“Loss & Damage” Beyond Charity, into Solidarity, and Suffused with Climate Justice?i

By Patrick Bond, a political economist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Development Studies in Durban, South Africa, where since 2004 he has directed the Centre for Civil Society. Originally published at Triple Crisis.

An important article about one facet of the Warsaw Conference of Polluters 19, “Loss & Damage”, was published last week in The Star (Malasia) by the very highly-regarded political-ecologist/economist [and regular TCB blogger] Martin Khor (New climate deal on loss and damage). As always, the South Centre and Third World Network provide invaluable information, and Martin has taught me incalculable amounts since we first met in Johannesburg in 1990.

Good reading. Yet from the outset I must propose, with full respect, that Martin is absolutely wrong here: “There were two other pieces of good news – the adoption of a programme for reducing emissions from forest-related activities (known as REDD-plus) and pledges from developed countries up to US$100 million for the adaptation fund whose resources had dried up after the drastic fall in carbon prices.”

The March 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis witnessed the establishment of a No-REDD-in-Africa network, which was extended at a conference in Maputo hosted by Justica Ambiental in September: http://www.redd-monitor.org/2013/09/25/no-redd-in-africa-network-maputo-statement-redd-does-not-reduce-emissions-redd-does-not-halt-deforestation/. The activists there, and in many other countries suffering REDD attacks, will be surprised to hear that UN confirmation of REDD+ is ‘good news’.

Furthermore, a paltry $100 million for adaptation is tokenistic; it won’t buy diddly squat compared to the insulation required. Consider the costs for for climate-proofing even just a small island, beachfront strip and port in the US, as estimated by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg: $20 billion (http://news.msn.com/world/how-do-you-make-a-city-climate-proof).

Second, Martin reports, “With the new mechanism, a burst of pent-up energy, organisation and eventually funds is expected, inside the framework of the Climate Convention, and to complement the work of other agencies.”

Not to mince words: to me this sounds seriously over-optimistic, especially given what we have learned from the hope, time and energy that so many have invested – and mainly wasted, it seems to me – in the (near-empty) Green Climate Fund’s start-up. Not to mention the awful history of a corrupted Northern aid industry and the ongoing abuse of North-South funding by militarists, corporations, neoliberal ideologues, opportunistic NGOs, repressive Southern state elites and wasteful bureaucrats.

There are three much more appropriate kinds of Loss & Damage news to consider, I’d argue. First of all, last Thursday, delegates from 133 countries staged a COP19 walk-out over Northern recalcitrance on this issue. Call it theatre, but that act did, at least, have a useful impact in delegitimising the rich countries in the eyes of those watching, across the world. Perhaps that move even shifted power balances sufficiently, in subsequent hours, to advance the idea of Loss & Damage beyond its mere mention in Doha at the COP18 in 2012.

To really shift power, of course, we need much stronger tools than walk-outs; ultimately we’ll need to establish sanctions against regimes that refuse to cut emissions appropriately and pay their climate debt: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=11065&updaterx=2013-11-22+13%3A59%3A51

Indeed, second, there remains a debilitating problem Martin should have explored (as he often does so well): climate-debt default on the part of the primary historic scofflaw, the ever-obnoxious Washington elite. The US Empire simply refuses to acknowledge its legal liability for climate debt. Just as at every COP, the US State Department’s thugs came to Warsaw hell-bent on sabotage of anything useful, especially Loss & Damage: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/u-s-fights-g77-on-most-counts-at-climate-meet-leaked-doc-shows/

It’s as if Washington has taken Houston-based Chevron’s strategy to heart. When faced with its Texaco-era, court-ordered liability of $19 billion for ruining large chunks of northern Ecuador’s Amazon with oil spills (http://ens-newswire.com/2012/08/06/chevron-faces-midnight-deadline-in-19-billion-ecuador-judgment/), Chevron countersued the victims (http://justiceforecuador.com/news/mientras-ellos-hablan-de-oil-money-el-mundo-habla-de-justicia-para-ecuador/?lang=en).

Confronted with its more general ecological debt (not just climate), the Global North may begin to comprehend how many trillions of dollars worth of resources have been spirited out of the eco-South thanks to ‘ecologically unequal exchange’, as a Berkeley research team determined (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jan/21/environmental.debt1).

