According to activists, the G20 nations are responsible for 80% of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. There have been increased calls for rich polluting nations that expanded their economies through excessive use of fossil fuels to compensate developing countries for the disastrous repercussions caused by the climate problem in the wake of the devastating floods in Pakistan. “Loss and damage” payments is the word now in vogue, but some activists prefer to define the issue as “climate reparations,” which is a more politically charged term.
In addition to using harsher language, green groups have been advocating for debt cancellation for economically struggling countries that are using large sections of their budgets on paying off external loans rather than investing in adaptation to a world in rapid change. Belgian climate campaigner Meera Ghani said, “There is a historical antecedent of not just the Industrial Revolution that led to higher emissions and carbon pollution, but also the history of colonialism and the history of extraction of resources, income, and labor.” Ex-Pakistani climate negotiator Ghani said, “The climate issue is a consequence of interwoven systems of oppression, and it’s a type of colonialism.”
These concerns have been voiced for decades, initially by small island nations threatened by rising sea levels; nevertheless, they have gained new traction in the wake of this summer’s disastrous flooding in Pakistan, caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains. The government, which is already tight on finances, estimates losses in the range of $30 billion, and about 1,600 people lost their lives and several million more were evacuated.
The Next Step: Beyond Mitigation and Adaptation
Groups argue that the countries of the Global South that are most at risk from climate change are also the least accountable for it. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are responsible for warming the planet, although only the G20 countries are responsible for 80 percent of all GHG emissions.
Currently, the international response to climate change consists of two parts: “mitigation,” or the reduction of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and “adaptation,” or the taking of measures to modify systems and strengthen infrastructure in light of inevitable changes. Compensation for extreme weather impacts that countries cannot sustain is being demanded through calls for “loss and damage” payments, which go beyond adaptation funds. However, even the relatively modest target of adaptation funding is currently stagnating.
While much of the financing that was mobilized did take the form of loans, the commitment made in 2009 by the world’s rich nations to channel $100bn to less-developed countries by the year 2020 was not kept. Assistant professor of environment and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Maira Hayat, has stated, “Our starting point is that the Global North is mostly accountable for the plight of our planet today.”
Why should countries that have contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions by asking for aid (most often in the form of loans) with stringent repayment requirements? If some people find the language offensive, it’s important to find out why; do they disagree with the history? Or the consequences of embracing particular historical narratives in the present day.
Aiming for Maximum “points”
Concerns remain among certain experts in the climate field. Professor of critical geography at King’s College London Daanish Mustafa said, “Beyond a certain rhetorical point-scoring that’s not going to go anywhere.”
While he does place much of the blame on the Global North for the world’s plight, he warns against presenting a narrative that could justify the Pakistani leadership’s actions and policy decisions that have contributed to the escalation of this and other crises. Scientists from the World Weather Attribution project revealed that global warming probably played a role in the flooding.
Local variables, such as the location of human settlements, infrastructure (houses, buildings, bridges), and agricultural land in relation to flood plains, were also cited as causes of the disastrous effects. Mustafa said that Pakistan, despite having relatively low emissions on a global scale, was rapidly increasing its emissions, with the advantages going to a few elite, and that the country should instead “ape the West” in a low-carbon development route.
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With UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently advocating for “serious action” on the issue of “loss and damage” payments at the upcoming global climate meeting, COP27 in Egypt in November, the case for such payments have gained a significant boost. However, the topic is delicate for wealthy nations, especially the United States, the largest historical emitter of GHGs, as they worry it could lead to legal action.
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