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Climate debt

Climate debt

By Julio César Centeno

Developing countries, with the majority of the world's population, must demand payment of their climate debt in order to help prevent a catastrophic planetary imbalance.

Climate change is among the top political, scientific, economic and moral priorities of the 21st century. Planetary stability, and therefore the security of humanity, depends on the measures taken now to mitigate the impact of human activity on the weather.


It is still possible to avoid catastrophic climate change. But to achieve this requires a coordinated mobilization on a planetary scale similar to that of the Second World War. There is no excuse for delay, because when our children face extreme heat waves, droughts, storms, floods, epidemics and famines, it would be too late.

One of the most unusual characteristics of international negotiations on climate change is the shameful relationship between the bureaucrats of developing countries, where 83% of humanity is, and the bureaucrats of a minority but privileged and overbearing elite: the representatives of industrialized countries.

For years developing countries have been requesting, without success, that industrialized nations comply with explicit obligations of the Framework Agreement on Climate Change of 1992, such as those related to its disproportionate greenhouse gas emissions. Or those linked to its greater capacity, both technological and economic, to reduce emissions. They also request, without success, that the commitments on the technology transfer less polluting, on preferential terms, to avoid unnecessary increases in emissions from developing countries due to their dependence on obsolete technologies.

Neither has the industrialized countries' commitment to provide financial resources to the poorest countries been fulfilled, both to ensure that their development is based on more efficient and less polluting energy processes, and to assist in their adaptation to the inevitable climate impacts that arise. looming.

The only concrete agreement of the Copenhagen summit in December 2009 was to prevent the planet's average temperature from rising more than 2ºC above the pre-industrial average. Copenhagen's failure is not limited to the absence of a legally binding agreement. The real failure is the absence of a strategy to reach the 2ºC objective, the absence of effective commitments to reduce emissions, the absence of a mechanism to distribute responsibilities and the absence of financial resources to assist the poorest countries in their adaptation to climate changes generated mainly by industrialized countries.

Negotiations on climate change in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011, only served to ratify the commitment of 2ºC. Each country must submit its contributions voluntary with said goal for 2015, to be implemented only as of 2020. In such conditions, without binding, coordinated and compatible objectives with the 2ºC goal, by 2020 the planet would be heading towards an average temperature increase of 4ºC, with dire implications for all humanity.

A recent study of Goddard Institute for Space Studies of NASA and the Earth Institute from Columbia University, concludes:

In the early Pliocene, when sea level was 25 meters higher than today, the temperature was just 1ºC higher than that of the Holocene, no more than 2ºC higher than the average temperature of the pre-industrial era. The current goal of limiting global warming to 2ºC and CO2 concentration to 450 parts per million it's a prescription for disaster”( Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change, NASA 2011)


The governments of industrialized countries are reluctant to provide resources to prevent catastrophic climate change, but they have not hesitated to channel more than 2 trillion dollars (2 trillion) to protect the criminal behavior of their own financial institutions. Nor have they hesitated to dispose of another 3 trillion in the last 10 years to unleash wars of aggression and occupation against developing countries, selected for their particular natural wealth or strategic geopolitical positions. Each year $ 1.7 trillion is spent on weapons, more than half by the United States.

At the Durban summit, in December 2011, a clear confrontation between industrialized countries and developing countries was evidenced, mainly due to the pretension of bureaucrats from the industrialized north to impose their positions and ignore previous agreements on common but differentiated responsibility, the reduction of emissions, the transfer of technologies and the contribution of financial resources. They now intend to reject the limited progress in the negotiations of the last 20 years, to impose a new agreement in which the responsibilities accumulated to date are unknown, and turn technology transfer, international assistance and environmental services into a private business.

Curiously, while developing countries continue to request, without success, the international cooperation previously agreed upon in the Agreement on Climate Change From 1992, they maintain a gigantic net flow of financial resources to the industrialized countries.

According to him International Monetary Fund, between 2000 and 2010, developing countries transferred more than 6 billion dollars (6 trillion) net to industrialized countries, 660 billion in 2010 alone ( IMF Balance of Payment Statistics). According to the IMF, these transfers net of resources from the South to the industrialized North " tend to increase in proportion to the widening of financial imbalances”. The transfers net they refer to financial flows from the South to the North minus those from the North to the South.

