“Loss & Damage” beyond charity, into solidarity, and suffused with Climate Justice?

Patrick Bond

An important article about one facet of the Warsaw Conference of Polluters 19, “Loss & Damage”, was published last week in The Star (Malasia) by the very highly-regarded political-ecologist/economist [and regular TCB blogger] Martin Khor (New climate deal on loss and damage). As always, the South Centre and Third World Network provide invaluable information, and Martin has taught me incalculable amounts since we first met in Johannesburg in 1990.

Good reading. Yet from the outset I must propose, with full respect, that Martin is absolutely wrong here: “There were two other pieces of good news – the adoption of a programme for reducing emissions from forest-related activities (known as REDD-plus) and pledges from developed countries up to US$100 million for the adaptation fund whose resources had dried up after the drastic fall in carbon prices.”

The March 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis witnessed the establishment of a No-REDD-in-Africa network, which was extended at a conference in Maputo hosted by Justica Ambiental in September: http://www.redd-monitor.org/2013/09/25/no-redd-in-africa-network-maputo-statement-redd-does-not-reduce-emissions-redd-does-not-halt-deforestation/. The activists there, and in many other countries suffering REDD attacks, will be surprised to hear that UN confirmation of REDD+ is ‘good news’.

Furthermore, a paltry $100 million for adaptation is tokenistic; it won’t buy diddly squat compared to the insulation required. Consider the costs for for climate-proofing even just a small island, beachfront strip and port in the US, as estimated by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg: $20 billion (http://news.msn.com/world/how-do-you-make-a-city-climate-proof).

Second, Martin reports, “With the new mechanism, a burst of pent-up energy, organisation and eventually funds is expected, inside the framework of the Climate Convention, and to complement the work of other agencies.”

Not to mince words: to me this sounds seriously over-optimistic, especially given what we have learned from the hope, time and energy that so many have invested – and mainly wasted, it seems to me – in the (near-empty) Green Climate Fund’s start-up. Not to mention the awful history of a corrupted Northern aid industry and the ongoing abuse of North-South funding by militarists, corporations, neoliberal ideologues, opportunistic NGOs, repressive Southern state elites and wasteful bureaucrats.

There are three much more appropriate kinds of Loss & Damage news to consider, I’d argue. First of all, last Thursday, delegates from 133 countries staged a COP19 walk-out over Northern recalcitrance on this issue. Call it theatre, but that act did, at least, have a useful impact in delegitimising the rich countries in the eyes of those watching, across the world. Perhaps that move even shifted power balances sufficiently, in subsequent hours, to advance the idea of Loss & Damage beyond its mere mention in Doha at the COP18 in 2012.

To really shift power, of course, we need much stronger tools than walk-outs; ultimately we’ll need to establish sanctions against regimes that refuse to cut emissions appropriately and pay their climate debt: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=11065&updaterx=2013-11-22+13%3A59%3A51

Indeed, second, there remains a debilitating problem Martin should have explored (as he often does so well): climate-debt default on the part of the primary historic scofflaw, the ever-obnoxious Washington elite. The US Empire simply refuses to acknowledge its legal liability for climate debt. Just as at every COP, the US State Department’s thugs came to Warsaw hell-bent on sabotage of anything useful, especially Loss & Damage: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/u-s-fights-g77-on-most-counts-at-climate-meet-leaked-doc-shows/

It’s as if Washington has taken Houston-based Chevron’s strategy to heart. When faced with its Texaco-era, court-ordered liability of $19 billion for ruining large chunks of northern Ecuador’s Amazon with oil spills (http://ens-newswire.com/2012/08/06/chevron-faces-midnight-deadline-in-19-billion-ecuador-judgment/), Chevron countersued the victims (http://justiceforecuador.com/news/mientras-ellos-hablan-de-oil-money-el-mundo-habla-de-justicia-para-ecuador/?lang=en).

Confronted with its more general ecological debt (not just climate), the Global North may begin to comprehend how many trillions of dollars worth of resources have been spirited out of the eco-South thanks to ‘ecologically unequal exchange’, as a Berkeley research team determined (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jan/21/environmental.debt1).

And for that important goal of consciousness raising, I would have hoped Martin could have pointed out, for the sake of any US allies reading, that a great deal more work is needed to highlight the Global North’s climate debt to the South. (By way of generating a definition, I’d suggest we include South Africa’s climate debt to Africa, and my filthy city of Durban’s to our KwaZulu-Natal provincial hinterland from where we draw cheap labour, food and energy, and my profligate flying compared to my township neighbours’ dangerous kombi-taxi transport.)

