Who should pay for the damage caused by climate change – and who should be compensated?

Hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Image: Getty.

Hurricanes in the Caribbean and deadly floods across South Asia have once again raised the issue of climate justice.

The association between such events and climate change is now beyond serious question: we have had 30 years of well-founded scientific warnings about the relationship between increasing global temperatures and the incidence and severity of extreme weather.

Much more problematic is the question of responsibility for climate change itself, and who should justly pay compensation for the resulting damage.

This is complicated, and there are no clear categories of winners and losers, or responsible and blameless. Consider how the benefits from greenhouse gas emissions are usually divorced from the impacts of climate change, yet hurricane-hit Texas owes much of its wealth to oil. Or look at the extraordinary inequalities among those affected by the storms – most are relatively poor, but a few are among the world’s richest people.

The long struggle for ‘climate justice’

International debate on climate justice has usually occurred within the UN, via its Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a process which led to the Paris Agreement. For much of the time since its inception in 1992 there was a heavy focus on cutting emissions rather than on adaptation to the damaging consequences of climate change.

Responsibility for global warming was usually framed as an obligation for developed states to make the initial moves to reduce their emissions, under the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. Climate justice was seen as something developed states owed less developed states, and were obliged to deliver so the latter had an incentive to cut their emissions, too.

Calls for ‘hard caps’ on emissions at the UN climate conference in Bali, 2007. Image: OpenDemocracy/creative commons.

However, by the Bali conference in 2007 it was clear that climate-related sea level rise and extreme weather events were already happening. Adaptation was therefore moved up the agenda alongside emissions cuts. In crude terms, if the developed world wanted a new comprehensive agreement on tackling climate change it would have to provide sufficient guarantees of assistance for the less developed majority. These included a proposed $100bn per annum Green Climate Fund but also new form of compensation for “loss and damage for countries vulnerable” to hurricanes and other climate-related disasters.

The “loss and damage” mechanism made it into the 2015 Paris Agreement but has not yet been fully implemented. It was a controversial topic, however, as it raised the question of liability or even reparation for climate damage. Direct responsibility was both difficult to establish and resolutely rejected by developed countries.


Focus on vulnerable individuals

The problem is these issues are discussed within the context of a system of self-interested nation states. Climate change requires a global, concerted effort, yet entrenched political structures within each country reinforce competitive and antagonistic outlooks. It is always difficult, for example, to make the case for foreign governmental assistance when this is ranged against domestic poverty.

To be sure, some of the more progressive rich countries do reflect a “communitarian” approach which recognises some moral obligations to assist vulnerable states. This goes beyond the strict minimum in international law of the avoidance of harm, but it certainly does not admit any direct responsibility or liability. At most, this conception of international climate justice is based upon a recognition that the populations of other countries should not be allowed to deteriorate below minimal standards of human existence and is common to other areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Yet such state-based thinking remains unable to handle the complexity and all-encompassing nature of climate change. What’s needed is an alternative “cosmopolitan” approach to climate justice. Under cosmopolitanism the focus is on individual human beings and their needs and rights, all of whom would exist in one community where nationality is considered irrelevant to moral worth. This means a Bangladeshi farmer or Caribbean fisherman have as much right to be protected from the impact of global warming as someone in Texas or London and, in this sense, cosmopolitan climate justice mirrors the evolution of international human rights principles.

Should protection from flooding be a universal right? Image: Abir Abdullah/EPA.

Nationality is often used to indicate development, or vulnerability to natural hazards, yet such categories are essentially misleading. As illustrated by flooded homes and destroyed roofs everywhere from Barbuda to Houston, it is more useful to think of rich and poor (or safe and vulnerable) people rather than countries.

True climate justice will have to reorientate the debate away from state sovereignty and international standing towards a focus on personal harm. A system of individual carbon accounting would also help so that people make a contribution to poverty reduction and disaster relief appropriate to their wealth and lifestyle.

The ConversationAs hurricanes engulf numerous countries at once, and indirectly affect even more, climate change powerfully illustrates the need for creative thinking about a truly global cosmopolitanism – one in which the avoidance of human suffering comes before self-interest, and it is recognised that there are many poor and vulnerable people in “rich countries” and fabulously rich people in “poor countries”.

John Vogler is professor of international relations, and Marit Hammond lecturer in environmental politics, at Keele University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Can you have capitalism without capital? Brighton, Ankara, Ghent and the intangible economy

The Fusebox, Brighton. Image: WiredSussex.

