And what is the difference between ecological debt and climate debt?
In a recent essay, World Ocean Observatory director Peter Neill looked at the history of the debate over an ecological debt:
In 1992, the term “ecological debt” emerged into the international conversation among ecologists and conservationists, first mentioned in a paper presented by the Instituto de Ecología Política in Santiago, Chile, wherein the production of greenhouse gases by the developed nations of the north, particularly from resources extracted from the less developed nations of the south, was seen as an inequitable balance that had imposed climactic and social changes not included in the calculations of international debt. It was a rich versus poor argument, asserting that the impact colonial and commercial exploitation of finite natural resources from these nations had not been fully “compensated” by price, royalties or licensing fees, or even the loans made otherwise to these countries by bankers in the north. There was in fact talk of reparations to be paid as compensation for this unequal transactional system.
Since then, several international forums have made climate debt part of global negotiations, including debt benchmarks proposed by Bolivia in 2009. Check out this Al Jazeera report:
Prior to the COP21 climate summit in Paris last December, a Bangladeshi religious leader called “on rich countries to live up to their duty to cut emissions and provide climate finance. This in keeping with the agreement of 2009 at the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit, namely to provide $100 billion by 2020 to help developing countries tackle climate change, which now they must deliver.”
Pope Francis, among others, also addressed ecological debt: “Greater justice, the pope said, means addressing “ecological debt,” that is, the debt richer countries owe poorer countries because of the huge trade imbalances and “disproportionate use” of natural resources wealthier countries have created.”
Neill cites the research of the Global Footprint Network to examine our global ecological “overshoot,” which he says “is another way of saying ecological debt.”
The Network’s principal tool is a complex analysis and calculation of each nation’s “ecological footprint,” a determination of the point in time each year when we have exceeded the capacity of land and sea to supply adequate resources for survival as well as absorb the damage of pollutants, greenhouse gases, resource depletion, and other outcomes of unabated consumption. The Network asserts:
“Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.”
“Overshoot” is another way of saying “ecological debt;” and we are already out of the green and into the red, we are already dangerously underwater. The Network concludes:
“Individuals and institutions worldwide must begin to recognize ecological limits. We must begin to make ecological limits central to our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live, within the Earth’s bounds. This means investing in technology and infrastructure that will allow us to operate in a resource-constrained world. It means taking individual action, and creating the public demand for businesses and policy makers to participate.”