And for that important goal of consciousness raising, I would have hoped Martin could have pointed out, for the sake of any US allies reading, that a great deal more work is needed to highlight the Global North’s climate debt to the South. (By way of generating a definition, I’d suggest we include South Africa’s climate debt to Africa, and my filthy city of Durban’s to our KwaZulu-Natal provincial hinterland from where we draw cheap labour, food and energy, and my profligate flying compared to my township neighbours’ dangerous kombi-taxi transport.)

Here are a couple of short films that helpfully put the climate debt in Global North-South context: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWfb0VMCQHE (superb!); and http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-cap-and-trade/

And third, we urgently need great pilot projects, such as the Ecuadoran people’s strategy to ‘leave the oil in the Yasuni Amazonian soil.’ Such pilots are vital, in part because on many levels Yasuni would have been an excellent inaugural climate debt project. It still may be, if next year’s no-drilling referendum is won by environmentalists, indigenous people and all in Ecuador who care about sumak kawsay or buen vivir: http://ens-newswire.com/2013/10/09/ecuadorean-voters-may-decide-fate-of-yasuni-national-park/

But given the German government’s recent funding flip-flop, that particular pilot requires a great many more supporters in the Global North. They should consider the Yasuni pilot as an ideal-type way to halt fossil fuel extraction and burning, to protect pristine biodiverse sites and indigenous people, and to make a downpayment on the climate debt to a country – like so many – requiring resources for underfunded social programmes (tap in here: http://www.accionecologica.org/ ).

We need more eco-investments of this type, driven by conscious citizenries who argue for environmental protection and restoration, and for a Just Transition away from carbon-addicted capital-intensive economies, to projects like the South African ‘million climate jobs’ campaign (http://www.climatejobs.org.za/).

And what about those ruined by extreme weather, like the Filippino victims of Super Typhoon Yaiyan? Another kind of compensatory climate-debt pilot I think should be considered as a means of avoiding the Loss & Damage funds being frittered away within the aid bureaucracies and corrupt regimes, is the ‘Basic Income Grant’. In one recent case, we witnessed a superb trial run in a Namibian community affected by desertification. In the rural town of Otjivero, mainly women-headed households utilised a $10/month/person grant (donated voluntarily by solidaristic Germans) in salutory ways: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/files/Bond%20Sharife%20SPII.pdf

My impression in Warsaw was that only outside the COP19 were the more visionary — yet also eminently practical — discussions underway about how best to raise and spend climate debt. In Peru and Paris for the COP20 and COP21, I suspect power balances will really not have changed enough to warrant UN relegitimation, even if a little trickle moves into a Loss & Damage fund.

So in my view, the appropriate orientation to the UN climate negotiators operating under the thumb of a carbon-trading ‘clean coal’-promoting UNFCCC secretary Christiana Figueras in conjunction with the US State Department, is yet more delegitimation.

That means more work ahead for the incipient Climate Justice movement: acknowledging and moving Loss & Damage beyond emergency charity and UNFCCC distractions, and into systems of sustained solidarity.

We can all agree that climate solidarity is long overdue from North to South. Those lobbying for a carbon tax in many Northern jurisdictions can use climate debt as an opportunity to raise this as one of the worthy spendables. (I think a carbon tax strategy is a mistake, though: too market-related, with too much hope for marginal change rather than the reboot so many of our systems require: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2013-11-12-at-warsaws-cop19-climate-summit-south-africa-has-no-bragging-rights/#.UpO_d-I64o0 )

And we should take heart, just as so many tens of millions of South Africans did when offered mass-popular anti-apartheid sanctions solidarity, until the point democracy was won in 1994. We learned then that the ability of a global movement to change structures of power can be formidable.

In coming months, getting the CJ house in order will include our making climate debt a stronger and more universal demand, with the opportunity to foreground many more heart-warming pilot projects of our allies in the Global South, such as those in Ecuador, in Namibia – or in the courageously reclaimed urban gardens of an impoverished Detroit once known mainly for building hedonistic autos.

So many people of the Global South are doing so many great things to protect, repair, regenerate and compensate – let’s name these as downpayments on the climate debt, fund them appropriately – and make demands on Northern governments to start chipping in – so we can finally build a low-carbon, post-capitalist, ecologically-sound society of the commons, on the foundations of these initial climate-creditor inspirations.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. DakotabornKansan

    Patrick Bond cites the hopeful Ecuadoran people’s strategy to ‘leave the oil in the Yasuni Amazonian soil.’

