Debate and result objectives for the group

  • To build a joint vision regarding climate debt
  • To discuss possible incentives for the compensation of climate debt.
  • To discuss the difference between Climate Debt and the Copenhagen Accord.

Main questions to be discussed

  • What is Climate Debt?
  • Why is it that climate change cannot be discussed without considering equity?
  • What elements make up Climate Debt?
  • How should Climate Debt be compensated?
  • What is the relationship between historical responsibility and climate debt?
  • How are the Climate Debt and the Ecological Debt related?
  • How are Climate Debt and the Copenhagen Accord related?


Ecological Debt

As a concept, ecological debt was first discussed by Fidel Castro during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Castro superposed the external financial debt against the ecological plundering of southern countries in benefit of northern consumption.

As the article “What is ecological debt?”  reads, the Southern People´s Ecological Debt Creditors Alliance affirms that the responsibility for the ecological debt lies essentially in the northern  industrialized countries, their institutions and economic elite. It is their gradual appropriation and control of natural resources as well as the resultant planet destruction of their consumption and production patterns that affects local sustainability and the future of humanity.  Based on this definition, the peoples of the South are creditors of this debt and the Northern countries the debtors. 

Ecological Footprint and Carbon Footprint

The ecological footprint is an indicator defined as “the area of ecologically productive territory (farming, pastures, forests or water ecosystems) necessary to produce resources and at the same time assimilate the resultant residues by a given population with a specific way of life in an indefinite way”

It is through this concept that it is clear that some nations use multiple parts of their territories whilst others use only part of it; thus allowing the expansion of the ecological footprint of other nations. 

The carbon footprint is a component of the ecological footprint. It measures how many hectares of natural resources are necessary to absorb the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the entity of which the footprint is being taken.

The origins of climate change and its responsibility.

The excessive emission of greenhouse gases leads to climate change problems, but who is responsible for the excessive emissions of these gases?

If every country in the world would have historically emitted the same amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) per capita as that released by developing countries, the world would not be facing climate change problems today. Nevertheless, developing countries suffer greater consequences than developed nations since they are affected by both the negative impacts of climate change and the impossibility of attaining an economic level that permits to eradicate poverty. It is known that there is a direct relationship between emissions and development, which is prevalent in developing countries.

Historical Responsibility

Climate change is a result of the historical and current emission of greenhouse gases. 75% of historical greenhouse gases have been produced by developed nations, in countries where only 20% of the world population lives. Their current per person emissions continues to exceed those of developing countries by a factor of four. 

Figure 1 shows historical emissions; Figure 2 shows what the division would have been like if emissions would have been emitted equally by developed and developing nations.  In the following figures, “Annex 1” refers to developed countries and “Non Annex 1” to developing countries, by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) terminology. It is in this way that earth has surpassed its capacity to absorb greenhouse gases; therefore atmospheric space has been over utilized.Figure 1:                                      Figure 2:

world emissions                       world population.

These facts are reflected in the preamble of the Convention, where it is established that “the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs”

However, developed nations deny that their historical overconsumption of atmospheric space implies a responsibility which that should attend.

There are different ways of demanding developed nations to assume their historical responsibility; climate debt is certainly the most referenced one.

Main Concepts:

1.  Atmospheric Space

The atmospheric space is a limited natural resource, which instead of being consumed is being invaded by greenhouse gases. It is difficult to establish what the invasion limit that the atmosphere can tolerate is. Pre-industrial levels – that is to say natural levels – of greenhouse gas emissions were 275 particles per million (ppm). Scientists have established that going over  350 ppm implies serious risks that the world will face disastrous and irreversible impacts. Today, greenhouse gas emissions are of 390ppm.

The greenhouse gas emissions of a country imply that another country is unable to emit, on the contrary the atmosphere will be saturated and Mother earth will experience the foreseen consequences.

The other particularity of atmospheric space is that it is shared between all humanity, and all of nature, not only in the present but also with future generations. The inequity and injustice with which atmospheric space has been invaded are what caused Climate Debt.

2. Climate Debt

Climate debt is the equivalent to the over exploitation of atmospheric space by developed nations, both in relation with  as historical levels of greenhouse gas emissions per capita and in  relation with the maximum levels of concentration that Mother Earth can healthily tolerate (300 ppm).

Climate debt is growing day by day since developed countries are only committing to reduce a set percentage based on their past high greenhouse gas emissions, so giving themselves the right  to keep on emitting  a higher quantity of greenhouse gases per capita than developing nations.

Now, the over utilization of atmospheric space has different kinds of consequences, that result in different kinds of debt:

            2. Emission Debt

Climate debt is the difference between the real emissions of developed countries and what they should have emitted according to equitable levels per capita.

Considering that everyone in the world has the same historical right of atmospheric space access, developed countries must compensate their over consumption through negative emissions until equitable historical levels are attained, levels that should also be sustainable for Mother Earth.

          2. Development Debt

Developed countries are so because of their technological advancement never took into consideration greenhouse gas emissions and their nuisance. This is why they have achieved a position where they count on the necessary technological advancements to not rely on greenhouse gas emissions to continue their development.

In developing countries there are still direct ties between economic development and GHG emissions, since they do not count with the appropriate technology and necessary investments to develop clean energy economies.

In this respect, even after the compensation of the emission debt, developing nations would still be at a disadvantage point regardless of counting with an equally distributed atmospheric space.  In order to compensate this inequality, developed nations should transfer clean technology, free of patents and the necessary requirements to implement this technology. In such way, all the world inhabitants would gain access to the same resources to live with under limited atmospheric space.

