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Debate: Developed world climate change debt to developing world

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Do developed countries owe a debt to developing world over climate change?

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Is the concept of climate debt fair?

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  • The developed countries have contributed about 70% of the emissions responsible for climate change, yet the developing world is feeling about three quarters of the effects. This is according to a report by the World Development Movement. Even though the developed countries only contain 20% of the world's population they have contributed to about 70% of the historical omissions, and are responsible for about 55% of the current emissions, that are responsible for the man-made climate change that is wreaking destruction on the world and it's inhabitants. Because of the disproportions in emissions and effects, the developed world owes the developing world 2 debts that together make up the climate debt. These debts are the adaption debt and the emissions debt.
  • The adaption debt. A statement by 242 organisations representing the developing world (links in different languages can be found at [1]) summed up adaption debt thusly: "For their disproportionate contribution to the effects of climate change – requiring developing countries to adapt to rising climate impacts and damage – they [the developed countries] have run up an “adaptation debt” to developing countries." The idea behind adaption debt is that the developing countries need to be able to adapt to the effects of climate change - which fall disproportionately on them - and since the developed world contributed disproportionately to climate change it owes the developing world the money that it needs to adapt. The need to adapt is different in each country. For example, the city of Legaspi in the Philippines will most likely have to be evacuated and its inhabitants will have to move inland. Or, the disappearance of the glaciers in the Andes means that Peru will have to pay to divert water from the east of Peru to the west and engineering alone will cost billions of dollars. Or, many small island nations, and even large nations like Bangladesh, are threatened with being submerged under the rising sea levels and need money to built preventative measures like the dykes in Holland. Most of the developing countries cannot affords this since they have been exploited by the developed countries for so many years, and since the developing countries have contributed disproportionately to the problem of climate change they owe the developing countries the amount of money that will allow them to adapt to the changes climate change will force, and is forcing, on them.
  • The emissions debt. The statement by 242 organisations representing the developing world summed up emissions debt thusly: "For their excessive historical and current per person emissions – denying developing countries their fair share of atmospheric space – they [the developed countries] have run up an “emissions debt” to developing countries" The report by the WDM on climate debt (cited earlier) says that "the north’s vast overconsumption of fossil fuels continues to dump enormous volumes of greenhouse gases into the air, effectively using up most of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb these gases. Now there is almost no atmospheric space left for the south, which means that their option to use fossil fuel energy for much needed development is massively restricted. Northern countries therefore owe an emissions debt. As well as now drastically reducing emissions, they have a responsibility to provide the finance and technology to help the south meet its energy needs, without using fossil fuels." This is the concept of an emissions debt. Since most of the atmospheric space for carbon (and other) emissions was used by the developed countries to develop, they have a responsibility to pay the costs to the developing countries of reducing their carbon emissions and of developing with the use of fossil fuels - which they cannot use since the developed countries used them disproportionately.
  • Climate debt as a whole. The statement by 242 organisations representing the developing world summed up climate debt by stating that “Together the sum of these debts – emissions debt and adaptation debt – constitutes their climate debt, which is part of a larger ecological, social and economic debt owed by the rich industrialised world to the poor majority.”
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Does climate debt have a basis in international law?

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  • Climate Debt has been enshrined in International Law since 1992 This concept was first adopted into international law at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, which stated that "The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in Annex II shall provide new and additional financial resources to meet the agreed full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations under Article 12, paragraph 1. They shall also provide such financial resources, including for the transfer of technology, needed by the developing country Parties to meet the agreed full incremental costs of implementing measures that are covered by paragraph 1 of this Article and that are agreed between a developing country Party and the international entity or entities referred to in Article 11, in accordance with that Article." (article 4.3). The Convention also stated that "The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in Annex II shall take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-how to other Parties, particularly developing country Parties, to enable them to implement the provisions of the Convention. In this process, the developed country Parties shall support the development and enhancement of endogenous capacities and technologies of developing country Parties." (article 4.5) Those two articles together cover the emissions debt. The Convention also stated that "The developed country Parties and other developed Parties included in Annex II shall also assist the developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation to those adverse effects." (article 4.4). The Convention also decided that "In the implementation of the commitments in this Article, the Parties shall give full consideration to what actions are necessary under the Convention, including actions related to funding, insurance and the transfer of technology, to meet the specific needs and concerns of developing country Parties arising from the adverse effects of climate change and/or the impact of the implementation of response measures, especially on:

(a) Small island countries; (b) Countries with low-lying coastal areas; (c) Countries with arid and semi-arid areas, forested areas and areas liable to forest decay; (d) Countries with areas prone to natural disasters; (e) Countries with areas liable to drought and desertification; (f) Countries with areas of high urban atmospheric pollution; (g) Countries with areas with fragile ecosystems, including mountainous ecosystems; (h) Countries whose economies are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export, and/or on consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products; and (i) Landlocked and transit countries." (article 4.8). These two articles together cover the adaption debt.



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Is climate debt necessary?

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  • Developing countries need the adaption debt to cope. Climate change is wreaking massive harm among developing countries. The Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that 300,000 people are now dying every year from climate change due to increased disasters and disease. War on Want reports that "East Africa is suffering from drought for the fifth year in a row; Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda are particularly affected. The rising price of food in the wake of drought has led to tens of millions of people requiring food aid, or going hungry. Hundreds of thousands of cattle have died, decimating the long-term livelihoods of pastoralists across the region. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that hundreds of millions more people will suffer from drought across Africa as temperatures increase ... the IPCC also predicts that floods will increase across Africa; the climate will be more variable. Floods in West Africa in 2009, particularly Burkina Faso and Ghana, have forced hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes ... South-East Asia has suffered from typhoons and the flooding they bring ... The IPCC has predicted that climate change leads to typhoons becoming more intense, with stronger winds and heavier rain. The IPCC further states that the Philippines is already suffering from more frequent and more intense typhoons ...The IPCC predicts that the Indian monsoon will get more variable and erratic as temperatures increase." One Filipino commented on the War on Want website, saying that "Climate change is being felt here in the Philippines and all over the world. And the most affected are the less fortunate people." According to the statement of 242 organisations representing the third world: “Poor countries, communities and people have contributed least to the causes of climate change, yet are its first and worst victims. At greatest risk are women, indigenous peoples, poor people, small farmers, fisher-folk and forest communities, people relying on scarce water resources, youth and other groups susceptible to harm and health impacts." War on Want also reports that " the Least Developed Countries and Association of Small Island States have both said that their survival requires the increase in temperature to be limited to 1.5°C". Climate Change is also affected developing countries hugely and unless they receive the funds necessary to adapt then the crisis will only get worse.


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Is climate debt feasible?

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