    On December 4th Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s government shut down the nonprofit environmental group Fundación Pachamama that opposes Amazon rainforest oil drilling, alleging it was involved in disturbing public order, fomenting dissent and violence.


    Stand with in Fundación Pachamama in solidarity and defend the Amazon and the collective Rights of Nature and humankind:


    The nightmare of Ecuadorean oil development:

    “With its wealth of natural resources, including minerals, metals, lumber and oil, Ecuador had been a highly coveted colony since at least the mid-16th century…Since the early 20th century, individuals and corporations from the so-called “modern” world have sought to exploit Achuar land for its oil, disregarding its irreplaceable ecological and cultural wealth… the Achuar made the courageous decision to reach out to the modern world that was threatening their very existence… By the time the Pachamama Alliance was founded, Ecuador was still not completely in control of its own wealth. Policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank kept Ecuador caught in a debt cycle fueled by the oil demands of industrialized countries…The Achuar are committed to maintaining their expert stewardship of the rainforest, taking a stand to preserve this invaluable resource on behalf of all life. They refuse to let humanity destroy itself. Fundación Pachamama has supported the Achuar in gaining full title to nearly 1.8 million acres of rainforest.”

    As someone who has spent time in Amazonia, I share Darwin’s observation:

    “Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval tropical forests …temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature. No one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.” – Charles Darwin

    “Civilization” is cutting its throat.

    “Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.” – Edward O. Wilson

  2. The Dork of Cork

    “To really shift power, of course, we need much stronger tools than walk-outs; ultimately we’ll need to establish sanctions against regimes that refuse to cut emissions appropriately and pay their climate debt”

    Who is we ?
    The international community again I suppose….(warning sign flashing)

    Pay our climate debt ?
    But to who ?

    The Earth does not have a checking account we can lodge money in.
    (Money is a abstraction – a human symbolic invention.)
    Although some people think London is the center of the world and perhaps the universe.

    Its a SCAM.

    1. James Levy

      Hard to say that when you are a nation that can’t afford fuel or medicine imports and has to “sell the family silver” just to maintain a modicum of modern infrastructure. As Gene Kelly says in An American in Paris when his patron complains that he keeps talking about money, “it takes on a curious fascination when you ain’t got any, and I ain’t got any.” Saying money is a scam may work here, but when your children need books to learn how to read or a jab when there is a polio outbreak, it’s not a scam, it’s life itself.

  3. gozounlimited

    Climate change is not a natural product….it is man made. Not by pollution, and for God’s sake not by CO2. Climate Change is a product of GEOENGINEERING…..So mitigation of climate change is an oxymoron, a fraud perpetrated on the educationally/intellectually challenged.

    Recently climate change was mitigated by eight CIA geoengineered typhoons hitting the Philippines. But of course the official explanation for this once in a millennial event was that it was NOT caused by global warming/climate change. Just one of those crazy things…..


    Weather can and is being manipulated, and weather warfare continues to be exposed. Like drones, earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, and tornadoes driven by a joy stick!

    November 10, 2013: Microwave beam forms Tropical Storm ‘Zoraida’ – rotation begins upon pulse. November 8, 2013: Microwave Pulse gives birth to Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) http://www.realistnews.net/Thread-geo-engineering-tracker-confirming-super-typhoon-created-by-military-tesla-technology

    1. James Levy

      So let me get this straight, the US is costing itself billions in damage from hurricanes, wildfires, and crop losses exactly, why? And what would be the point of wrecking the Philippines? Or acidifying the oceans? Or melting the Greenland ice sheet? Why lose a third of all the farmland in Texas over the last 20 years if you can control the weather? Does the US government have Texas farmers on its “must destroy” list?

      A good sized hurricane packs the wallop, although dispersed physically and temporally, over literally hundreds of thermonuclear bombs. How does the US government generate the energy to unleash such a force? Where are the generators? And if the Americans had such a power source, why wouldn’t they use it to power industry and drive China right back into the Iron Age? As Carl Sagan said, exceptional claims demand commensurate proof. And claims, to make sense, have to answer a great many questions that yours does not.

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