The global conversation around reparative justice - where the rich countries compensate the poor, developing countries for the ecological crimes and subsequent unchecked industrialization that the former have illegally benefitted from - can no longer be hushed away.
Pakistan is the latest victim in a long list of countries that have been at the receiving end of the Western countries’ discriminatory practices, and it certainly won’t be the last. In a recent discussion on Argumentative Indians, Stuti Mishra of The Independent spoke about the flood induced devastation in Pakistan and how a similar catastrophe in any western country would have garnered global attention. That does seem true, considering the floods in Pakistan barely scraped the barrel of the news cycle in western nations where major airwaves chose to gloss over the unprecedented scale of damage to life and property in the South Asian country.
The origins of climate debt are a matter of research but the continued inaction of the Global North to even begin to address the concerns of the developing world reeks of racial prejudice and discrimination.
Mozambique, for example, is another unfortunate casualty of the indifferent Global North. It is one of the least developed countries, ranking 185 out of 191 nations in the Human Development Index. Naturally, when it was struck with two back-to-back super cyclones, the country was hard pressed for relief and rehabilitation finances. The International Monetary Fund stepped in with loans and financial aid, but the possibility of Mozambique spiraling into a debt trap was one that could not be ignored.
This is symptomatic of a larger malaise that has been spoken about for long at the expense of little or no action.
Most countries who got into bed with the Red Dragon will tell you that ‘Debt trap Diplomacy’ is Imperialism of the 21st century. This form of diplomacy entails providing loans with extremely challenging terms and conditions for borrowing states to pay back, thereby ultimating forcing them to accept economic or political concessions. Debt is also an instrument to coerce poor and developing nations to follow the unreasonable diktats of Western powers, naturally to the latter’s benefit. However, what defies logic is how developing countries are not just expected to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis, but also pay for it. An independent analysis in the Lancet Planetary Health has concluded that the former G8 nations are responsible for 85% of the CO2 emissions responsible for dangerous levels of heating. At the same time, the majority of the fatalities due to climate breakdown happens in the poor developing countries, the Global South. This is a massive climate debt that cannot be serviced purely through monetary transactions. What is happening in the Global South is directly affecting people, their culture, traditions and heritage and no amount of money can fully compensate for what is at stake - the very way of life.
However, an honest start with a full realization of the enormity of the situation has to be made by the rich developed countries, who often claim to be custodians of global human values. Half hearted attempts such as the $100 billion commitment by 2020, which as expected spectacularly failed, only serve to deteriorate western credibility and intent when it comes to addressing climate change. Financial aid given for ‘climate adaptation’ to poor countries counts for nothing when such projects do not generate money. Even if such projects were to generate returns, can one claim to be evenly prepared in the face of rapidly changing and increasing climate vulnerabilities? Again, it is no secret that most financial aid is diverted for financially viable projects in middle and developing countries, leaving the poor countries in the lurch.
Such inequitable, dishonest and unethical approach by the West to what could possibly be humanity’s biggest ever challenge only serves to underscore what has always been known - that the Global North will only intervene when the problem reaches their shores. Fortunately, that seems to have happened. Rising temperatures, wildfires and heatwaves in Europe coupled with their self inflicted energy crisis has brought the reality of climate change home.What was once the crisis in poor developing nations has overnight assumed a global mantle.
The upcoming COP27 in Egypt could possibly be exactly what the doctor prescribed, if the rich countries could manage to get their act together. Unless the West decides to put their money where their mouth is, the debate on Climate Debt cannot fade away.
The time for empty promises and meaningless posturing is over.
The Global North would do well to remember that there can be no more hiding or denying Climate Debt now.