Jump to content

Do Rich Nations Owe Poor Ones a Climate Debt?


Statick
 Share

Recommended Posts

Do Rich Nations Owe Poor Ones a Climate Debt?

By BRYAN WALSH Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009

In two decades of climate change negotiations, a deep divide has remained between wealthy nations and developing ones, each side insisting the other move first to lower carbon emissions and curb the effects of global warming.

But this year there was an uncommon optimism, in the days preceding the U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen, that the rift could someday be bridged. President Barack Obama's delegation announced it would bring reliable carbon emissions targets to the negotiating table — an about-face from past U.S. climate envoys, who have always played the spoiler role at the annual summit — opening the door for major developing nations, such as China and India, to bring their own pledges to Copenhagen as well.

But if the deadlock between developed and developing nations appeared to have been loosening, it could not have helped when Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator, categorically dismissed the idea that wealthy countries like the U.S. should owe the developing world a debt for the years of unfettered carbon emissions that are now contributing to climate change. "I actually completely reject the notion of a debt or reparations or anything of the like," Stern said in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

Still, Stern agreed that the U.S. and other developed nations would cut emissions and give aid to developing countries that need it. The details are yet to be determined: right now, delegates at the Copenhagen summit are busy passing around draft texts and proposals, preparing for the arrival next week of environment ministers and heads of state, who will wrap up the talks. The negotiators' focus is on actions — reducing emissions, ramping up clean energy, furnishing aid for adaptation — that are politically and economically viable.

But the question of exactly what the rich nations of the world owe the poor ones is still up in the air. According to many environmental activists and representatives of the most vulnerable nations in the world, climate change should be viewed first and foremost as an ethical challenge, rather than an economic or political one. Industrialized nations have flourished in part because they were able to burn fossil fuel indiscriminately for decades, and the impact of those emissions is only now being recognized as climate change. As poor countries see it, rich nations got rich at their expense: as the planet continues to warm, it will heighten water scarcity, intensify flooding and droughts, and worsen some infectious disease — all of which will first hit developing countries that have not yet had the chance to burn fossil fuels in large quantities. "We are living on the front lines of climate change," said Dessima Williams, the head of the Alliance of Small Island States, a coalition of 43 island nations.

Poor nations around the world have struggled with natural disasters and disease for years, of course, and developed countries have always felt an obligation to help; hence, global programs like the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which aim to reduce poverty, disease and mortality, and empower developing countries. But from an ethical perspective, climate change is different because it has a clear cause: man, or more specifically, Western man. The ability to track carbon emissions means that we can calculate how much responsibility each country — and practically each person — bears for a warmer world. And because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, we can even calculate the historic responsibility that nations bear for global warming.

Although there is a long list of other past actions by rich nations — colonialism, racism, slavery, war — that have ******** the development of poorer countries, the exact nature of those effects is difficult to quantify. With climate change, a hard number can be assigned to historic responsibility, and worse, the consequences tend to multiply. "The impact of emitting greenhouse gases will go on for a millennium or more," said Dale Jamieson, an environmental ethicist at New York University, in a speech last year. "It's as if I stood on your foot for a while. It hurts, but when I take my foot off you, the pain gets worse and goes on longer. That's the kind of problems we deal with in climate change, and that's why we need to act sooner rather than later."

If so, it would seem that the U.S. bears more blame than any other nation, having emitted about one-quarter of all the CO2 that has ever resulted from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. And yet, even with Obama in charge, the U.S. has made it clear so far at Copenhagen that carbon reparations — for lack of a better term — are off the table. On Wednesday, Stern rejected the idea that the U.S. should be held retroactively responsible for a problem it could not have predicted: "For most of the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, people were blissfully ignorant of the fact that emissions caused a greenhouse effect. It's a relatively recent phenomenon."

The thing is, that's not quite true. Even if developed nations got a pass for the decades of emissions that occurred before the world became aware of climate change, they had to have been aware of man-made warming since at least 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out its first assessment. The science has only become clearer since then. Yet developed nations, and especially the U.S., have done virtually nothing to halt the growth of carbon emissions.

Further, the Obama Administration has made it abundantly clear that it doesn't feel compelled to make up for lost time. The White House pledge to reduce emissions about 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, which was solidified by a new deal announced by a bipartisan group of Senators on Dec. 10 in Washington, is far below what science shows is needed to avert dangerous warming, and far less ambitious than the targets from the European Union. "Ethics says that those who cause the problem must take responsibility for compensating for the damages," says Donald Brown, director of the Collaborative Program on Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change at Penn State University. "It's unfair and unethical to deny that responsibility."

Of course, if a climate deal is successfully negotiated, money will begin to flow to developing nations — Obama has talked about spending $10 billion a year until 2012 on adaptation aid — and rich countries will begin to seriously cut their emissions. But the ethical questions get more complicated from there. What constitutes a poor nation, for instance? China and India have hundreds of millions of very poor people who emit little carbon, but they also have millions of the rising wealthy who own cars and travel like citizens of the developed world. How should these nations be classified? "Climate change is caused by rich people wherever they live, and suffered by poor people wherever they live," said Jamieson. "The atmosphere doesn't care if it's my BMW emitting carbon, or a BMW in China or Rwanda."

