The catastrophic floods in Pakistan have sparked new calls for wealthy, polluting countries, which have developed their economies through intensive use of fossil fuels, to compensate developing countries for the devastating effects caused by the climate crisis.
The currently preferred term for this concept is “loss and damage” payments, but some activists want to go further and frame the issue as “climate reparations”, just as racial justice activists are calling for compensation for descendants. of people reduced to slavery.
Beyond the harsher vocabulary, environmental groups are also calling for debt cancellation for cash-strapped countries that spend a huge chunk of their budget servicing external loans, rather than devoting the funds to increasing the resilience in the face of a rapidly changing planet.
“There is historical precedent, not only the industrial revolution which led to increased carbon emissions and pollution, but also the history of colonialism and the history of resource extraction, wealth and workforce,” Belgium-based climate activist Meera Ghani told AFP.
“The climate crisis is a manifestation of interlocking systems of oppression, and it is a form of colonialism,” said Ghani, a former climate negotiator for Pakistan.
Such ideas date back decades and were first pushed by small island nations sensitive to rising sea levels – but the momentum is building once again following this summer’s disastrous floods in Pakistan. , driven by unprecedented monsoon rains.
Nearly 1,600 people have been killed, several million displaced, and the cash-strapped government estimates losses at around $30 billion.
– Beyond mitigation and adaptation –
Activists point to the fact that the countries most vulnerable to the climate of the South are the least responsible – Pakistan, for example, produces less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, unlike the G20 countries which account for 80 percent.
The international climate response currently involves a two-pronged approach: “mitigation” – which means reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases – and “adaptation”, which means taking action to change systems and improve infrastructure for changes that are already locked.
Calls for “loss and damage” payments go beyond adaptation funding and ask for compensation to multiply the effects of severe weather events that countries cannot withstand.
At present, however, even the most modest goal of adaptation finance languishes.
Advanced economies have agreed to channel $100 billion to less developed countries by 2020 – a promise that has not been kept – even as much of the financing mobilized has taken the form of loans.
“Our starting point is that the Global North is largely responsible for the state of our planet today,” said Maira Hayat, assistant professor of environmental and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. Lady in Indiana.
“Why would countries that have contributed little to GHG emissions ask them for help — loans are the predominant form — with onerous repayment terms?”
“If the language is upsetting to some, the next step should be to figure out why that might be – are they challenging history? Or the current implications of accepting certain historical pasts?”
– Score points ? –
Not everyone in the climate field is convinced.
“Beyond a certain rhetorical score it will go nowhere,” said Daanish Mustafa, professor of critical geography at King’s College London.
Although he primarily blames the Global North for the current state of the world, he says he is wary of pushing a narrative that could excuse the actions of Pakistani leaders and the policy choices they have made that are exacerbating this catastrophe and d ‘others.
The World Weather Attribution group of climatologists found that climate change likely contributed to the floods.
But the devastating impacts were also due “to the proximity of human settlements, infrastructure (houses, buildings, bridges) and agricultural land to floodplains”, among other local factors, they said.
Pakistan’s own emissions, while low on a global scale, are growing rapidly – with benefits going to a small elite, Mustafa said, and the country should follow an alternative low-carbon development path rather than “aping the West” and damaging himself in the process.
The case for ‘loss and damage’ has recently received a boost with UN chief Antonio Guterres calling for ‘meaningful action’ on the matter at the upcoming global climate summit, COP27 in Egypt in November.
But the issue is sensitive for wealthy countries — especially the United States, historically the biggest emitter of GHGs — who fear it could pave the way for legal action and have held off on the deal. history of Paris the terms “liability and indemnification”.