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Rich countries have to pay for the environmental damage that they have caused

Rich countries have to pay for the environmental damage that they have caused

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Higher-income countries have a historical obligation to transfer some of their wealth, which is vast and ill-gotten, to lower-income countries to compensate for the environmental damage they have caused. Graham Lawton


| Columnist

20 April 2022

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

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The country where I live is one of most prosperous on the planet. It’s also one of the least developed. The UK is the fifth-largest economy in the world, and a superpower by GDP. It is however, insignificant in terms intact biodiversity. The bottom 10% globally The G7 is at its worst.

These two facts aren’t unrelated. The UK has been rich and has stayed wealthy in large part because it overexploited its natural resources. Great swathes once green and pleasant were turned into a polluted, overgrazed wasteland by the industrial and agricultural revolutions. Even today, more than two-thirds of the UK’s land area is farmed and 8 per cent of the land is built upon, leaving little habitat for wildlife. The nation’s Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) a measure of how much wild nature remains is 53 per cent. The global average is 75%. The ideal is 90 per cent plus.

Many less wealthy countries dream of this path to riches. It is also a path to mutually assured destruction. A global BII comparable with the UK’s would be catastrophic.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a global organization that aims to prevent nature-rich countries from destroying their biodiversity. The latest round of negotiations took places in Geneva last month. These talks usually include conservation targets, habitat repair, and so on. But they are really about money.

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

Biodiverse countries are often GDP-poor, and many don’t see why they should be forced to remain so in order to rescue wealthy nations from catastrophe. Even countries that have the will to save the environment often lack the resources and require financial assistance. “The big issue is about wealth transfer,” Woodley told me. “I suspect that the negotiations will hinge on that.”

He was right. There were many sticking issues, but finance was by far the most difficult. According to reports, the spirit of the negotiations was tense. Negotiators tended to put national interests first. That meant that rich countries were unable to accept the payments.

Over half of the global ecological destruction that has occurred over the last 50 years has been attributable to Europe and the USA

In fact, the negotiations were a failure. The Draft text included concrete figures at the beginning of the meetingIt is proposed that the lower-income nations be granted an additional $10 billion each year for conservation. The talks are over. All of these numbers had vanished, replaced by a dog’s breakfast of watered-down and disputed suggestions.

This isn’t just greedy and immoral in the here and now. It is also an obligation in the past for richer countries that they transfer some of their wealth, both ill-gotten and vast, to poorer countries, to compensate for the damage they have caused to the environment. A Recent analysis publishedThe Lancet Planetary Health reported that more than half of the global ecological destruction in the last 50 years has been caused by the US and Europe. Other wealthy countries like Australia, Canada and Japan are collectively responsible to another quarter. Only 8 percent is attributed to the low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Shortsightedness can be added to greed, immorality, injustice, and other vices. “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 at the Campaign for NatureThe Alliance of More Than 100 Conservation Organizations. “If we destroy the ecosystems we rely on, the cost will be astronomical.”

This is a sad fact that climate talks have made all too familiar. 2015Wealthy nations had promised to give billions to low-income countries to help them adapt to climate change. But they have yet to do so. They are sycophantic in their refusal to pay any compensation. “loss and damage”Apparently frit that this would have been seen as an admissiona sense of guilt and allow for reparation claims to flow freely.

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There is still hope. The CBD had drafted a clean text for the talks that was ideal. The mess that emerged is still a work in progress from those who have actual power. There has been a history in such talks of brinkmanship. According to the CBD, there has been progress.

While countries like the UK won’t accept that a large portion of their wealth is an overdraft due to environmental problems, they are beginning to realize that they must 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 reading

The Age of Extremes: The short twentieth-century, 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm. Suddenly, this is very relevant again

What I’m watching

Dinosaurs – The final day with David Attenborough at the BBC. Attenborough does this again.

What I’m working on

Whether to adopt a new cat. The old cat was sad to leave his younger companion.

Next week: Annalee Newitz

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