Simms, THE CARBON DEBT ( IIED, London)
presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
in early 2001 suggests the atmosphere may warm by as much
as 6 degrees C over land areas by 2100 – more rapidly than
previously expected.A letter co-signed by the under secretary
of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
and the chief executive of the UK MeteorologicalOffice concluded,
“the rapid rate of warming since 1976 … is consistent with
the projected rate of warming based on human-induced effects.
We continue to see confirmation of the long-term warming trend.”
A typical US citizen, for example, uses fossil fuels at a
rate twelve times above the threshold for sustainable per
capita consumption. As every day passes without a radical
shift in consumption, the carbon debt to the global community
as the European Commission and the Member States prepare for
the tenth anniversary of Rio and contemplate how to repay
their debt to the world’s poor, what should they consider?
The logic of what is needed should not be difficult to grasp.
In the face of conventional foreign debts the poorest countries
were told, and expected, to radically restructure their economies.
structural adjustment – the inescapable reality for poor –
indebted countries, however dressed-up, demands austerity
measures. A reverse form of economic adjustment is now needed
for the wealthy carbon debtors to set them on a path to sustainability
– we can call them sustainability adjustment programmes.
Töpfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme,
called for a 90% cut in consumption in rich countries to meet
the challenge, adding that, “a series of looming crises and
ultimate catastrophe can only be averted by a massive increase
in political will”. Many would claim such cuts are impossible
and the stuff of fantasy. But history suggests otherwise.
new environmental war economy
very specific circumstances and using a combination of special
government powers and a massive public education programme,
during World War II Britain achieved dramatic cuts in resource
consumption in a very short space of time. Between 1938–44
there was a 95% drop in the use of motor vehicles in the UK.
This exceeds even the deepest cuts in consumption that the
most pessimistic climate watchers say is needed in wealthy
countries today. From 1938–43, the use of public transport
increased by 13%. Across all goods and services consumption
fell 16% but with much higher drops at the household level.
In just six years from 1938 British homes cut their coal use
by 11 million tonnes, a reduction of 25%.
It is possible to argue that these two situations are not
sufficiently similar, but the populations of Bangladesh, Mozambique
and Nicaragua, to name only a few affected countries might
disagree. To many in the EU it will seem a sacrifice too far.
Most decision-makers live far removed from the murderous reality
of climate change.
the situation in the global environmental war economy is not
so different from the dilemma that faced individuals in Britain’s
war economy. As it was expressed in 1943, “There can be no
equality of sacrifice in this war. Some must lose their lives
and limbs, others only the turn-ups on their trousers.” The
world’s very poor often live with austerity measures imposed
under the aegis of dubious conventional external debts. They
lose their loves, lives and limbs, and their farms and families
when climate change strikes. These are things to keep in mind
as EU governments worry about how forcefully they persuade
people to switch from their cars to travel by train instead.
To get even close to the necessary cuts in fossil fuel consumption
requires governments first to make and then win the argument
for action in public. But then change needs to happen within
an orderly and logical framework. Any solution will need to
be based on real cuts in overall carbon emissions, otherwise
known as contraction. We will also have to move towards equally
sharing the atmosphere, known as convergence. The contraction
and convergence approach has been endorsed by developing countries
and everyone from the insurance industry to the UK’s Royal
Commission on Environmental Pollution.
What is to be done?
fact of ecological debt suggests two things. First, a fundamental
realignment of who owes whom in the international economy.
Third world debt pales into insignificance in the face of
the ecological debts of industrialised countries. Second,
a challenge to EU States and others to balance their domestic
environmental budgets. Each should have clear plans on how
60–80% domestic CO2 cuts can be achieved over given periods
new mood of humility on the part of rich countries needs to
characterise their negotiations with less developed countries.
Even the old, largely unmet UN aid target of 0.7% of GNP,
becomes irrelevant against the scale of appropriate resources
that poor countries will need to mitigate the impact of climate
environment minister suggests that climate change may create
20 million new refugees. Unless there is new action commensurate
with the scale of the global warming problem, we may be experiencing
the end of development.
Taking climate change into account, each Member State should
arrive at the Johannesburg Summit knowing what their new and
additional contribution to developing countries should be,
to make the international development targets for 2015 a reality.
may well take the equivalent of an environmental war economy
to balance the books. Frustration among developing countries
could even force them, through lack of alternatives, to seek
damages for climate change in the international courts. But
one thing is clear, unless the carbon debt is tackled, we
will all be left environmentally bankrupt.
International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
is an independent, non-profit research institute working in
the field of sustainable development.
IIED aims to provide expertise and leadership in researching
and achieving sustainable development at local, national,
regional and global levels. In alliance with others we seek
to help shape a future that ends global poverty and delivers
and sustains efficient and equitable manage-ment of the world's
natural resources. Contact: Tom Bigg, WSSD Coordinator, IIED
3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD Tel: 44 20 7388 2117 Fax:
44 20 7388 2826 Website: www.iied.org Email: email@example.com