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Bolivia Rebuts Stern on Historical Responsibility

December 12, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote about Todd Stern’s first press briefing at the COP-15. Stern rejected the notion of a “climate debt” owed by rich countries with the highest historical emissions to poor countries most damaged by climate disruption. Today, Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon published a press release intended as a rebuttal to Stern:

Admitting responsibility for the climate crisis without taking necessary actions to address it is like someone burning your house and then refusing to pay for it. Even if the fire was not started on purpose, the industrialised countries, through their inaction, have continued to add fuel to the fire. As a result they have used up two thirds of the atmospheric space, depriving us of the necessary space for our development and provoking a climate crisis of huge proportions.

It is entirely unjustifiable that countries like Bolivia are now forced to pay for the crisis. This creates a huge draw on our limited resources to protect our people from a crisis created by the rich and their over-consumption.

In Bolivia we are facing a crisis we had no role in causing. Our glaciers dwindle, droughts become ever more common, and water supplies are drying up. Who should address this? To us it seems only right that the polluter should pay, and not the poor.

We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it.

The debate over historical responsibility is not new. It is coming to the forefront of the negotiations now because countries are expected to commit to mid-term emissions reduction targets and short-term financial contributions next week.

John Broder (NYT) wrote an interesting analysis yesterday of Stern’s negotiating style and political circumstances, but this personal context does not affect the arguments about principles of environmental justice and moral responsibility. Also, David Corn (MoJo) reports on the Chinese reaction to Stern’s comments. Both articles reveal the confounding overlaps of personal and political in the climate negotiations, which now have such a scope that any agreement will shape global development for decades.

While developed countries have attempted to avoid explicitly moral discussions, many here at the talks–NGO members, religious leaders, delegates of vulnerable countries, and youth in particular–continue to argue that concepts of moral responsibility and justice are inherent to any discussion of solving climate disruption.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tyler Hess permalink
    December 12, 2009 7:43 pm

    Wow, amazing rebuttal by Bolivia. I was shocked when you posted a few days ago about Stern not willing to acknowledge a climate debt thus rendering climate justice useless.

    Good work! keep it up!

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