COP15 – Puzzling Thoughts 1/4 – Climate Debt
Yesterday, Dec 11, I attended various side-events to COP15, and I am left with some puzzle pieces of thoughts.
(1) Historical or Climate Debt: In a side-event organized by Christian-Aid on justice and the outcomes of Copenhagen, in which also Tom Athanasios from Eco-Equity spoke about greenhouse development rights, Satheesh on the Indian People’s Manifesto on Climate Change grown out of a participatory grass root movement, and Shirley Bolinos on her work with the coastal communities in the Philippines, Naomi Klein referred to the concepts of historical or climate debt and historical memory (http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2009/11/climate-rage). The developed countries have built up and continue to build up their wealth and industry at the cost of the (colonial and neo-colonial) developing countries, that today suffer most of the climate change impact, are least resilient to climate change, and have an impressive development arrear (at least as “development” is understood in the economic market logic sense. An historical, climate debt has accumulated that should incite and oblige the developed countries to commit to legally binding GHG emissions restrictions and to providing adaptation funds for developing countries.
This idea of a climate debt is contested by the US government: when in the process of industrialization, the now developed countries were not aware of the global climate change their development would bring about. Indeed, I can agree that the developed countries, when beginning their industrialization and changes of lifestyle, were not guilty of anthropogenic climate change. Of course, they are responsible, as it is their activities that have introduced current GHG levels in the atmosphere. However, today, the responsibility for GHG emissions implies guilt: we know what is happening and we should change our lifestyles, attitudes and behavior. Moreover, knowing about our responsibility in the so-called West and realizing how much western development has lead to global inequalities and injustices, it seems at least fair that the western world carry its load of the burden, and that load is bigger, much bigger than the load of the developing countries. There is a call, not only to protect the weak, but also to restore equity and justice on a global scale. Therefore, this is not only about repairing a historical fact from the past, it is also about deciding how to live equitably and justly today. The latter implies the former. I think Naomi Klein is correct in her assessment of climate debt, I also think that this argument cannot be isolated from the larger reality of today’s global injustice.