Naomi Klein on Climate Debt: Why Rich Countries Should Pay Reparations to Poor Countries for the Climate Crisis

With the Copenhagen climate summit in two weeks, best-selling journalist Naomi Klein examines the grass-roots movement behind the climate debate proposal that argues all the costs associated with adapting to a more hostile ecology—everything from building stronger sea walls to switching to cleaner, more expensive technologies—are the responsibility of the countries that created the crisis. Klein also discusses the 10th anniversary of the Seattle WTO protests and the 10th anniversary of her first book, “No Logo.”

Amy Goodman:
We turn to the best-selling author of the “Shock Doctrine.” Yes, independent journalist Naomi Klein joining us from Toronto, Canada to talk about the latest shocks to the economy and with the climate summit in Copenhagen just two weeks away, the coming together of a global movement for climate justice. She is just out with the 10th anniversary edition of her first book, the international bestseller “No Logo.” And her latest articles include “Climate Rage,” for Rolling Stone Magazine, and “Copenhagen, Seattle Grows Up,” for The Nation. Naomi Klein, Welcome to “Democracy Now!” Let’s begin with the issue of climate change and as you put it, climate rage. Tell us what is happening.

Naomi Klein:
That piece in Rolling Stone is looking at a growing demand for the repayment of climate debt. This is really a relatively new framing for the climate crisis and is becoming predominantly from the developing world, led by the government of Bolivia and other Latin American governments, and it has been joined by the coalition of least developed countries which are primarily in Africa. And essentially what they’re saying is that the climate crisis as we know was created in the industrialized world. There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what we call development) and carbon emissions. In fact, 75% of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20% of the world’s population. Then we have this cruel geographical irony, which is that the effects of climate change our felt overwhelmingly in the developing world, and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis. According to the World Bank, 75-80 of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world. So, you have this inverse relationship between cause and effect.

It is in this context that we see a growing movement from the developing countries that really are on the front lines of climate change, saying that the rich world that created the climate crisis owes them a debt, owes them a tangible reparations for the creation of this crisis. And those reparations should be paid in three forms. First through deep emissions cuts in the developed world, in the rich world. At least 40% below 1990 levels- this is a figure we have heard a lot. In addition to this, they are saying the rich world, the G-8 countries, the industrialized countries, should pay for the costs, the huge costs, that poor countries face in adapting to climate change. In addition to that, they’re also saying that they would like to leapfrog over the dirty energies, the fossil fuels that are fueling the climate crisis. But they point out that this is expensive and more expensive to shift to cleaner green technology than it is to develop with cheap, dirty fuels, which is the way we did in the rich world. So, they are saying we will change, but we don’t think we should have to pay this additional cost because of our problem that is not of our creation. Essentially the climate debt arguments is the “polluter pays” argument, which is a familiar argument to people in the United States, its a basic principle of jurisprudence. Another way of putting this is “you broke it, you bought it”.

Amy Goodman:
Talk specifically about the countries that are raising these concerns and saying we shouldn’t have to pay. For example in Africa.

Naomi Klein:
Well, the African Union, the coalition of African states, have been very clear that their primary demand out of Copenhagen are these deep emissions cuts and serious funding for adaptation to climate change. In eastern Africa right now, you have massive, you have serious droughts affecting millions of people. That is just one example of the kind of costs that are being incurred because of climate change already. So, we’re not talking about projecting into the future, some hypothetical future, we are talking about right now.

The main push, as I said, is actually coming from Bolivia. And Bolivia has an extraordinary climate negotiator, who I quote in the Rolling Stone piece, named Angelica Navarro, who I first met in Geneva. She was actually Bolivia’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization. She’s very clear, very tough, multilingual. It takes a lot of strength to stand up to the sort of pressure that a small country like Bolivia faces, whether at the World Trade Organization or now in the climate negotiations. And Angelica Navarro is really up to the task and she has been giving these really inspiring speeches, at summits in the lead up to Copenhagen. And has really been an galvanizing force for other developing countries.

But also, you know she is taking a demand that is coming from groups like the third World Network, Focus on the Global South, Jubilee South, coalitions of NGOs and climate justice groups, that have been making these demands on the outside of summits. But, what is interesting now is that these demands have entered inside the summit, they are at the negotiating table. And of course there is extraordinary resistance from the United States, and the European Union, Canada, Australia, to the idea that they shouldn’t just be giving money to the developing world to adapt to climate change, to deal with climate change, out of the goodness of our hearts, out of a sense of charity, but actually out of a legal obligation. This is a frightening concept as you can imagine.

Amy Goodman:
Naomi Klein –

Naomi Klein:
The case for this is very strong, just to add.

Amy Goodman:
Last week, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rejected widespread predictions that the summit in Copenhagen would be a failure.


Ban Ki-Moon:
Reading the latest news reports, however, you might think Copenhagen is destined to be a disappointment. That is wrong. To the contrary, we can, and I believe we can and we will reach a deal in Copenhagen that sets the stage for a binding treaty as soon as possible.

