Wealthy international locations should pay for the environmental harm they’ve wreaked

There is a historic obligation for higher-income international locations to switch a few of their huge and ill-gotten wealth to lower-income ones to compensate them for the harm they’ve finished to the atmosphere, writes Graham Lawton


| Columnist

20 April 2022

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B5HKJ9 The United Glass Limited Glass Works in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, UK. Reflected within the River Forth

David Robertson/Alamy


THE nation I reside in is likely one of the richest on the planet, but additionally one of many poorest. By GDP, the UK is a superpower with the fifth largest financial system on this planet. But by way of intact biodiversity, it’s in the underside 10 per cent globally and the worst within the G7.

These two information aren’t unrelated. The UK obtained wealthy – and has stayed wealthy – in no small half by overexploiting its pure assets. The agricultural and industrial revolutions turned nice swathes of what was as soon as inexperienced and nice right into a polluted and overgrazed wasteland. Even at present, greater than two-thirds of the UK’s land space is farmed and 8 per cent is constructed on, leaving little room for wildlife. The nation’s Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) – a measure of how a lot wild nature stays – is 53 per cent. The world common is 75 per cent. The supreme is 90 per cent plus.

That pathway to riches is one which many less-wealthy international locations aspire to. But additionally it is a pathway to mutually assured destruction. A world BII comparable with the UK’s can be catastrophic.

Preventing nature-rich international locations from trashing their biodiversity is, after all, one of many targets of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), over which the newest spherical of negotiations came about in Geneva final month. Such talks naturally function conservation targets, habitat restoration and so forth. But they really revolve round one thing else: cash.

Before the assembly started, I spoke to conservation biologists about what to look out for. One of them, Stephen Woodley on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, instructed me bluntly: “It’s all about the money.”

Biodiverse international locations are sometimes GDP-poor, and lots of don’t see why they need to be compelled to stay so with a view to rescue rich nations from disaster. And even the place there may be the need to protect, international locations typically lack the required assets and wish monetary assist. “The big issue is about wealth transfer,” Woodley instructed me. “I suspect that the negotiations will hinge on that.”

He was proper. There had been many sticking factors, however by far the stickiest was finance. Reports from the assembly say that the spirit of the talks was imply, with negotiators usually placing nationwide pursuits first. For wealthy international locations, that meant digging their heels in over the funds.

“The US and Europe are responsible for more than half of global ecological destruction over the past 50 years”

If something, the negotiations went backwards. The draft textual content at first of the assembly included concrete figures, comparable to that lower-income nations must be given an additional $10 billion yearly for conservation. By the tip of the talks, all of these numbers had disappeared, changed by a canine’s breakfast of watered-down and disputed options.

This isn’t simply grasping and immoral within the right here and now. There can also be a historic obligation for richer international locations to switch a few of their huge and ill-gotten wealth to poorer ones, to compensate them for the harm they’ve finished to the atmosphere. A latest evaluation printed in The Lancet Planetary Health discovered that the US and Europe are answerable for greater than half of world ecological destruction over the previous 50 years. Other rich international locations, together with Australia, Canada, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are collectively answerable for one other quarter, whereas the low and middle-income international locations of Latin America, Africa and Asia are answerable for simply 8 per cent.

Alongside greed, immorality and injustice, we will add short-sightedness. “We will pay this amount of money, either today, or we will pay substantially more later on in lost ecosystem services, clean water, clean air, pollination, all these things that we take for granted,” says Brian O’Donnell on the Campaign for Nature, an alliance of greater than 100 conservation organisations. “If we destroy the ecosystems we rely on, the cost will be astronomical.”

This is depressingly acquainted from local weather talks. In 2015, rich nations promised to donate billions to lower-income ones to assist them mitigate local weather change and adapt, however have but to cough up. They cynically stamp out makes an attempt to extract compensation for “loss and damage”, apparently frit that this could be seen as an admission of guilt and open the floodgates to reparation claims.

There is hope. The clear textual content that the talks opened with was a really perfect one drawn up by the CBD; the mess that emerged is a piece in progress by the individuals who wield precise energy. There is a historical past of brinkmanship at such talks and the CBD itself stated that progress had been made.

And whereas international locations just like the UK won’t ever settle for that a lot of their wealth is an ecological overdraft that’s now overdue, they’re beginning to perceive that they haven’t any choice however to pay. “I think governments are starting to recognise that this is an investment rather than just a cost,” says O’Donnell.

Graham’s week

What I’m studying

The Age of Extremes: The quick twentieth century, 1914–1991 by Eric Hobsbawm. Suddenly very related once more

What I’m watching

Dinosaurs: The closing day with David Attenborough on the BBC. Attenborough does it once more.

What I’m engaged on

Whether to get a brand new cat. The outdated one sadly joined his youthful companion.

Up subsequent week: Annalee Newitz

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