The key to climate action could be debt cancellation


It should be pretty clear to everyone that solving the climate challenges of an overheated planet will require cooperation among all nations. It might be hard to imagine such a thing today, with lunatics running things in Brazil, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and in Russia, to name a few.

But think positive for a moment. If enough droughts and wildfires and famines occur, if enough cities sink under the waves and a few billion people die prematurely from excessive heat, maybe, just maybe, a will there be a feeling of collective necessity and will the nations agree to set aside petty jealousies and religious quarrels in order to prevent the planet from developing an inhospitable climate for human life. Hard to imagine? Of course, but work with me here.

George Monbiot, who seems to me perhaps the only sane person left on the planet, has a new idea. He says rich countries should cancel all the debt owed to them by what we blithely call ‘third world countries’, so instead of using the meager resources they have to pay off their creditors, they could use this money instead to invest in climate policies like clean energy technology and maybe some left over to feed their starving population.

Radical, I know. To understand it in detail, one would have to read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine fully understand how the major nations of the world have enslaved billions of people by imposing onerous burdens on them in the form of debts that they will never – not in a million years – be able to repay.

You can get a taste of what it’s like for these countries from Tennessee’s iconic song Ernie Ford 16 Tonsin which he recounts the hardships of a coal miner who loads coal all day only to find himself in even deeper debt when the sun goes down.

I’m not worthy of meddling in Monbiot’s carefully crafted prose, so I’m just going to share it with you to read for yourself. When you’re done reading, please share your reaction to his insights in the comments section.

There is a simple way to unite everyone behind climate justice – and it is within our power.

Canceling the historic debts of poor countries would allow their governments to channel money towards climate adaptation

By George Monbiot, Columnist for The Guardian. June 25, 2022

It has proven too easy to prevent people from uniting around the crucial issues of our time. Those who demand better wages and conditions for workers and justice for the poor have been pitted by demagogues and corporate lobbyists against those who demand a habitable planet.

For years, we have struggled with the question of how to overcome this divide and create a platform for social and environmental justice that could unite large numbers of people around the world. Only one thing was clear: any such campaign had to be led by activists from the poorest countries. Now, I believe, the breakthrough has arrived.

Developed by activists in some of the world’s most exploited countries, it’s a brilliant idea: simple yet systemic. Wealthy nations owe a huge climate debt to poorer nations: for the devastating effects of the fossil fuels we have burned. Yet they have no intention of paying for the losses and damages they have caused. Poor countries are known to owe massive financial debts to rich nations, but they cannot pay them without destroying their economies and ecosystems.

The proposal is to cancel climate and financial debts simultaneously, freeing up the money poorer countries need for climate action. Debt for the climatemobilizing labour, social and climate movements in 28 countries, will be launched by activists at the G7 summit in Germany, which begins on Sunday.

To better understand this proposition, let’s start with the debt of the poor world, today largely forgotten in the rich world. Powerful campaigns to undo it in the 1990s have all but disappeared from public view. It is not because the crisis has calmed down. Far from it: between 1990 and 2019, the external debt of the countries of the South (the poorest nations) increased on average from around 90% of their GDP to 170%. The pandemic has accelerated the crisis: 135 of the 148 poorest countries in the world are now classified as “severely indebted”.

Activists often speak of “odious debts”, that is, loans granted by dictatorships, which do not bring any benefit to the nation. But all the debts deemed owed by poor nations to the rich world and its corporations could be seen that way. The idea that the Global South, plundered and enslaved for centuries, owes its exploiters money is preposterous.

An analysis in the newspaper Global environmental change suggests that $10 trillion in value is extracted annually from the poorest countries by the richest, in the form of raw materials, energy, land and labour. That’s 70 times more money than it would take to end extreme poverty in the world. This extraction provides rich nations with a quarter of their GDP: much of our apparent wealth depends on exploitation.

Debt is imperialism by other means. This is the equivalent of the hut taxes imposed by the British in their African colonies. These taxes, often levied in currencies that Africans did not possess, forced them to surrender their resources or labor to colonial projects. Today, foreign debt forces nations to cede their assets to rich countries and multinational corporations.

For example, a Green New Deal report suggests that the debt was used by the World Bank as a way to force Senegal to allow American, Australian and British companies to exploit its oil and gas. In Argentina, the International Monetary Fund has reportedly pushed for the development of the giant Vaca Muerta shale gas basin, using similar leverage. Impoverished and debt-constrained, the poorest nations have no choice but to allow destructive industries to exploit them. Activists have a term for this: debt trap diplomacy.

It is not only extraction that these debts allow, but also austerity. A analysis by Oxfam suggests that 85% of Covid loans granted by the IMF to the poorest countries were linked to austerity programs: the fund uses the power of debt to push nations to reduce the wage bill and spend less on public services and support for the poor.

As the poorest nations must give up their wealth, they must also endure the climate crisis imposed by the rich. A analysis by Jason Hickel, in The Lancet Planetary Health, suggests that the former G8 countries are responsible for 85% of the CO2 emissions responsible for dangerous levels of heating. Yet the overwhelming majority of deaths caused by climate degradation occur in countries of the South. This represents a massive climate debt that cannot be expressed in financial terms alone.

Forced austerity and forced exploitation of fossil fuel reserves are common threads that could bring together climate and social justice campaigns everywhere. Debt for the climate proposes a global revolt against debt and austerity, linked to the prevention of climate breakdown.

It calls on the world’s poor governments to refuse to honor their debts and channel the money they would otherwise have had to pour into public services, climate adaptation and a just transition away from fossil fuels. He calls on rich world activists to demand debt cancellation and an end to austerity, both at home and abroad, as well as reparations for the devastating loss and damage caused by our greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse effect.

By reviving the question of who owes what to whom, huge constituencies – Labor and Green, North and South – can develop a common platform. Climate campaigns are inseparable from global justice. (Emphasis added.)


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