As you head north out of Brighton on the A23 things take a distinctly granular turn. The cool bars and trendy eateries give way to second-hand shops and nail bars.

Looming over the area, New England House, an eight-storey brutalist office block, is home to Wired Sussex, a collection of digital and media companies, as well as its offshoot The Fusebox. Here, a collection of entrepreneurs, tech visionaries and creative technologists are seeking to transform their ideas into successful businesses. This island of cutting-edge thinking, surrounded by the evidence of the glaring consequences of austerity, could stand as a synecdoche for the suddenly vogueish concept of the “intangible economy”.

Towards the end of last year, on Radio 4’s Start The Week, Jonathan Haskel, author of Capitalism Without Capital, laid out the features of this brave new economy. The ideas are scalable, have sunk costs, their benefits spill over, and they have synergies with other intangible assets. All of these things are, to a greater or lesser extent, attributes featured in the virtual reality games, apps for care home workers, and e-commerce ideas mapped out by the bright sparks in the Fusebox.

Its manager, Rosalie Hoskins, explains that it exists to support the work of small companies doing creative work. Within these clean white walls they can bounce their ideas off each other and reap the fruits of collaboration. “We’ll provide the doors,” she says. But “it’s up to them to open them.”

One innovative thinker hoping to make her entrance is Maf’j Alvarez. She tells me she studied for a masters in digital media arts at the University of Brighton, and describes herself as an ‘interactive artist’. “Right now I am playing with virtual reality,” she tells me. “There’s a lot of physics involved in the project which explores weight and light. It definitely has a practical application and commercial potential. VR can be used to help people with dementia and also as a learning tool for young people.”

The Fusebox, she says, is “about collaboration. The residents of the Fusebox are in all a similar situation.”

The willingness to work together, identified by Haskell as a key element of the intangible economy, is evident in the Fusebox’s partnership with like minded innovators in Ankara. Direnç Erşahin from İstasyon, a centre for “social incubation” based in the Turkish capital, visited the Fusebox toward the end of last year.

“It was a good opportunity to exchange knowledge about the practice of running a creative hub – managing the place, building a community and so on,” he says.

Erşahin and his colleagues have launched a fact-checking platform – teyit.org – which he believes will provide “access to true information”. The co-operation between the Fusebox in Brighton and İstasyon in Ankara  is “a good opportunity to reinforce a data-oriented approach and university and society interaction,” he argues.

But the interaction between wider society and the denizens of the intangible world is often marked by friction and, ironically, a failure of communication.

This point is underlined by Aral Balkan, who runs a company called indie.ie which aims to develop ethical technologies. “There’s a good reason we have a trust problem,” he says. “It’s because people in mainstream technology companies have acted in ways that have violated our trust. They have developed systems that prey upon individuals rather than empowering them.”

A former Brighton resident, Balkan is almost a walking definition of Theresa May’s “citizen of nowhere”. He is a regular speaker on the TED and digital circuits, and I crossed paths frequently with him when I covered the industry for Brighton’s local newspaper. He left the city last year, chiefly, he tells me, in protest over the UK government’s overweening “snooper’s charter” laws.


He has Turkish and French citizenship and is now based in Malmö, Sweden, while working with the city of Ghent on a radical redevelopment of the internet. “Ghent is a beautiful example of how location affects the work,” he tells me. “They don’t want to be a smart city, they want to encourage smart citizens. We are exploring alternatives.”

Karl-Filip Coenegrachts, chief strategy officer at the City of Ghent, is another believer in the synergies made possible by the intangible economy. “The historic perspective has impacted on the psychology and DNA of the city,” he says. “The medieval castle built to protect the nobility from the citizens not the other way around. People in Ghent want to have their say.”

Left out of this perspective, of course, are those who cannot make their voice heard or who feel they are being ignored. The fissures are easy to find if you look. The future of Belgium’s coalition government, for example, is threatened by Flemish nationalists in the wake of a scandal over the forced repatriation of 100 Sudanese migrants. In Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has purged local government and continues to stamp on any dissent.

In the UK, the gig economy makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. Back in the area around the Fusebox, the sharp observer will notice, alongside the homeless people curled up in sleeping bags in charity shop doorways, a stream of gig-worker bikers zooming from one order to another.

The intangible economy throws up all-too tangible downsides, according to Maggie Dewhurst, vice chair at the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. She gives short shrift to the idea of ‘capitalism without capital’.

“It does get a bit irritating when they muddy the waters and use pseudo academic definitions. They pretend tangible assets don’t exist or are free.”

In fact, she adds, “The workers are a human resource.”