Amy Goodman: Your response to what Ban Ki-Moon is saying?

Naomi Klein:
Well, the problem is the definition of success in Copenhagen has been lowered and lowered. A few months ago the definition of success in Copenhagen was countries agreeing to lower emissions, to levels that climate scientists were demanding. And the science is very clear that we really do need cuts of 40% below 1990 levels. The other definition of success was rich countries coming to the table with levels of funding for the developing world that once again meet the actual need. And we know what those types of figures are. The World Bank for instance has estimated the cost faced by developing countries to simply adapt to a changing climate dealing with droughts, dealing with increased flooding, is $100 billion a year. The cost of leapfrogging over those dirty energies, as I was saying earlier, that’s $500 billion-$600 billion a year. That’s a figure from independent UN researchers. But now what we hearing from the UN is there hope for Copenhagen is that they can get developed countries, rich countries, to agree to $10 billion a year.

So Amy, they will turn around and say that is a success, but it is simply not a success. So, the definition of success is just been pushed lower and lower. And this is really a troubling issue, and it an issue that a lot of environmentalists, climate justice activists are going to have to confront. Because, with an issue like climate change, urgency matters, maintaining a sense of urgency in the face of this crisis really matters. So, there is a danger, a very real danger of creating an illusion of doing something about the problem in Copenhagen. You know, having Obama go make another terrific speech which he is very good at, claiming it is a breakthrough that the U.S. is talking about emission cuts of between, now they are saying 14-20 below 2005 levels, which is just absurd, it has nothing to do with the science. And then this $10 billion a year figure, which once again there such a huge gap between that figure, and the lowest possible figure that we’re hearing from the World Bank which is $100 billion.

So, we have to be very careful about what is called success, because if you turn around and say “It is a success to have U.S. commit to 14% cut from 2005 levels,” and a throwing a couple billion dollars a year out of the goodness of their hearts while still recognizing historical responsibility, then you lose some of this crucial urgency, in confronting this crisis. So, I think is very important for the climate justice movement not to allow politicians to pass off the failure as success.

Amy Goodman: Naomi Klein, the issue of President Obama going. He’s going to be in the region, he’s going to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. He also just recently was in Copenhagen. He was there to push for Chicago to get the Olympics. But, he has not said he is going, although 65 world leaders have. The top three carbon polluters, the U.S., China and India, have not said they will attend the meeting. Your response?

Naomi Klein: Well, you know John Kerry is publicly calling on Obama to go and I think now that that is happened, my assumption is Obama will go. I do not think Kerry would be saying this if it was not already pretty much decided that he will go. And I think this whole process of lowering the definition of success, so essentially failure can be passed off as success, is really, much of it is about creating conditions for Obama to go and claim that failure is success. So, frankly, I think he will go, but I do not think we should allow that to be a definition of success.

Amy Goodman:
Now of course we will be there, “Democracy Now!” will be there in force, en masse, to cover what is happening for the two weeks. We will be covering what is happening at the summit and we will be covering what is happening in the streets. Naomi, it is the 10th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the protests in Seattle, Washington. I’m going to be there in a few days and there’s a lot of conversation about what that has meant. But, before we go to break and talk about this 10 years later, talks specifically about what is planned for Copenhagen in the streets.

Naomi Klein: Well, the latest column I wrote for “The Nation,” is about this line that you can draw from Seattle to Copenhagen. I call the column “Seattle Grows Up,” because I think we’re also seeing an evolution of a movement that can to world attention on the streets of Seattle. I think there has been a profound deepening of the coalition between groups that are primarily focused on poverty, on development, on debt, and environmental groups that have traditionally been focused on environmental issues. We saw that in Seattle, the beginnings of that coalition, with the famous “Teamsters and Turtles” coalition. Now we are seeing something much deeper.

It is this idea of climate debt that is bringing together groups, like I was saying, Jubilee South, like Action Aid, groups that have been mostly focused on anti-poverty and development and are now are seeing climate change as the single greatest barrier to human development around the world, but also seen the call for climate reparation as an opportunity for, to quote Angelica Navarro, Bolivia’s ambassador to the climate negotiations, who I was talking about earlier, when she talks about the need for the developing world- developed world to pay our climate debt, she says if this happened and we would have a Marshall Plan for planet earth, which is a very exciting prospect because it means you have the opportunity to tackle simultaneously two of humanities most intransigent challenges, most intransigent problems, climate debt on the one hand, and inequality on the other. So, the bringing together of these two forces. That is what’s going to be really, really exciting in Copenhagen. And a lot of the people, a lot of networks that grew out of Seattle are going to be activated in Copenhagen and have only grown stronger in recent years.

Amy Goodman: When we will come back, we’ll talk about ten years after the Battle of Seattle protest overall, its also the 10th anniversary of the release of your book “No Logo”, I want to talk about “world branding”. This is “Democracy Now!,” Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re on the road in Medford, Oregon and will soon be in Seattle. Stay with us.