Dirty debt

September 9, 2009

With the climate change summit not far away in December in Copenhagen there is a perceptible buzz about possible outcomes and consequences. While few countries are keen to accept tough emission targets, nobody wants to be labelled as the spoilsport who sabotaged the ‘deal that could save the planet’. However, there are disturbing signs of ‘scapegoat hunting’ and ‘excuse exploration’ even before delegates have booked their flight tickets for the summit. One such example is placing all the onus on developing countries as deal makers or breakers. Media and think tanks in developed countries (that are responsible for the great majority of past as well as current CO2 emissions) are increasingly trying to shine the spotlight on developing countries to divert attention from their own unwillingness to adopt tough emission cuts or clear mid-term targets. As a result, even developing countries that have shown an interest in embracing a low carbon development strategy are feeling like the schoolkid who is being bullied for his lunch money.

The situation with developing countries is this; They will not accept binding emission reductions until the carbon inequity issues are addressed first. Developed countries have to pay developing countries for;

1. Reducing their legitmate share of the historically available carbon space from 1800 to present day.

2. Currently consuming more than their fair share of the carbon space.

3. The consequences of extreme weather events like floods and droughts that can be scientifically attributed to human-induced climate change.

4. Climate change adaptation infrastructure like flood defenses, relocation of displaced people, crop technology, etc.

Not to mention the tranfer of technology for renewable power generation that had been promised but nor delivered since the Kyoto protocol.

Martin Khor of the South Centre estimates that the total bill will amount to $ 23 trillion. This may seem like a fantasy number but let us not forget that bailout package for failed banks financed by the U.S Governments alone is expected to add up to $ 23.7 trillion by this year. Even if we take into account that climate change was acknowledged formally only in 1992 and write off the historical carbon debt (1800-1992), we are still left with a bill of $ 3.9 trillion according to Fraser Durham of Carbon Sense. He also states that this amount is roughly equal to the monetary debt of all developing countries. And this just begins to takes care of the carbon equity issue. It does not however magically make the CO2 emissions from developed countries disappear (only realistic emission reduction targets, regular verification and strict penalties can do that). What it does is make the climate change negotiations a more level playing field.

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