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Calculating Climate Debt. A Proposal

Warlenius, Rikard LU (2012) 12th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Ecological Economics, 2012
Abstract
Abstract submitted to ISEE 2012

Theme: The Political Economy of Green Development

By Rikard Warlenius

PhD Candidate

Human Ecology Division

Lund University, Sweden

2011.11.24



Calculating Climate Debt. A Comparison and a Proposal

The notion of climate debt has invoked widespread interest in the last few years. First conceptualized in 1999 within the Millennium movement for (financial) debt cancellation, it was from the start a bottom-up approach, elaborated within the social and environmental movements rather than by states or academia. Demands to repay the climate debt were raised by hundreds of organizations, mainly from the global South, in 2009 and later... (More)
Abstract submitted to ISEE 2012

Theme: The Political Economy of Green Development

By Rikard Warlenius

PhD Candidate

Human Ecology Division

Lund University, Sweden

2011.11.24



Calculating Climate Debt. A Comparison and a Proposal

The notion of climate debt has invoked widespread interest in the last few years. First conceptualized in 1999 within the Millennium movement for (financial) debt cancellation, it was from the start a bottom-up approach, elaborated within the social and environmental movements rather than by states or academia. Demands to repay the climate debt were raised by hundreds of organizations, mainly from the global South, in 2009 and later also by states such as Bolivia and the 49 Least Developed Countries. Climate debt should be seen as a part of the wider ecological debt, a concept that was first introduced by Instituto de Ecología Politica before the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago. Both concepts share the virtue of switching the commonly perceived positions of debtors and creditors in the world economy.

While most other approaches to quantifying ecological and climate inequalities have been developed by researchers and have quite rigorous methodologies, climate debt is more of an 'open access' concept and lacks a unified way of defining, conceptualizing and calculating. One of the main goals of the research project Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (Ejolt) is to empower Environmental Justice Organizations (EJOs) by transfer of scientific methodologies. Ecological debt, including climate debt, is identified as one of the key concepts. According to Ejoltʼs description, “[t]here is a demand from international EJOs and also from government officials for the instruction of the methodology of such calculations in terms that activists and citizens can understand” (Ejolt 2010).

In an attempt to respond to this demand, this paper discusses and compares several efforts to quantify climate debt and similar concepts by activist-researchers (Simms 2009, Khor 2010), NGO campaigns (FOEI 2005, Jubilee Debt Campaign 2007, Third World Network 2009), UN bodies (UNDP 2007, WESS 2009) and scholars (Botzen et al 2008, Paredis et al 2008, Srinivasan et al 2008, Goeminne & Paredis 2010). A “new” method is proposed that is in line with the definition that has emerged from the climate justice movement, is accurate and user-friendly. The climate debt of a country is thus calculated as its actual emissions over time minus its fair per capita share of a “safe”, sustainable level of global emissions. The formula,

CDC = ECP–(SW*T*PopC/PopW)

is to be understood as CDC (climate debt of country C), ECP (C's total emissions during the time period T), SW (a sustainable level of global, annual CO2-emissions that is absorbed by the ecosystems without damaging their functions), T (the time period of choice), PopC (population of C at the end of P) and PopW (world population at the end of T).

The method (hence referred to as RWa) is similar to “Model 1” of Paredis et al. (referred to as EP), which arguably is more historically correct but requires significantly more data and calculations. RWa has a model bias compared to EP that results in greater climate debt (or smaller climate claim) for countries whose population – as a rate of world population – is decreasing; i.e. generally developed countries. This bias can largely be obviated by a simple methodological innovation whereby the mean value of the population rates of the country in the beginning and end of the time period is used instead of the end value (RWb).

Differing assumptions however cause greater result differences than the formal construction of the models. While Paredis et al. propose a level of global, annual emissions at 9 GtCO2, I suggest that long-term sustainability requires a level of 3 GtCO2. In Table 1, the climate debt for Guatemala and Sweden 1990-2000 resulting from the models EP9 (with a sustainable level of 9 GtCO2), RWa9, RWb9 and RWb3 (3 GtCO2) is reported. Note that the model bias of RWa9 is largely obviated in RWb9.

Table 1. Sweden's and Guatemala's Climate Debt/Claim 1990–2000 according to four models (MtCO2)

