Should Rich Countries Compensate Poor Countries for Climate Change Damages?

There's optimism a climate change deal can be reached at UN conference in Peru.


Futuro Caliente

Lima, Peru – The 20th Conference of the Parties (COP-20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is about to shift into the high gear as the second week of negotiations takes off. The meeting has attracted delegates from 190 countries, as well as thousands of activists. Delegates take Sunday off as a day of rest from their planet-saving labors. So I went to see the Futuro Caliente (Future Hot) art project at the Parque de la Reserva. The massive walk-through installation consists mostly of bales of smashed cardboard stacked up to thirty feet high. This cardboard structure is adorned with plants growing in plastic bottles and streamers of colorful used plastic bags waving festively over it in the breeze (see photo above). I happened to be viewing the installation just as a group of activists marched in bedecked with palm fronds and other greenery signifying, well, their greenness, I guess (see photo below).

Peru Demonstration

According to the earnest explanatory literature, Futuro Caliente "proposes to find in a collective manner new alternatives for development, consumption, and living, taking the problem of climate change as an opportunity to put them into practice." While tempted, I did not hang around to watch the eco-porn "Fuck For Forest" documentary being shown at the site later in the evening. The FFF activists assert, "Saving the planet IS sexy! Why not get horny for a good cause?" No matter how you feel about forests, I'll just note that there are numerous other good causes in need of stimulus.

Futuro Caliente

The main goal of the COP-20 is to hammer out the outlines of some kind of international agreement on how to handle climate change that will be adopted at the COP-21 meeting in Paris in 2015. In contrast to many prior COPs, the crowd here seems to be fairly optimistic about the prospects of reaching an agreement that they would regard as significant. Their spirits are buoyed by the European Union's proposal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030. They are also heartened by the U.S.-China joint announcement on climate change last month. President Barack Obama pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent below their 2005 levels by 2025 and Chinese President Xi Jinping promised that his country's carbon dioxide emissions would peak by 2030. In addition, China later announced that its consumption of coal would peak before 2020.

Of course, the familiar inch-mile principle applies here, i.e., give activists several inches, they will then demand ten miles. "In Lima, the countries must agree on the long-term goal of phasing out fossil fuel emissions to zero by mid-century while moving towards 100 percent renewable energy for all in a fair transition period," argued Martin Kaiser, the head of the Greenpeace delegation, in a statement. This demand for total phase-out of fossil fuels is motivated, by among other things, the projections of computer climate models that suggest the pledged emissions targets are not enough to put the world on a track to keep average global temperatures from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. The 2 degree limit was set back in 2009 at the Copenhagen COP. The activists are pushing for an agreement in Paris that embraces procedures that will encourage countries to more rapidly phase out burning fossil fuels and ratchet down their greenhouse gas emissions as the years pass.

Climate activists here in Lima are also somewhat cheered by the fact that rich developed countries have pledged to fill the coffers of the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund (GCF) with $10 billion (the U.S. contribution is largest at $3 billion). The GCF funds are to be distributed to deserving poor country governments who claim to have been adversely impacted by climate change. The GCF amounts to system of climate change reparations. The theory is that rich countries got rich by polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, so they should compensate poor countries for the climate damages their historical emissions are now supposedly causing.

But again, for activists, $10 billion is far from enough. Back at the 2009 Copenhagen COP, the rich countries promised to "mobilize" $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change. In a press release, Greenpeace asserted, even if the world somehow did keep on the 2 degree Celsius temperature track, that transfers from rich countries aimed at helping poor countries to adapt to climate change should rise to $200 to $300 billion per year by 2050. Given a three percent annual growth rate, world GDP will very nearly triple over the next 35 years. Can Greenpeace or other groups really have any idea of how much money will allegedly be needed by some countries for adaptation to climate change in such a wealthier and more technologically adept world?

Tomorrow I begin covering the COP-20 in earnest. Look for my daily dispatches in which I report what governments, activists, and researchers are up to here in Lima.