The delay in the realization of an international agreement to limit emissions of CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere perversely favors those who accumulate the highest emissions, mainly the affluent elite of the industrialized north. It continues to emit disproportionate amounts of gases and thus seize, with absolute impunity, the majority of a limited common good of all humanity: the ability of the atmosphere to absorb emissions.

As the available quota of emissions is rapidly exhausted, the options of the poorest countries to promote their development are reduced without falling into dangerous dependency relationships, in addition to those that already exist, due to technologies, financial resources and access to markets .

The control of renewable energies is an ideal instrument for the imposition of additional mechanisms of domination. It is part of the global battle for control of energy sources, including oil, gas and nuclear energy, a battle in which the wars of aggression against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran, the partition of Sudan and the destabilization of Venezuela

The contradiction is obvious: those who pollute are not paying for the damage they cause. The environmental costs they avoid with impunity turn into losses for all. Greenhouse gas emissions are externalities of such gigantic proportions that they threaten the security of all humanity. Initiatives to overcome such threats must be of similar magnitude.

Energy consumption is directly linked to economic and social development, to improving the quality of life. It is unreasonable to demand that the majority of the world's population, mired in poverty, consume less energy. It would imply condemning her to a permanent state of poverty and dependency. Today, 1.4 billion people in the developing world lack electricity in their homes. More than 1.7 billion use firewood as a source of energy for cooking and heating. According to World Health Organization, about 1.3 million people, mainly women and children, die each year as a result of pollution caused by wood stoves. Every year 9 million children under the age of 5 die in the developing world as victims of poverty, 25,000 every day ( UNICEF 2010).

According to the International Energy Agency: “ Decisive actions are urgently needed to accelerate energy development in the poorest countries ... Access to energy is a prerequisite for human development

Fossil fuels supply 83% of the energy consumed in the world. They in turn generate the largest amount of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Rescuing hundreds of millions of people from poverty implies facilitating massive access to cheap and abundant energy. Under current conditions, this implies higher consumption of fossil energy and higher CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions from industrialized countries have been relatively stable since 1980, while emissions from developing countries have quadrupled in the same period.

In accordance with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change, to reach the 2ºC objective, industrialized countries should reduce their emissions by 80% by 2050, while developing countries should reduce them by 50% by the same date, with a maximum peak in emissions before 2020 Gigantic political, economic, technological and industrial challenges for both groups of countries.

In the same way that it is unfair to demand that developing countries reduce their energy consumption, it is unrealistic to expect them to develop, by their own means and in the short term, capacity for the massive use of alternative energies, such as nuclear, solar or wind , among other.

Improving the efficiency of national energy matrices is only part of the solution. It is urgent to facilitate the massive use of alternative energies, in competitive terms, for all and in the short term. Both objectives depend on the technology transfer on preferential terms from industrialized countries to developing countries, as part of a joint effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Are also required financial resources both to improve energy efficiency and to develop the necessary infrastructure that effectively makes it possible to take advantage of alternative energy sources.

Except for nuclear energy (3%) and hydroelectric (4%), alternative clean energies, such as solar, geothermal and wind, currently represent less than 5% of global energy consumption. Even in industrialized countries they only reach moderate proportions of total energy consumption. They are limited not only by their costs, but also by technological limitations, such as the lack of effective systems for the massive storage of the energy they produce.

The potential of biofuels is also limited, regardless of the conflict with food production. The United States is the main producer of corn, with 42% of world production. If you used all the corn (350 million metric tons, 2010) to produce ethanol, it would only contribute 6% of your oil consumption. Whereas cellulosic ethanol will possibly take decades to reach similar levels of energy consumption. In 2011, ethanol and biodiesel together accounted for only 3% of global automobile fuel consumption.

Under these conditions, the delay in the conclusion of an international agreement accelerates the severity of the climate threat. Developing countries, with the majority of the world's population, have the obligation to promote emergency measures to prevent global warming from accelerating out of control. Avoiding this responsibility implies forcing our immediate descendants to face a considerably more unstable and dangerous scenario than the current one.

It is inconceivable that developing countries continue to submit as hostages to the dangerous delaying tactics of a small minority, whose interests include continuing to monopolize the limited available air quota with impunity, divest ourselves of our citizenship to become consumers, and monetize all the resources and services of nature under the conditions they impose.

The current process of negotiations on climate change is unproductive and inconsistent with both the severity of the threat and the intergenerational responsibility to our descendants. Instead of behaving like beggars, developing countries must coordinate positions to push for emergency measures in accordance with the severity and urgency of the climate threat. Among these measures is the claim for the climate debt.

