"We demand the enforcement of the payment of climate debt"

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Document approved by the working group on Climate Debt, during the World Conference of Peoples on Climate Change and the Rights of mother Earth, Bolivia, April 2010

1. Climate Debt Concept

Climate debt is an obligation of compensation that is generated because of the damage done to Mother Earth by the irrational emissions of greenhouse gases. The primary responsible for these irrational emissions are the so-called “developed countries.” inhabited by only 20% of the world population, and which emitted 75% of historical emissions of greenhouse gases.

These states, which stimulated the capitalist development model, are responsible for climate debt, but we shouldn’t forget that within these states, there live poor and indigenous peoples which are also affected by this debt.

The most affected are the poorest developing countries, future generations and our Mother Earth.The colonization of atmospheric space has produced climate change, which poses a serious threat to the islands, coastal areas, glaciers in the Himalayas, the Andes and the mountains of the world, the poles of the earth, hot regions like Africa, water sources, growing natural disaster—affected populations, plants and animals, and ecosystems in general, generating climate debt.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recognizes that obligation by affirming that developed countries are historically responsible for those emissions, and in sustaining that they should take the initiative to combat climate change. This fact is expressed in the existence of the Kyoto Protocol, under which countries obligated to reduce greenhouse gases are the developed countries listed in Annex 1 of the Convention.

2. Climate Debt Components

The responsibility for the climate debt of each developed country is established in relation to the level of emissions, taking into account the historically emitted amount of tons of carbon per capita.

a. Emissions Debt We understand as the emissions debt the over-use of space atmospheric by greenhouse gases pollution by developed countries, taking into account the equal rights of all countries in the world to have access to the use and enjoyment of atmospheric space. Developed countries must compensate as follows:

  • They are required to reduce high concentrations of greenhouse gases they caused,
  • They also have to reduce their emissions and absorb greenhouse gases,
  • They must ensure a space for development for poor countries.

We express our rejection of the fact that developed countries decide to choose freely how deep cuts they intend to do, as proposed in the Copenhagen Accord.

b. Development Debt Developing countries are entitled to the same opportunities for development, to provide basic services to the entire population, and a degree of industrialization which allows the country’s economic independence; But this development must not harm the environment and atmosphere. To achieve this development within a highly restricted access to the atmospheric space, they need access to all technologies -according to their worldview — for the development and funding required for it implementation. Among the technologies we require are: recycling of waste materials, improvement of traditional techniques with new technologies, access to clean energy sources— solar, wind and biogas digesters, forms of protection against natural disasters, research into vaccines and medicines diseases enhanced by climate change, among others.

c. Adaptation Debt The impacts of climate change make the rain loose its seasonality, loss of fresh water sources, increased hail, frost, droughts, floods. They decrease crop and livestock production. The population is suffering from an increase in various diseases. These impacts have many implications on economical and development level, wherefore those who caused the climate crisis have the responsibility to compensate all damages, through: investing (with funding and technology) in the prevention of major impacts, full compensation for the negative impacts that actually happen and compensating opportunity costs, which involve the deviation of development funds, among others.

d. Migration Debt Due to climate impacts, millions of people find their own land uninhabitable, converting them into climate migrants. The compensation of the migration debt implies that the so called ‘developed’ countries must drop its restrictive migration policies, receiving them in their countries with dignity, and recognition of their human rights and cultural rights.

e. Debt to Mother Earth The debt to Mother Earth is impossible to compensate completely, because the atrocities committed by humanity have been too terrible. However, the minimum compensation of this debt consists in:

  • recognition of the damage done,
  • the restoration of harmony with Mother Earth
  • the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Mother Earth’s Rights, to ensure that the same abuses will never be repeated in future.This is to ensure that capitalism and the drive for profit does not contravene the ultimate interests of Mother Earth and the peoples of the world.

3. How Can Debt Be Compensated?

Compensation for climate debt is to be done through multiple ways, which complement each other. Indispensible minimal elements are:

  • The re-absorption and cleaning the atmosphere by developed countries.
  • Payment in technology (eliminating patents) and in knowledge according to our worldview for both clean development and for adaptation to developing countries.
  • Financing.
  • Changes in immigration laws that allow us to offer a new home for all climate migrants.
  • The adoption of the Declaration on the Mother Earth’s Rights.In addition we need to work on the structural causes that caused the climate debt, providing education for children, political awareness, and respect for Mother Earth.