EP9 RWa9 RWb9 RWb3

Guatemala -111 -135 -118 8,2

Sweden 481 489 481 583



The stronger ecological concern of RWb3 increases the climate debt of both Sweden and Guatemala; actually turning the latter’s climate claim into a debt if only counting for the period 1990-2000. An advantage of the RW-model, however, is that the debt over longer periods of time can be calculated relatively easily. In the elaborated paper, methods will be compared, results for more countries and region will be shown, the historical and theoretical foundations of the concept further described, and assumptions discussed in depth. Finally, I will make some suggestions on how the climate debt can be repaid. (Less)
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organization
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keywords
Climate Debt, ecological economics
pages
24 pages
conference name
12th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Ecological Economics, 2012
language
English
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yes
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@misc{13e9e91d-863e-4ee4-bb7d-e72f4ee98060,
  abstract     = {Abstract submitted to ISEE 2012<br/><br>
Theme: The Political Economy of Green Development<br/><br>
By Rikard Warlenius<br/><br>
PhD Candidate<br/><br>
Human Ecology Division<br/><br>
Lund University, Sweden<br/><br>
2011.11.24<br/><br>
<br/><br>
Calculating Climate Debt. A Comparison and a Proposal<br/><br>
The notion of climate debt has invoked widespread interest in the last few years. First conceptualized in 1999 within the Millennium movement for (financial) debt cancellation, it was from the start a bottom-up approach, elaborated within the social and environmental movements rather than by states or academia. Demands to repay the climate debt were raised by hundreds of organizations, mainly from the global South, in 2009 and later also by states such as Bolivia and the 49 Least Developed Countries. Climate debt should be seen as a part of the wider ecological debt, a concept that was first introduced by Instituto de Ecología Politica before the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago. Both concepts share the virtue of switching the commonly perceived positions of debtors and creditors in the world economy.<br/><br>
While most other approaches to quantifying ecological and climate inequalities have been developed by researchers and have quite rigorous methodologies, climate debt is more of an 'open access' concept and lacks a unified way of defining, conceptualizing and calculating. One of the main goals of the research project Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (Ejolt) is to empower Environmental Justice Organizations (EJOs) by transfer of scientific methodologies. Ecological debt, including climate debt, is identified as one of the key concepts. According to Ejoltʼs description, “[t]here is a demand from international EJOs and also from government officials for the instruction of the methodology of such calculations in terms that activists and citizens can understand” (Ejolt 2010).<br/><br>
In an attempt to respond to this demand, this paper discusses and compares several efforts to quantify climate debt and similar concepts by activist-researchers (Simms 2009, Khor 2010), NGO campaigns (FOEI 2005, Jubilee Debt Campaign 2007, Third World Network 2009), UN bodies (UNDP 2007, WESS 2009) and scholars (Botzen et al 2008, Paredis et al 2008, Srinivasan et al 2008, Goeminne &amp; Paredis 2010). A “new” method is proposed that is in line with the definition that has emerged from the climate justice movement, is accurate and user-friendly. The climate debt of a country is thus calculated as its actual emissions over time minus its fair per capita share of a “safe”, sustainable level of global emissions. The formula,<br/><br>
CDC = ECP–(SW*T*PopC/PopW)<br/><br>
is to be understood as CDC (climate debt of country C), ECP (C's total emissions during the time period T), SW (a sustainable level of global, annual CO2-emissions that is absorbed by the ecosystems without damaging their functions), T (the time period of choice), PopC (population of C at the end of P) and PopW (world population at the end of T).<br/><br>
The method (hence referred to as RWa) is similar to “Model 1” of Paredis et al. (referred to as EP), which arguably is more historically correct but requires significantly more data and calculations. RWa has a model bias compared to EP that results in greater climate debt (or smaller climate claim) for countries whose population – as a rate of world population – is decreasing; i.e. generally developed countries. This bias can largely be obviated by a simple methodological innovation whereby the mean value of the population rates of the country in the beginning and end of the time period is used instead of the end value (RWb).<br/><br>
Differing assumptions however cause greater result differences than the formal construction of the models. While Paredis et al. propose a level of global, annual emissions at 9 GtCO2, I suggest that long-term sustainability requires a level of 3 GtCO2. In Table 1, the climate debt for Guatemala and Sweden 1990-2000 resulting from the models EP9 (with a sustainable level of 9 GtCO2), RWa9, RWb9 and RWb3 (3 GtCO2) is reported. Note that the model bias of RWa9 is largely obviated in RWb9. <br/><br>
Table 1. Sweden's and Guatemala's Climate Debt/Claim 1990–2000 according to four models (MtCO2)<br/><br>
		EP9	RWa9	RWb9	RWb3<br/><br>
Guatemala	-111	-135	-118	 8,2<br/><br>
Sweden		481	489	481	583<br/><br>
<br/><br>
The stronger ecological concern of RWb3 increases the climate debt of both Sweden and Guatemala; actually turning the latter’s climate claim into a debt if only counting for the period 1990-2000. An advantage of the RW-model, however, is that the debt over longer periods of time can be calculated relatively easily. In the elaborated paper, methods will be compared, results for more countries and region will be shown, the historical and theoretical foundations of the concept further described, and assumptions discussed in depth. Finally, I will make some suggestions on how the climate debt can be repaid.},
  author       = {Warlenius, Rikard},
  keyword      = {Climate Debt,ecological economics},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {24},
  title        = {Calculating Climate Debt. A Proposal},
  year         = {2012},
}