To get around that quandary, researchers at Princeton University have suggested setting emissions targets based on each country's number of "high-emitters." It could be an elegant solution, but ultimately, U.N. negotiations are carried out by nation-states, not citizens. It's fortunate, then, that the protection of threatened peoples in the Tuvalus and Maldives of the world is not only ethically sound, but also in the national interest of the U.S. and other rich countries. "The world must come together to confront climate change," Obama said in his Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo on Dec. 10. "There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement — all of which will fuel more conflict for decades." Ultimately, rich or poor, global warming is a problem we truly face together.

____________________________

Discuss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are a few ways you can go with this whole global warming thing.

Do nothing, and nothing happens.

Do nothing, and something happens.

Do something and nothing happens.

Do something and something happens.

It seems to me the best course of action, with the least amount of repercussions is to do something and hope nothing happens, because if we do nothing and something happens, we're F'd. Since this issue will affect everyone on the planet (assuming something happens) I think the rich nations should lend a hand to the poor nations. We can't tell other nations "I'm sorry, but we can't help your civilization even though it's us rich nations who are killing the planet." It doesn't work like that.

I still don't buy that humans can cause climate change because from what I understand from reading, we've been in a warming trend for thousands of years. I offer the formation of The Great Lakes and Niagara Falls as evidence of this. I do, however, think that the world needs to come together and try to do what we can to try to stop what might happen.

If we don't even try to combat this issue, and we find out that we could've after it's too late, the fate of the species will be that of the dinosaurs and evolution will bring on a new dominate species that will adapt and survive in the new world. To me, this issue should not be one of politics, but one of common sense and survival.

Edited by cali_fan420
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are a few ways you can go with this whole global warming thing.

Do nothing, and nothing happens.

Do nothing, and something happens.

Do something and nothing happens.

Do something and something happens.

It seems to me the best course of action, with the least amount of repercussions is to do something and hope nothing happens, because if we do nothing and something happens, we're F'd. Since this issue will affect everyone on the planet (assuming something happens) I think the rich nations should lend a hand to the poor nations. We can't tell other nations "I'm sorry, but we can't help your civilization even though it's us rich nations who are killing the planet." It doesn't work like that.

I still don't buy that humans can cause climate change because from what I understand from reading, we've been in a warming trend for thousands of years. I offer the formation of The Great Lakes and Niagara Falls as evidence of this. I do, however, think that the world needs to come together and try to do what we can to try to stop what might happen.

If we don't even try to combat this issue, and we find out that we could've after it's too late, the fate of the species will be that of the dinosaurs and evolution will bring on a new dominate species that will adapt and survive in the new world. To me, this issue should not be one of politics, but one of common sense and survival.

I agree about the warming trend.

The way I see it, its going to be hard to sell to developing nations like China and India to curb back on their pollutants because they would throw it in our faces that we've been polluting for years and who are we to tell them what to do.

Plus, the fact that either of those countries have over 1 billion people respectively will continue to put more emissions into the atmosphere than the USA ever did in the early stages of its industrial development.

But you're right, whether a debt is accessed or not, if we don't do anything collectively to help solve the problem, we're screwed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree about the warming trend.

The way I see it, its going to be hard to sell to developing nations like China and India to curb back on their pollutants because they would throw it in our faces that we've been polluting for years and who are we to tell them what to do.

Plus, the fact that either of those countries have over 1 billion people respectivley will continue to put more emissions into the atmosphere than the USA ever did in the early stages of its industrial development.

But you're right, whether a debt is accessed or not, if we don't do anything collectively to help solve the problem, we're screwed.

China has already agreed to cut more pollution in less time than we have. I'm not sure about India though. If China is getting on board, I sure as **** hope we are too. I'm really a "human caused global warming" skeptic, but I still do my part to help just in case. I bought the spiral lights for my house even though the lighting sucks, and I'm getting ready to swapout all of my appliances.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

China has already agreed to cut more pollution in less time than we have. I'm not sure about India though. If China is getting on board, I sure as **** hope we are too. I'm really a "human caused global warming" skeptic, but I still do my part to help just in case. I bought the spiral lights for my house even though the lighting sucks, and I'm getting ready to swapout all of my appliances.

I didn't know that about China, which is good news.

I also use the spiral lamps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

China has already agreed to cut more pollution in less time than we have. I'm not sure about India though. If China is getting on board, I sure as **** hope we are too. I'm really a "human caused global warming" skeptic, but I still do my part to help just in case. I bought the spiral lights for my house even though the lighting sucks, and I'm getting ready to swapout all of my appliances.

China has agreed to do nothing. They are currently modernizing their energy system (nuclear power, etc) because of their growing economy and will reduce their pollutants for this fact alone. They were already doing this for there own benefit not for any altuistic motive. India is doing the exact same thing.

We give freakin countries like China and India plenty just by opening our economy to them in a one sided job creation boom for them. Screw them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not really sure why this is even on the table. It's extortion.

Plain and simple, if the developed countries truly want to focus on the environment, they will not trade with any country that ignores pollution controls.

- Where's Duckett?

Edited by 2tearsinabucket
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...