Pakistan’s catastrophic floods have led to renewed calls for wealthy polluting nations that grew their economies through heavy use of fossil fuels to compensate developing countries for the devastating impacts brought on by the climate crisis.
The currently favoured term for this idea is “loss and damage” payments, but some campaigners wish to go further and frame the problem as “climate reparations”.
Beyond the tougher vocabulary, green groups also call for debt cancellation for cash-strapped nations which can be forced to spend huge portions of their budgets servicing external loans quite than devoting the funds to increasing resilience for a rapidly changing planet.
“There’s a historical precedent of not only the Industrial Revolution that led to increased emissions and carbon pollution, but in addition the history of colonialism and the history of extraction of resources, wealth and labour,” said Belgium-based climate activist Meera Ghani.
“The climate crisis is a manifestation of interlocking systems of oppression, and it’s a type of colonialism,” said Ghani, a former climate negotiator for Pakistan.
These arguments return a long time and were first presented by small island nations liable to rising sea levels – but momentum is constructing again on the back of this summer’s catastrophic inundations in Pakistan, driven by unprecedented monsoon rains.
Nearly 1,600 were killed, several million displaced, and the cash-strapped government estimates losses within the region of $30bn.
Beyond mitigation and adaptation
Campaigners point to the undeniable fact that probably the most climate-vulnerable countries within the Global South are the least responsible. Pakistan, as an illustration, produces lower than 1 percent of world greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions versus the G20 countries that account for 80 percent.
The international climate response currently involves a two-pronged approach: “mitigation” – which implies reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases – and “adaptation,” which implies steps to change systems and improve infrastructure for changes which can be already locked in.
Calls for “loss and damage” payments go further than adaptation financing, and seek compensation for multiplying severe weather impacts that countries cannot withstand.
At present, nevertheless, even the more modest goal of adaptation financing is languishing.
In 2009, the world’s advanced economies agreed to channel $100bn to less-developed countries by the 12 months 2020 – a promise that was broken – at the same time as much of the funding that was mobilised got here in the shape of loans.
“Our start line is that the Global North is essentially answerable for the state of our planet today,” said Maira Hayat, an assistant professor of environment and peace studies on the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
“Why should countries which have contributed little by means of GHG emissions be asking them for aid – loans are the predominant form – with onerous repayment conditions? If the language is upsetting for some, the following step ought to be to probe why that may be – do they dispute the history? Or the present-day implications of accepting certain historical pasts?”
Not all within the climate arena are convinced.
“Beyond a certain rhetorical point-scoring that’s not going to go anywhere,” said Daanish Mustafa, professor in critical geography at King’s College London.
While he mostly blames the Global North for the world’s current predicament, he says he’s wary of pushing a narrative which will excuse the actions of the Pakistani leadership and policy decisions they’ve taken that exacerbate this and other disasters.
The World Weather Attribution group of climate scientists found climate change likely contributed to the floods.
However the devastating impacts were also driven “by the proximity of human settlements, infrastructure [homes, buildings, bridges] and agricultural land to flood plains”, amongst other locally driven aspects, they said.
Pakistan’s own emissions, while low at the worldwide scale, are fast rising – with the advantages flowing to a tiny elite, said Mustafa, and the country should pursue an alternate, low-carbon development path quite than “aping the West” and damaging itself in the method.
The case for “loss and damage” payments received a recent boost with UN chief Antonio Guterres calling for “meaningful motion” on it at the following global climate summit, COP27 in Egypt in November.
But the problem is sensitive for wealthy countries – especially america, the most important emitter of GHGs historically – that fear it could pave the best way for legal motion.