COP17: Inspiring the global climate justice movement

by Nnimmo Bassey

PAMBAZUKA NEWS: What role will Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth International be playing at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17) in Durban? What will you be pushing for?

NNIMMO BASSEY: While there is a generally low level of expectation from the Durban Conference of the Parties (COP17), we see it as a great moment to stand with impacted peoples and the environmental justice movement and call for a climate tackling regime that understands the depth of the crises and the fact that the impacts are already manifesting. We will push for polluting countries to cut emissions at source and not through offsets and related market mechanisms that help polluters profit from the damage they do. We will push for legally binding emissions reduction targets to ensure that temperature increase is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. ERA will demand the recognition and payment of the accumulated climate debt due to centuries of exploitation and colonisation of the atmosphere. Continue reading

The climate justice approach and the politics of climate change

by Lim Li Lin

The climate change talks have been going on for a long time. Since Rio in 1992, when the Climate Convention was adopted, there have been 16 Conference of the Parties (COPs). Then in 2007, a new round of negotiations was launched in Bali.

Many thought Parties were going to arrive at a deal in Copenhagen, COP 15, but that proved a mirage. And then there was Cancun, and now Durban, where it is clear that negotiations will not conclude. What is perhaps unclear is what will happen after Durban. Continue reading

Terrific Al Jazeera report on Cochabamba

The other debt crisis: climate debt

The climate crisis in Bolivia is not a headline or an abstraction – it is playing out in people’s lives in real time.

Melting glaciers are threatening the water supply of the country’s two biggest cities. Increasing droughts and floods are playing havoc with agriculture.

So it is no surprise that in climate negotiations, Bolivia is emerging as a leader in the global south – advancing both radical solutions and analysis that make rich countries distinctly nervous.

On this edition of Fault Lines, Avi Lewis travels to Bolivia to explore the country’s climate crusade from the inside.

It is the story of an emerging movement, based in the global south, raising questions about who owes what to whom in confronting the climate crisis.

And it is playing out in Bolivia’s epic landscape – from the tropical glaciers to the endless salt flats. A landscape that in normal times seems to mock the very idea that human beings can change the course of nature.

This episode of Fault Lines can be seen from Thursday, May 20, 2010 at the following times GMT: Thursday: 0600; Friday: 0030, 0830; Saturday: 2330; Sunday: 0630, 2130; Tuesday: 0530, 1230; Wednesday: 0300

To view the video on a full screen

Climate debt owed to Africa: What to demand and how to collect?

By Patrick Bond

May 5, 2010 — The “climate debt” that the industries and over-consumers of the global North owe Africans and other victims of climate change not responsible for causing the problem has accrued by virtue of the North’s excessive dumping of greenhouse gas emissions into the collective environmental space. Damage is being accounted for, including the more constrained space the South has for emissions. This historical injustice – and “debt” — is now nearly universally acknowledged (aside from Washington holdouts), and reparations plus adaptation finance are being widely demanded.In Copenhagen, the 2009 United Nations summit on climate change witnessed a great deal of theatre over conceptual problems, including, who should make emissions cuts and to what degree; should markets be the main mechanism; who owes a climate debt; how much is owed; and how the debt should be collected. The willingness of African heads of state to raise the matter publicly beginning in mid-2009 was notable, but their inability to ensure political solidarity led to the imposition of the Copenhagen Accord on December 18, in a manner that sets back the cause.

Read the full article

Activities on Debt, Finance and Climate

Activities on Debt, Finance and Climate: Climate Change Conference, Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 19-22, 2010

Jubilee South participates in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth that has already began in Cochabamba to debate and exchange strategies to mobilize for climate justice.

Below is a list of activities in which a delegation from Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean will be participation to present our contributions on the relation between debt, finance and climate change and to disseminate the preparatory document: Towards a Jubilee South Platform on Climate Change, Ecological Debt and Financial Sovereignty.

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Climate debt: a subversive political strategy

By Nicola Bullard, Focus on the Global South

Published in América Latina en Movimiento No 454 abril 2010, “Por un nuevo amanecer para la Madre Tierra”

Perhaps without fully realising either the meaning or the implications, progressive movements have gravitated around the slogan of “climate debt” as a way into the complex world of climate negotiations.

It is easy to understand why: debt is simple concept and in a just world, debts should be paid. But — more that that — the notion of climate debt goes to the heart of climate change politics. It raises the central question of historical responsibility and who owes whom for what. And by redefining “debt” as a systemic issue rather than a financial problem, it turns traditional rich-poor relations upside down. Usually it is the rich who are the creditors, demanding payment from the poor, but climate debt reverses that: it is now the poor and the marginalised – the Global South — who are calling in their debts, not for personal gain but for the future of humanity and Mother Earth.

As such, climate debt is a powerful idea that links issues, constituencies and strategies, with the added attraction of using simple language as a Trojan horse for complex and potentially subversive ideas. But without a clear idea of what “we” mean by climate debt, there is always the risk that the principles and ideas underpinning it will be coopted and diluted. Perhaps there is no definitive definition of climate debt, but as social justice movements and activists, it is useful to have a common vision of what we mean, and what we are asking for.

What is climate debt?

The concept of ecological debt has been around for some years. Ecuador’s Accion Ecologica talks about ecological debt as “the debt accumulated by the Northern industrial countries towards the countries and peoples of the South on account of resource plundering, environmental damages, and the free occupation of environmental space to deposit wastes, such as greenhouse gases.”

