Under the Paris Climate Accords, the world’s rich nations have pledged to provide $100-billion US per year to help undeveloped nations adapt to climate change. As well they should.
Rich countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan and much of western Europe, account for just 12 percent of the global population but are responsible for 50 percent of the greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels over the past 170 years. They are morally obliged to assist the undeveloped nations adapt to the problem that they have largely inflicted upon them.
But that’s money to prepare for the future. What about now? As we have seen spectacularly in Pakistan this summer, the horrors of climate change are being experienced today. Consider the little nation of Bhutan. It has contributed only trivially to climate change and its forests absorb more carbon dioxide than is emitted from all its cars and homes; nonetheless, it faces severe risks from rising temperatures with melting glaciers in the Himalayas already creating flash floods and mudslides that devastate villages.
Should the rich nations, the prime culprits, not be paying for the catastrophes that are already descending on rich and poor alike?
After all, not only are they overwhelmingly responsible for creating the problem, they continue to contribute disproportionally to it. The three most polluting peoples among the rich nations are Americans, Australians and, yes, Canadians. Each one of us is responsible for twice as many greenhouse gas emissions per capita as the average Chinese. Seven times as much as the average Indian.
Quite reasonably, the poor countries have asked for a separate fund, paid for by rich countries, to compensate them for the damages they are already experiencing. This issue is referred to as “loss and damage.” A.K. Abdul Momen, the foreign minister of Bangladesh has compared loss and damage to the way the United States government sued tobacco companies to recover billions of dollars in higher health care costs resulting from smoking cigarettes.
Wealthy countries have resisted the request, fearing that it could open the door to a flood of liability claims. The issue is expected to arise again at the UN Climate Summit to be held from 6 to 18 November in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
Denmark, to its credit, has risen to the challenge, directing more than $13-million to such a fund. Danish development minister Flemming Møller Mortensen said, “It is grossly unfair that the world’s poorest should suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, to which they have contributed the least.”
This makes Denmark the first member of the UN to accept this responsibility. (Scotland was actually the first government to pay up, but as part of the UK it isn’t a UN member.)
These two countries’ contributions are small but they set an important precedent. Their efforts will make the issue harder to ignore at the November summit and could lead to establishing a loss and damage fund as part of the Paris Agreement. One more step toward climate justice.