’s population have emitted almost three quarters of all historical emissions. Their excessive historical and current emissions occupy the atmosphere and are the main cause of current and committed future warming.

Developed countries have consumed more than their fair share of the Earth’s atmospheric space. On a per person basis, they are responsible for more than ten times the historical emissions of developing countries. Their per person emissions today are more than four times those of developing countries.

For their disproportionate contribution to the causes and consequences of climate change, developed countries owe a two-fold climate debt to the poor majority:

For their excessive historical and current per person emissions – denying developing countries their fair share of atmospheric space – they have run up an “emissions debt” to developing countries; and

For their disproportionate contribution to the effects of climate change – requiring developing countries to adapt to rising climate impacts and damage – they have run up an “adaptation debt” to developing countries.

Together the sum of these debts – emissions debt and adaptation debt – constitutes their climate debt, which is part of a larger ecological, social and economic debt owed by the rich industrialized world to the poor majority.

Honouring these obligations is not only right; it is the basis of a fair and effective solution to climate change. Those who benefited most in the course of causing climate change must compensate those who contributed least but bear its adverse effects. They must compensate developing countries for the two-fold barrier to their development – mitigating and adapting to climate change – which were not present for developed countries during the course of their development but which they have caused.

Developed countries, however, intend to write-off rather than honour their debt. In their submissions to the climate negotiations they seek to pass on substantial adaptation costs to developing countries; evading rather than honouring their adaptation debt. And they seek to continue their high per person emissions; deepening rather than repaying their emissions debt, consuming additional atmospheric space, and crowding the world’s poor majority into a small and shrinking remainder.

We are concerned that continued excessive consumption of atmospheric space by the world’s wealthy at the expense of the world’s poor – who need access to energy and resources to build the schools, houses and infrastructure that the rich world already has and continues to benefit from – puts at risk the prospects of any viable solution to climate change and, with it, the safety of all nations and peoples, and the Earth.

As the basis of a fair and effective climate outcome we therefore call on developed countries to acknowledge and repay the full measure of their climate debt to developing countries commencing in Copenhagen. We demand that they :

Repay their adaptation debt to developing countries by committing to full financing and compensation for the adverse effects of climate change on all affected countries, groups and people;

Repay their emissions debt to developing countries through the deepest possible domestic reductions, and by committing to assigned amounts of emissions that reflect the full measure of their historical and continued excessive contributions to climate change; and

Make available to developing countries the financing and technology required to cover the additional costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change, in accordance with the Climate Convention.

Meeting these demands is a basic prerequisite for success in December 2009. Copenhagen must be a key turning point for climate justice – a major milestone on the journey towards safeguarding the Earth’s climate system and ensuring a future in which the rights and aspirations of all people can be realized.

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