In accounting terms, climate debt is just one line item in the much larger balance sheet of ecological debt, but it can be broken down into understandable and measurable parts.

One part of the climate debt relates to the impacts of the excessive emission of greenhouse gases that cause global warming: extreme and frequent climate events, floods, droughts, inundations, storms, loss of arable land and biodiversity, disease, landlessness, migration, poverty, and much more. In UN terms, these very real human impacts are sanitised and lumped together under “adaptation” costs.

A second element of the climate debt is the cost of reorganising societies and economies in such a way that greenhouse gas emissions are radically reduced: this is called mitigation, and it touches almost every aspect of human activity from agriculture, energy and transport through to how cities are organised, consumption patterns and global trade. For the Bolivian government, this is equivalent to a “development debt” which would be compensated by ensuring that all people have access to basic services and that all countries are sufficiently industrialised to ensure their independence.

A third part of the debt is more difficult to calculate – some call it the emissions debt. It refers to the fact that rich countries have used up most of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, leaving no “atmospheric space” for the South to “grow”. Given that there is a very high correlation between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions in the current technological context, this means that developing countries are effectively being told that they must limit their economic growth. The only way to compensate this debt is for the rich countries to drastically reduce their own emissions.

The Bolivian government includes two other items in the climate debt calculation. In addition to the adaptation, mitigation and emissions debt, they identify a “migration debt” which would be compensated by dropping restrictive migration practices and treating all humans with dignity, and finally, the debt to Mother Earth.

According to the Bolivian government, this debt is

“impossible to compensate completely, because the atrocities committed by humanity have been too terrible. However, the minimum compensation of this debt consists of recognising the damage done, and adopting a United Nations Declaration on the Mother Earth’s Rights, to ensure that the same abuses will never be repeated in future.”

Considering all these components, the debt owed by the rich to the poor is unmeasurable.

Who is responsible for climate debt?

This question is at the heart of the UNFCCC negotiations, for behind the technical language, it’s all about money and economic interests. That is why the US conjured up the Copenhagen Accord during the COP15 – to redefine who is responsible and thus avoid paying its dues.

The current state of play is that the rich countries – and especially those who have the highest cumulative historical emissions – are simply not willing to pay their debt. Having accumulated wealth and security on the backs of the poor, through the destruction of nature and the extraction of resources, the rich European countries, the US, Japan, Australia and Canada are refusing to pay the bill, both in terms of the actual costs of mitigation and adaptation, but also in terms of changing their own profligate consumption. Not only are they refusing to reduce their own emissions – thus pushing the burden of reduction onto others – they are also trying to shift the blame to developing countries such as China, Brazil and Indian whose current emissions are growing at a rapid rate.

Can the debt be paid?

Although certain aspects of the debt can be counted and calculated – for example, the costs of clean technology, restoring devastated forests, shifting to sustainable agriculture, or building climate ready infrastructure, the real debt cannot be calculated. It is much more than a number or money; climate debt symbolises over 500 years of unequal relations between North and South, between rich and poor, between exploiters and exploited.

Climate debt is also a measure of the complete folly of capitalism – whether it’s free market or state-run – as a model for managing human society and the earth’s ecosystems. Ultimately, the only way that the debt can be repaid is by ensuring that the historic relations of inequality are broken once and for all and that no “new” debt will accumulate.  This requires system change, both in the North and in the South. That’s why climate debt is such a subversive idea.

* Nicola Bullard is a senior associate with Focus on the Global South, [email protected]

Call for Reparations for Climate Debt-Intervention Statement by Climate Justice Now!

For More Information Contact:  CJN Media Team:  +45 5395 6104

Reparations for Climate Debt

Statement by Climate Justice Now!

Delivered by Hemantha Withanage of Sri Lanka, December 12, 2009

1.    Thank you for the opportunity to address this meeting.

2.    We are movements gathered under the Climate Justice Now! Network – many from the South, from developing countries.  Thousands of our members are here in Copenhagen, joining thousands of other citizens in a historic march towards Bella Center.

3.    We are calling for Reparations for Climate Debt, the debt that is owed by northern countries (Annex 1 countries), multinational corporations, and international financial institutions to the peoples and countries of the South. This debt is owed by the North for using up more than their fair share of the earth’s capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, and in the process depriving the peoples of the South of their share, thus creating this climate crisis. Yet it is the people of the South who bear the worst effects.

4.    What developed countries have put on the table, however, is nothing less than an insult to the dignity of the peoples of the South. It demonstrates complete disrespect for the value of our lives.

5.    2.4 billion Euros a year until 2012! No long term financing!  This a mockery. Where are the reparations by developed countries for the damage they have done so far in the developing world?

6.    We are not asking for aid or assistance, but for the North to make good on their climate debt. We are their creditors.

7.    We do not require – or want – the existing multilateral financial institutions. They are part of the problem and the plunder. Climate finance must be provided in a democratic manner-at every level- through a multilateral fund under the authority of the COP.

8.    Finance must be public, not private. It must not involve carbon markets. Such markets are part of the problem, not the solution!

9.    We demand nothing less than climate justice now!

Call for Reparations for Climate Debt-Intervention Statement by Climate Justice Now!

Reparations for Climate Debt

Delivered by Hemantha Withanage of Sri Lanka, December 12, 2009

1.    Thank you for the opportunity to address this meeting.

2.    We are movements gathered under the Climate Justice Now! Network – many from the South, from developing countries.  Thousands of our members are here in Copenhagen, joining thousands of other citizens in a historic march towards Bella Center.

Continue reading