Pakistan’s catastrophic floods have led to renewed calls for rich polluting nations that grew their economies through heavy use of fossil fuels to compensate developing countries for the devastating impacts caused by the climate crisis.
The currently favoured term for this concept is “loss and damage” payments, but some campaigners want to go further and frame the issue as “climate reparations”.
Beyond the tougher vocabulary, green groups also call for debt cancellation for cash-strapped nations that are forced to spend huge portions of their budgets servicing external loans rather than devoting the funds to increasing resilience for a rapidly changing planet.
“There’s a historical precedent of not just the Industrial Revolution that led to increased emissions and carbon pollution, but also the history of colonialism and the history of extraction of resources, wealth and labour,” said Belgium-based climate activist Meera Ghani.
“The climate crisis is a manifestation of interlocking systems of oppression, and it’s a form of colonialism,” said Ghani, a former climate negotiator for Pakistan.
These arguments go back decades and were first presented by small island nations susceptible to rising sea levels – but momentum is building again on the back of this summer’s catastrophic inundations in Pakistan, driven by unprecedented monsoon rains.
Nearly 1,600 were killed, several million displaced, and the cash-strapped government estimates losses in the region of $30bn.
Campaigners point to the fact that the most climate-vulnerable countries in the Global South are the least responsible. Pakistan, for instance, produces less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as opposed to the G20 countries that account for 80 percent.
The international climate response currently involves a two-pronged approach: “mitigation” – which means reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases – and “adaptation,” which means steps to alter systems and improve infrastructure for changes that are already locked in.
In 2009, the world’s advanced economies agreed to channel $100bn to less-developed countries by the year 2020 – a promise that was broken – even as much of the funding that was mobilised came in the form of loans.