Climate debt is part of a larger ecological debt, which in addition to gas emissions includes all environmental damages that were made in developing countries for the benefit of developed countries.

4 . Strategies to Ensure Climate Debt Compensation

To ensure full compliance with the climate debt are needed:

  • The establishment of an international body that determines the responsibilities of polluter countries
  • The creation of an International Tribunal for Climate Justice, impartial, which has jurisdiction in cases of default of repayment of the debt
    • To encourage a research study the responsibilities of climate change, determining the climate debt
    • To promote international awareness that the fulfilment of the climate debt is an obligation on the part of developed countries, and is not aid granted us.


  • We hold the capitalist system and the developed capitalist countries as the main cause of climate change generated climate debt.
  • From this pre-conference we demand the enforcement of the payment of climate debt.
  • We, who live in harmony with Mother Earth, and we are her main defenders; from here we call on all humanity to join the struggle for the preservation of life.


  • For a compelling opposing viewpoint, take a look at an article by David Korten, “Debt vs Localization Climate Justice in the New Economy”, which is accessible here: http://www.countercurrents.org/korten140510.htm

    Here’s an excerpt that gets to the heart of Korten’s argument:

    The climate debt approach calculates the economic cost, for poor people in poor countries, of the climate disruptions caused by profligate consumption in rich countries and demands compensating financial payment. The moral case is clear and unassailable, but by framing both the problem and the solution in financial terms, it embraces an Old Economy frame in which money is the defining value, power is conceded to those who control money’s creation and allocation, and the remediation of environmental damage is simply a financial issue.

    The foreign aid system within which I worked for some 30 years used the same Old Economy frame. In the name of helping the poor, that system consistently fed corruption as it transferred money from the poor of rich countries to the rich of poor countries. That money often supported aid projects that in fact transferred control of land and water resources to the relatively more wealthy—resources from which the poor traditionally derived their livelihoods. Rather than helping to balance the scales, this process accelerated the social and environmental destruction at the heart of current concerns about climate justice.
    Well intentioned though the climate debt solution may be, there is no reason to believe that a program of financial reparations from the global North to the global South will play out differently than the past 60-plus years of foreign aid. In itself, it will do nothing to redistribute wealth from rich to poor or to change the institutions and behaviors responsible for the climate crisis.

    In contrast, by focusing on the local control and sustainable beneficial use of Earth’s real resources, the localization perspective embraces the New Economy frame. It recognizes life, rather than money, as the defining value. It recognizes that the locus of power and leadership initiative must reside with local people engaged in stewarding Earth’s resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their children for generations to come. They know the devastating consequences of the Old Economy from their everyday experience. They have the needed moral authority, the political power of numbers, and the necessary local knowledge.

  • so, the idea is for the neo-liberal governments of the global North, currently waging a war of imposed austerity against their own populations to send billions of dollars to the pro-development governments of the global South. Brilliant. No problem there a all. Unless you think continuing with the same economic system and same growth at all costs mentality is the actual problem, and that governments have bugger all to do with any real solution….

  • Korten’s argument rests on his core belief that “We can change the human course by changing the framing stories of our dominant culture” and that institutional change will follow naturally through “conversations that make public the transformative inner wisdom we possess as individuals.” (http://www.davidkorten.org/) He wants to find “Great Turning Navigators who are working to turn the culture by changing its framing stories.”

    Interesting, but not likely to appeal to people whose lives are being destroyed by imperialism, not by mystical stories, and who are not going to wait for help from condescending saviours and Great Turning Navigators.

    For a perspective that recognizes we will only win through political struggle, not personal contemplation, see: Climate debt as a subversive political strategy.

  • Actually there is a free lunch; the imperialist countries have been eating the lunch of the global south for centuries. This is what gives rise to what you dismiss so glibly as the “so-called climate debt”.

    And you don’t have to invoke the Soviet Union; the imperialist countries of today are controlling the economies of their client states and dictating to them, through “structural adjustment” programs, how they are to spend money that is loaned to them by the IMF and the World Bank.

    That’s why the climate debt should be enforced with no “strings attached”. We’ll see how “gladly” the imperialists comply with their obligation!

  • The countries of the West which will pay this climate debt will gladly pay the money. However, as part of the Copenhagen treaty and part of every climate treaty in the future, there will be strings attched to the money. There is no free lunch. Do you really want the West telling counries how to live their lives and controlling their economy, simply in exchange for the so-called climate debt? This is exactly like the old Soviet system, where Moscow paid billions to satelite countries in exhange for their obedience.