From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Climate reparation
Mains level : Read the attached story
Facing the worst flooding disaster in its history, Pakistan has begun demanding reparations, or compensation, from the rich countries that are mainly responsible for causing climate change.
Why in news?
- On the face of it, Pakistan’s demand for reparations appears to be a long shot, but the principles being invoked are fairly well-established in environmental jurisprudence.
- In fact, Pakistan is not alone in making this demand.
- Almost the entire developing world has for years been insisting on setting up an international mechanism for financial reparation for loss and damage caused by climate disasters.
- The issue has come up repeatedly at international negotiations for climate change, and on other platforms.
What is Climate Reparation?
- At its heart, the demand for compensation for loss and damage from climate disasters is an extension of the universally acknowledged “Polluter Pays” principle.
- This makes the polluter liable for paying not just for the cost of remedial action, but also for compensating the victims of environmental damage caused by their actions.
- Climate justice is based on the notion of not being punished for someone else’s bad behaviour, but it does not sanction additional bad behaviour.
Who are responsible for climate change?
- In the climate change framework, the burden of responsibility falls on those rich countries that have contributed most of the greenhouse gas emissions since 1850, generally considered to be the beginning of the industrial age.
- The United States and the European Union, including the UK, account for over 50% of all emissions during this time.
- If Russia, Canada, Japan, and Australia too are included, the combined contribution goes past 65%, or almost two-thirds of all emissions.
- Historical responsibility is important because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and it is the cumulative accumulation of carbon dioxide that causes global warming.
What about developing countries?
- A country like India, currently the third largest emitter, accounts for only 3% of historical emissions.
- China, which is the world’s biggest emitter for over 15 years now, has contributed about 11% to total emissions since 1850.
Why need climate reparations?
- While the impact of climate change is global, it is much more severe on the poorer nations because of their geographical locations and weaker capacity to cope.
- Countries that have had negligible contributions to historical emissions and have severe limitations of resources are the ones that face the most devastating impacts of climate change.
Institutional mechanism for Climate Reparations
(1) United Nations
- The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 1994 international agreement that lays down the broad principles of the global effort to fight climate change.
- It explicitly acknowledges this differentiated responsibility of nations.
- It makes it very clear that rich countries must provide both the finance and the technology to the developing nations to help them tackle climate change.
- It is this mandate that later evolved into the $100 billion amount that the rich countries agreed to provide every year to the developing world.
- While this promise is yet to be met, this $100 billion per year amount is not meant for loss and damage.
- Climate disasters were not a regular occurrence in 1994, and as such the UNFCCC does not make a mention of loss and damage.
- This particular demand emerged much later, and faced stiff resistance from the developed nations.
(2) Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM)
- The WIM for Loss and Damages, set up in 2013, was the first formal acknowledgment of the need to compensate developing countries struck by climate disasters.
- However, the progress on this front has been painfully slow.
- No funding mechanism, or even a promise to provide funds, has come about.
Pushback from Developed Countries
- It is not hard to understand why the developed countries are dead against compensation claims.
- They are struggling to put together even the $100 billion per year flow that they had reluctantly agreed to provide.
- Further, loss and damage claims can easily spiral into billions of dollars, or even more.
- The report said that the United States alone is estimated to have “inflicted more than $1.9 trillion in damages to other countries” due to its emissions.
Issues with loss assessment
- There are practical difficulties in estimating how much a country has actually suffered due to the actions of others.
- To begin with, it has to be established that the disaster was caused by climate change.
- Then there are non-economic losses as well, including loss of lives, displacement and migration, health impacts, and damage to cultural heritage.
- Then there is this other step about assessing how much of the losses are due to the event itself, and what could be attributed to misgovernance.
- A lot of background work is going on to create the framework in which it would be possible to quantify the compensation due to an affected country.
- What Pakistan has done, through its demands for reparations, is to call attention to this often neglected aspect.