No matter the aid, no matter the loans: reparations are owed to poor nations | Georges monbiot


TThe history of the past 500 years can be roughly summarized as follows. A handful of European nations, who mastered both the art of violence and cutting-edge maritime technology, have used these powers to invade other territories and take over their lands, labor and resources.

The competition for control of the lands of others has led to repeated wars between the colonizing nations. New doctrines – racial categorization, ethnic superiority, and a moral duty to “save” others from their “barbarism” and “depravity” – have been developed to justify violence. These doctrines in turn led to genocide.

Labor, land and stolen goods were used by some European nations to fuel their industrial revolutions. To handle the dramatically increased scope and scale of transactions, new financial systems were put in place that came to dominate their own economies. The European elites allowed just enough of the plundered wealth to trickle down to their labor forces to seek to prevent revolution – with success in Britain, without success elsewhere.

Finally, the impact of repeated wars, coupled with the insurgencies of colonized peoples, forced rich nations to leave most of the land they had seized, at least formally. These territories sought to establish themselves as independent nations. But their independence has never been more than partial. Using international debt, structural adjustment, coups, corruption (aided by offshore tax havens and secrecy regimes), transfer pricing and other smart instruments, rich nations have continued to plunder the poor, often through the mandatory governments they installed and armed.

Unconsciously at first, then with the full knowledge of the authors, industrial revolutions released waste into Earth’s systems. At first, the most extreme impacts were felt in wealthy nations, whose urban air and rivers were poisoned, shortening the lives of the poor. The rich retreated to places they had not ransacked. Later, the rich countries discovered that they no longer needed chimney industries: thanks to finance and affiliates, they could reap the wealth produced by dirty business abroad.

Some of the pollutants were both invisible and global. Among them was carbon dioxide, which did not disperse but accumulated in the atmosphere. Partly because most wealthy nations are temperate, and partly because of the extreme poverty in former colonies caused by centuries of plundering, the effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the felt most by those who have benefited the least from their production. While the Glasgow talks are not to be seen as just another variety of oppression, climate justice should be at the heart of their concerns.

The wealthy nations, always anxious to position themselves as saviors, have pledged to help their former colonies adjust to the chaos they have caused. Since 2009, these rich countries have pledged $ 100 billion (£ 75 billion) a year to the poorest in the form of climate finance. Even if that money had materialized, it would have been a stingy token. By comparison, since 2015, G20 countries have spent $ 3.3 billion to subsidize their fossil fuel industries. Needless to say, they broke their miserable promise.

In the last year for which we have numbers, 2019, they provided $ 80 billion. Of that amount, only $ 20 billion has been earmarked for “adaptation”: helping people adjust to the chaos we have imposed on them. And only about 7% of that stingy handout went to the poorest countries that need the money the most.

Instead, the richer nations have invested money to prevent people fleeing climate change and other disasters. Between 2013 and 2018, the UK spent almost twice as much on sealing its borders as it did on climate finance. The United States spent 11 times, Australia 13 times, and Canada 15 times more. Collectively, rich nations surround themselves with a climate wall, to exclude victims from their own waste.

But the climate finance farce doesn’t stop there. Most of the money rich countries claim to provide comes in the form of loans. Oxfam estimates that since most of it will have to be repaid with interest, the true value of the money provided is around one-third of the face amount. Heavily indebted nations are encouraged to accumulate more debt to finance their adaptation to the disasters we have caused. It is terribly, outrageously unfair.

No matter the help, no matter the loans; what rich nations owe the poor are reparations. Much of the damage caused by climate degradation mocks the idea of ​​adaptation: How can people adapt to temperatures above those the human body can withstand? repeated and devastating cyclones that destroy homes as soon as they are rebuilt; to the drowning of entire archipelagos; to the drying up of vast tracts of land, making agriculture impossible? But while the concept of irreparable “loss and damage” was recognized in the Paris agreement, rich countries insisted that it “does not imply or provide the basis for any liability or compensation”.

By presenting the paltry sum they offer as a gift rather than compensation, the states which have contributed the most to this catastrophe can position themselves, in the purest colonial style, as the heroes who will melt down and save the world: c ‘was the thrust of Boris Johnson’s opening speech, invoking James Bond, in Glasgow:’ We have the ideas. We have the technology. We have the bankers.

But the victims of the exploitation of the rich world don’t need James Bond or other white saviors. They don’t need Johnson’s pose. They don’t need his stone-to-gun charity, or the deadly embrace of the bankers who fund his party. They need to be heard. And they need justice.


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