Summit calls for climate debt payment

Participants at April's World People's Summit on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights. Photo: Ben Courtice

A key demand adopted by the World People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was for the industrialised First World nations to pay their “climate debt” to the underdeveloped nations. The summit was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, over April 19-22 and attended by 35,000 people from around the world.

A key concept promoted at the summit was that of vivir bien — living well. This is similar to the common idea expressed in the West, “live simply so that others may simply live”.

It is the idea that you don’t need to live an extravagant consumer lifestyle to be happy. It is an argument against the idea that Third World development must follow the road to wasteful consumerism that the West has followed.

It is a call to action against the foundations of capitalism in the West: what US Marxist Fred Magdoff referred to at the conference as the “cycle of production and consumption”.

This rhetoric is backed up by serious calls for action. The summit condemned the “Copenhagen accord”, developed by rich nations at the December United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, for trashing the Kyoto agreement.

For poor countries, Kyoto was important because it included the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities” between nations. The summit statement said: “We inform the world that, despite their obligation to reduce emissions, developed countries have increased their emissions by 11.2% in the period from 1990 to 2007.”

The summit called for the world to adopt a target of a maximum 1°C warming, and, to achieve this, to aim for no more that 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To this end, the summit called for rich nations to adopt targets of 50% emissions reductions (based on 1990 emission levels) by 2017.

These demands will be taken to the next UN climate conference in Cancun. These are also the most radical demands pushed by any groups in the climate movement in the West, such as Australia’s Climate Emergency Network.

The summit talked at length about payment of “climate debt” as essential to solving the crisis in a just fashion. Much discussion was about how the global capitalist system makes the poor pay the price for climate change and adaptation.

Third World farm land is being taken up for production for biofuels (crops used for fuel). Genetic engineering is destroying traditional farming methods and a whole new agricultural “carbohydrate economy” is being created.

The response by First World powers to Haiti’s January 12 earthquake gives an indication of the likely response to climate change-induced disasters: military occupation, not doctors and aid, is the strategy.

The First World is building walls to keep the poor from escaping their devastated countries.

Climate debt is a concept that reverses this system of domination.

China’s overall emissions are now higher than the US’s, but if you add up the historic emissions from the US, it is far higher than China’s. Developed nations have endangered the world through their fossil fuel-driven development and a debt is owed to those countries still seeking development.

To summit’s climate debt working group said: “The way to solve the climate crisis in a fair, effective and scientifically sound way is to honour climate debts.

“[This] focuses not merely on financial compensation, but on restorative justice ... by restoring the balance, integrity and harmony of the Earth and its climate system.”

Resolving climate debt involves the rich nations helping poor nations deal with the effects of climate change, such as water and food shortages.

“Even in the case of the deepest possible emission reductions and removals by rich countries, poor countries will face climate-related challenges to their development that were not faced by the developed countries in the process of their own development.”

It also means technology transfer to enable sustainable development in the Third World. That means assistance in developing renewable energy (still too expensive for many poor countries). It means assistance in developing robust infrastructure that can handle the impacts of climate-driven disasters.

Such actions mean destroying the unjust imperialist economic system that keeps the poor world poor and the rich world rich. These demands are the only conceivable fair and workable way for the world as a whole to address climate change.

[Ben Courtice is a member of Australia’s Socialist Alliance who attended the Cochabamba summit. A longer version of the article can be read at Blind Carbon Copy.]