The need for financial resources to meet the challenge of climate change was recognized in Durban. For this purpose it was agreed to create a Green background. The industrialized countries pledged to contribute $ 100 billion. But to date, no contribution has been made; said fund lacks any financial resource.

The International Energy Agency estimates the financial needs to reach the 2ºC goal at $ 24 trillion (millions of millions) over the next 10 years alone ( IEA: Tracking Clean Energy Progress, 2012). About half of such investments are needed in developing countries. In this context, the contributions offered to date by industrialized countries to the Green background they are insignificant. Only the financial needs of Latin America are estimated at 110,000 million dollars yearly during the first 10 years ( IEA 2012).

Ironically, while estimates of the resources needed to avoid a temperature rise above 2ºC grow and while industrialized countries refuse to assist the poorest countries with transfers of technologies and economic resources, developing countries maintain a flow. net towards the industrialized countries in the order of 700,000 million dollars yearly.

Debt for debt

The main contribution of each country to climate change is proportional to its corresponding accumulated CO2 emissions in the atmosphere at least since 1900. Between 1900 and 2010, 1,300 giga-metric tons of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels, more than 60% by industrialized countries.

The contribution to the increase in temperature at a given time depends on the emissions effective accumulated until then, taking into account the dissipation produced mainly by the absorption of CO2 over time by oceans and forests.

By 2010, the contribution of industrialized countries to the increase in temperature was 60%, even including the actual emissions from deforestation during the 1900-2010 period.

If the accumulated emissions in the atmosphere had been distributed in proportion to the population in 1990, the industrialized countries would have accounted for 286 Gt during the period 1900-2010. Excess emissions (656 Gt) should be accounted for as a debt in favor of developing countries, whose emission possibilities are now restricted. If we start from a base price of US $ 20 / ton CO2, this debt would exceed 13 trillion dollars.

The average price of emission rights in the European Union carbon market is around US $ 20 / tonne CO2, although they have recently plummeted due in part to the financial crisis and the lack of an international exchange agreement climatic. As the value of emission rights falls, both the incentives to reduce emissions today and the incentives to invest in technological innovations that reduce future emissions are weakened.

In British Columbia, Canada, the emissions tax went from US $ 25 to 30 / ton CO2 in July 2012, while in Australia it is US $ 24 / ton CO2, with an annual increase of 2.5%.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics who served as the World Bank's chief economist, has suggested a carbon tax of US $ 80 / tonne CO2, a level at which both carbon credits and carbon permits tend to stabilize. emissions or the corresponding taxes, once an international agreement is implemented to stabilize the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million.

To ensure that the average temperature increase remains below 2ºC and that the CO2 concentration does not exceed 450 ppm, it is necessary that the accumulated emissions between 2011 and 2050 do not exceed 850 Gt. Even if industrialized countries reduce their emissions by 80% by 2050, which is unlikely, their emissions in the 2011-2050 period would amount to 345 Gt, 41% of the available emissions quota. What would correspond to them in proportion to their current population would be 145 Gt. The excess (200 Gt) would add an additional US $ 4 trillion to the climate debt, even maintaining the base price of US $ 20 / ton CO2.

Even if industrialized countries reduced their emissions by 80% by 2050, they would end up accumulating 60% of the available atmospheric quota to avoid an increase in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere above 450 ppm. Each citizen of industrialized countries would have accumulated nine (9) times the quota of each citizen of developing countries.

If the total climate debt (US $ 17 trillion) is distributed equally during the period 2011-2050, it would correspond to an average installment of 425,000 million dollars per year for 40 consecutive years. This debt is of an order of magnitude similar to that of the growing net transfers of financial resources from the South to the North: 660,000 million in 2010, largely due to the payment of external debt.

Most people see the world as it is and wonder: Why? We should see the world as it should be and ask ourselves: Why not? George Bernard Shaw

The commitment made by industrialized countries in Copenhagen in 2009 to provide 10,000 million annually during the 2010-2012 triennium corresponds to only 2% of the annual share of their climate debt. However, it became a mocked commitment, like so many others made in the past, despite the fact that much of its opulence is due to the exploitation of natural and human resources in developing countries.

It should not be only developing countries that meet the payment of debts and other international obligations. The climate debt is as huge as the climate crisis that has been generated. The measures taken to overcome this planetary and intergenerational challenge must be of a similar magnitude.


Video: Climate Debt Agents (August 2021).