Here are a couple of short films that helpfully put the climate debt in Global North-South context: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWfb0VMCQHE (superb!); and http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-cap-and-trade/

And third, we urgently need great pilot projects, such as the Ecuadoran people’s strategy to ‘leave the oil in the Yasuni Amazonian soil.’ Such pilots are vital, in part because on many levels Yasuni would have been an excellent inaugural climate debt project. It still may be, if next year’s no-drilling referendum is won by environmentalists, indigenous people and all in Ecuador who care about sumak kawsay or buen vivir: http://ens-newswire.com/2013/10/09/ecuadorean-voters-may-decide-fate-of-yasuni-national-park/

But given the German government’s recent funding flip-flop, that particular pilot requires a great many more supporters in the Global North. They should consider the Yasuni pilot as an ideal-type way to halt fossil fuel extraction and burning, to protect pristine biodiverse sites and indigenous people, and to make a downpayment on the climate debt to a country – like so many – requiring resources for underfunded social programmes (tap in here: http://www.accionecologica.org/ ).

We need more eco-investments of this type, driven by conscious citizenries who argue for environmental protection and restoration, and for a Just Transition away from carbon-addicted capital-intensive economies, to projects like the South African ‘million climate jobs’ campaign (http://www.climatejobs.org.za/).

And what about those ruined by extreme weather, like the Filippino victims of Super Typhoon Yaiyan? Another kind of compensatory climate-debt pilot I think should be considered as a means of avoiding the Loss & Damage funds being frittered away within the aid bureaucracies and corrupt regimes, is the ‘Basic Income Grant’. In one recent case, we witnessed a superb trial run in a Namibian community affected by desertification. In the rural town of Otjivero, mainly women-headed households utilised a $10/month/person grant (donated voluntarily by solidaristic Germans) in salutory ways: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/Bond%20Sharife%20SPII.pdf

My impression in Warsaw was that only outside the COP19 were the more visionary — yet also eminently practical — discussions underway about how best to raise and spend climate debt. In Peru and Paris for the COP20 and COP21, I suspect power balances will really not have changed enough to warrant UN relegitimation, even if a little trickle moves into a Loss & Damage fund.

So in my view, the appropriate orientation to the UN climate negotiators operating under the thumb of a carbon-trading ‘clean coal’-promoting UNFCCC secretary Christiana Figueras in conjunction with the US State Department, is yet more delegitimation.

That means more work ahead for the incipient Climate Justice movement: acknowledging and moving Loss & Damage beyond emergency charity and UNFCCC distractions, and into systems of sustained solidarity.

We can all agree that climate solidarity is long overdue from North to South. Those lobbying for a carbon tax in many Northern jurisdictions can use climate debt as an opportunity to raise this as one of the worthy spendables. (I think a carbon tax strategy is a mistake, though: too market-related, with too much hope for marginal change rather than the reboot so many of our systems require: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2013-11-12-at-warsaws-cop19-climate-summit-south-africa-has-no-bragging-rights/#.UpO_d-I64o0 )

And we should take heart, just as so many tens of millions of South Africans did when offered mass-popular anti-apartheid sanctions solidarity, until the point democracy was won in 1994. We learned then that the ability of a global movement to change structures of power can be formidable.

In coming months, getting the CJ house in order will include our making climate debt a stronger and more universal demand, with the opportunity to foreground many more heart-warming pilot projects of our allies in the Global South, such as those in Ecuador, in Namibia – or in the courageously reclaimed urban gardens of an impoverished Detroit once known mainly for building hedonistic autos.

So many people of the Global South are doing so many great things to protect, repair, regenerate and compensate – let’s name these as downpayments on the climate debt, fund them appropriately – and make demands on Northern governments to start chipping in – so we can finally build a low-carbon, post-capitalist, ecologically-sound society of the commons, on the foundations of these initial climate-creditor inspirations.

3 Responses to ““Loss & Damage” beyond charity, into solidarity, and suffused with Climate Justice?”

  1. […] By Patrick Bond, a political economist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Development Studies in Durban, South Africa, where since 2004 he has directed the Centre for Civil Society. Originally published at Triple Crisis. […]

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