            3. Adaptation Debt

 Excessive greenhouse gas emissions are already causing many disasters in the lives of peoples today, especially in the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. Here are some examples:

  • Between 75 and 250 million people are susceptible of suffering major water problems until 2020 because of climate change.
  • Some countries that survive on agriculture have already seen themselves affected by droughts that leave millions of people without food.
  • Indigenous and local communities across the planet are harmed by the change in ecosystems and the threats to their traditional ways of living.
  • The health of millions of people is affected by malnutrition, which also causes diseases to spread.
  • Extreme meteorological phenomena are causing the loss of human life, health and millionaire loses in infrastructure.
  • In the effort of dealing with the resulting impacts, developing nations have to spend part of their already scarce resources in disaster relief and prevention.

Considering that these problems are caused by developed nations, and that the most affected are developing nations, it is ethically clear that the one responsible for the problem should be held accountable and pay for all damages; this is defined as the debt of adaptation. 

The payment of the debt of adaptation should reimburse all damages that result from climate change: the past, current and the future damage as well as those involving events of chronic and extreme impact besides all of the investment and required technology to prevent greater disasters.

            4. Migration Debt

Several of the devastating impacts caused by Climate Change will cause – and to a certain degree are already causing- people from certain countries or regions to abandon their native lands and migrate to other countries. A few examples include those countries that no longer see any precipitation during the year or the small insular states that with the rising of sea level will soon be flooded.

One of the ways in which migration debt might be settled is suggested by the study “Social Science Research Network: Providing New Homes for Climate Change Exiles”. The authors propose that instead of dealing with the problem when state of emergency is declared, countries should already establish a formula through which they receive “climate migrants” in proportion to their individual Historical Responsibility for the emission of greenhouse gases. Reference:

            5. Debt with Mother Earth

Besides the existence of climate debt to developing countries and their population, a higher debt with Mother Earth and the natural beings has been created. The loss of biodiversity, the extinction of animal species, desertification, the loss of coral reefs, etc. cannot be compensated in any way; for those affected do not take any benefit from money nor can they received compensations for the damages suffered.

The compensation of this debt first implies the recognition of the harm done and the guarantee that Mother Nature will be respected in the future. This can take place with the approval and the fulfillment of the “Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth” by the United Nations.

3. Debt Compensation

Besides of the mentioned elements, climate debt compensation should consider the different essential fields to fight climate change. In this respect, it should at a minimum:

  • Produce deep, effective and significant domestic reductions that guarantee the stability of the climatic system in a way that the lost atmospheric space is compensated, temperatures are stabilized and enough free space is reserved for the growth that developing nations require now and in the future. In order to achieve this, developed nations should produce negative emissions or in other words become carbon reservoirs.
  • Additional, sustainable and predictable financial resources should be generated, which foresee the double limiting of living with hostile environments and a restricted atmospheric space.

It is important to point that the financial resources that concern climate debt are not the same as those of official international development sector; these resources should be awarded in addition to current development aid.

Climate debt and solutions for climate change

In order to face climate change, integral solutions that assure the wellbeing of all worlds’ inhabitants are necessary. In this sense it is very important that solutions for climate change take into consideration equity between peoples.  The concept of climate debt regards equity in its notion of shared use of atmospheric space, which restores and ensures suitable greenhouse gas emissions to sustain the wellbeing of humanity and the preservation of Mother Earth rights.

Climate debt in the current climate change negotiations.

Bolivia and a block of countries have proposed a framework for international negotiations regarding the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol and the recognition and payment of climate debt.  This concept was exposed in a technical briefing and later several countries picked up the concept in its official discourses.

The concept was introduced in the texts of Shared Vision, Adaptation and Mitigation for developed countries.  

The current way to negotiate the restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions is based on the right to keep emissions as a high percentage of those emitted during 1990, year during which the usage of atmospheric space was unjust. The concept of achieving an equal division of atmospheric space is taken into consideration by very few countries. Developed nations are resistant to the concept of climate debt and they continuously block its apparition in official texts.

Climate Debt and the Copenhagen Agreement

  Climate Debt Copenhagen Agreement
Division of the atmospheric space Countries responsible for climate change should pay back their excessive use of atmospheric space. “All countries are responsible and we should all cut back in the measure of our possibilities”
Historical Responsibility Climate debt averages the total of historical responsibility and measures the diversity of its impact. There is no recognition of historical climate debt.
Mitigation Developed countries must mitigate their emissions until obtaining negative levels, to ensure that developing nations are able to continue their growth.  The concept strings from equal emissions per capital and historic terms. Every country should be committed to compromising somehow the mitigation of emissions. Mitigation is a percentile reduction in yearly emissions which implies that those with high emissions in the past still hold the right to produce a high percentage of emissions.
Development So that developing countries can grow sustainably they are in need of financial support, technology transfers and capacity building in a way that their development does not compromise Mother Earth in the same way developed countries did. It recognizes that “social and economic development and poverty eradication are first priorities to developing countries and that a development strategy with low levels of emissions is indispensable for sustainable development”, but does nothing about it.
Adaptation The debt of adaptation implies that developed nations must compensate the climate change damage in all developing countries, including the cost of investment to prevent disasters, the compensation of past damage and the opportunity cost. Funds are only foreseen to take care of damages up until 1,5ºC approximately, at the same time due to mitigation actions, we would achieve more than 3ºC.  Therefore, there is no financing available for the 1,5ºC impact, which is exponential. Financing caters to Less Developed Countries and  the Small Developing Insular States
Mother Earth Rights However possible, it is necessary to compensate the damage already done to Mother Earth and in the future respect her by obeying MOTHER EARTH RIGHTS. The current development model is applied and Mother Earth is not taken into consideration.
Migrants Countries responsible for climate change should receive all climate refugees. The Agreement does not touch on the subject of climate migrants.

Topic development and main background considerations

Reference Documents:

Jubilee South:       20and%20Climate%20Change+3337.twl