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Reparation day

By Kellie Tranter - posted Wednesday, 16 December 2009

It’s really no surprise that that a major split has occurred between developing countries at the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen over the best way to help the most vulnerable countries, or that developing countries reacted furiously to the leaked draft agreement that would hand more power to rich nations, sideline the UN's negotiating role and abandon the Kyoto protocol.

Having been on the receiving end of Western sneakiness and greed for so long, it’s only natural that those countries should be hypersensitive to revelations of the existence of such documents. To them, the “deals” that those documents evidence signal that nothing has changed, is changing or will change.

The developing countries are well aware that the The World Bank is providing loans, not grants, to finance adaptation to climate change. Presumably, before pledging $150 million of our money to the World Bank, the Rudd Government not only checked the terms and conditions attaching to “loans” being offered to the poorest and most vulnerable nations but also sought specific details as to whom, for what purpose and for how much the loans are being extended?


Developing countries are also aware that some Western countries are using their aid budgets to pay for climate change adaptation in the developing world instead of making grants for adaptation on top of their aid budgets.

And as for the “REDD scheme” - which has been enthusiastically embraced by Western countries and excited the banksters - the People’s Peat Management Alliance issued a statement produced during the UN negotiations in Bonn in June 2009 which “... calls on the UNFCCC to halt climate change negotiations which dress up resource exploitation projects as conservation and which force countries like Indonesia into a new kind of ‘conservation colonialism’ ...” Again, before it pledged $200 million of taxpayer money to the International Forest Carbon Initiative, the Rudd Government presumably was aware of the deficiencies associated with this market driven scheme and the concerns that poor and vulnerable countries continue to raise.

On a background of such shifty arrangements it’s easy to see why, from so early on in the negotiations at Copenhagen, there has been a split into what seems to be two “camps”: those in the rich camp (perhaps more aptly called “the exploiters”) and those in the poor (“the exploited”).

But what I find bemusing is that the Western leaders have failed to see the poorer countries mobilising. They’ve seen, suffered the consequences and grown tired of the exploiter’s sleight of hand. Western leaders have yet to understand that their countries’ own wealth and power - which they are trying so desperately to preserve and protect - to a large extent only exists because of their exploitation of the resources of poorer countries. Those countries aren’t taking kindly to our failure to accept full responsibility for the environmental problems we have created, and they are becoming more outspoken. We shouldn’t be surprised if they follow strong words with action, should their protests go unheeded.

And who can blame them when about 75 to 80 per cent of the damage caused by global warming will be suffered by developing countries, even though they contribute only about one-third of greenhouse gases? What choice have we left them? Is there any wonder that a “trust gap” has emerged?

In September we saw the Declaration of the Africa People's Movement on Climate Change. It rejects the principle and application of carbon trading, which as a false solution based on inventing a perverse property right to pollute. The Declaration has some interesting and sensible initiatives: demands that human rights and values be placed at the centre of all global, national and regional solutions to the problem of climate change; and calls on colleagues in the social and economic justice movement globally to rigorously campaign against the undemocratic corporate led agendas which will dominate the deliberations and processes at COP 15.


The call to action isn’t limited to what the big end of town would have demonised as “greenies” or “radicals”. We have also seen recent reports that:

... The reparations movement has brought together a diverse coalition of big international organizations, from Friends of the Earth to the World Council of Churches, that have joined up with climate scientists and political economists, many of them linked to the influential Third World Network, which has been leading the call. Until recently, however, there was no government pushing for climate debt to be included in the Copenhagen agreement. That changed in June, when Angelica Navarro, the chief climate negotiator for Bolivia, took the podium at a U.N. climate negotiation in Bonn, Germany ...

The speech galvanized activists across the world. In recent months, the governments of Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Paraguay and Malaysia have endorsed the concept of climate debt. More than 240 environmental and development organizations have signed a statement calling for wealthy nations to pay their climate debt, and 49 of the world's least-developed countries will take the demand to Copenhagen as a negotiating bloc ...

Naturally the Southern People´s Ecological Debt Creditors Alliance support the demand of Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala, Cuba, Belize, Dominica, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Antigua and Barbados, Sri Lanka and Malaysia for inclusion within international agreements from the 15th United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark (COP15) the recognition and integral reparation of the ecological debt due to climate change that is owed to countries in the global south by countries in the global north.

What’s Australia’s approach to issues like these? No doubt Australia will be in lockstep with the “Umbrella Group” in resisting any atonement calls. But does Minister Penny Wong really expect the nations most affected by climate change -those with little or nothing, struggling to survive through no fault of their own - to swallow lines like, “We’ve got to move away from blame shifting and finger pointing … there’s a whole range of sticking points.”

It’s always the guilty, particularly those who retain the proceeds of their crimes, who are first to suggest “moving on” and last to recognise that past injustices need to be acknowledged and rectified before the victims can move on. And apart from questions of justice, where is her compassion and empathy?

Western countries must realise that you cannot negotiate survival. There’s no common ground. There are core conflicts polarising the people at Copenhagen, and the position of nations living with the effects of climate change every day is unlikely to be intractable. For them it’s really all or nothing because in reality they’ve got little or nothing left to lose.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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