Justified and unjustified reparations right

What is climate justice? The rich Netherlands will pay poor Pakistan, even though both countries emit about the same amount of carbon dioxide (Pakistan slightly more) and Pakistan is increasing its emissions 20 times faster than the Netherlands.

Reparations, as is well known, are divided into just and unjust. The wrong ones are, of course, the reparations demanded by Poland (or, should I say, “the present authorities”) from Germany. The just ones are the climate reparations, because anything climate-related is good.

If one were to ask the young girls demonstrating in front of the building where the last climate convention was held, holding cardboard signs with the words “Pay up for loss and damage!” in their hands, what loss and damage they actually meant, they would probably reply with indignation that it was visible to the naked eye. A third of Pakistan has been submerged by flooding and this was not the only big flood this year, the Marshall Islands will be gone from the surface of the ocean in a hundred years, or maybe sooner. Is that not enough?

It would be pointless to talk to them about the fact that this year’s flood in Pakistan was one of many in the country’s history, that in the past there have been – admittedly in neighbouring countries – much bigger floods, so in the grand scheme of things it is something humanity has been used to for centuries. When a sense of right and moral indignation comes into play, the discussion does not make sense any more. Likewise, a conversation on the same subject with politicians of countries affected by disasters as great as Pakistan. Even more so, because here money is involved, and not a small sum at that.

Pakistan was at the forefront of the demand for a reparations fund, and having an academic discussion with its representatives about how floods had been dealt with in the past could be severely hampered, as its representatives had fresh media coverage at their disposal, showing how dramatic the events in their country really had been.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, countries affected by natural climate disasters simply demanded money and threatened not to leave the venue until a reparations fund was set up. For this is what a fund to help these countries is called – and presented to activists similar to those who held up cardboard signs demanding payment for “loss and damage”.
Pakistan was hit by flooding in September after monsoon rains. Photo by AKHTAR SOOMRO / Reuters / Forum
The rich countries that were to set up this fund did not try to question the sense of the fund and the idea behind it. They were mostly concerned about the possibility of the money going to China, which would – even in view of the prevailing conceptual confusion – be a serious abuse. After all, the terminology used by COP27 participants speaks of reparations to “developing countries”, and China is, under the UN definition adopted three decades ago, precisely a developing country. No one at the UN apparently took a closer look at what happened next, and so it remained.

  The Chinese, by the way, are eager to exploit their status and at Sharm el-Sheikh, as usual, they performed in the so-called Group of 77 plus China, a team of the poorest countries vying for funds from rich countries. What’s so difficult about besieging the rich to pay the poor for the damage they caused themselves? That is the artistry of international politics.

However, even such blunt ideologues as John Kerry and Franz Timmermans were well aware that paying China for the damage caused by CO2 emissions, almost a third of which are its own creation, would be a bridge too far. Kerry would probably have been ostracised if he signed anything to benefit China. Not even the Republicans, but the Democrats would make a political pulp out of him.

So they agreed to a formula that ensures that the money, indeed, goes to developing countries, but necessarily to those that have suffered “loss and damage”. One can understand that Kerry with Timmermans are quietly hoping that the Chinese will not suffer. However, everything is a matter of definition and perception in today’s world, so presumably in the future even the biggest flood caused by the flooding of the Yangtze River will not cause any “loss and damage” worthy of the attention of the Fathers of the Climate Agreement.

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But let’s go back to the term “reparations”, because the very idea that CO2 emissions have a direct impact on the flooding in Pakistan is, so to speak, somewhat controversial. Specifically, there is no scientific evidence for this. I am not going to deny the very process of climate change, which can be seen with the naked eye and not just on the International Panel’s graphs, but even the most ardent believers in climatism cannot make a clear argument showing that such a cause-and-effect relationship exists. There are too many variables coming into play here and too strong a memory of other catastrophic floods that occurred in the distant past, when it had not yet occurred to anyone to concern themselves with climate change and its impact on life on Earth. In the 1930s, the already mentioned Yangtze River alone caused many catastrophic floods in which tens of thousands of people died.

Thus, there is talk of the “growing impact” of climate change on natural disasters, but since the concept of reparations refers to damage caused, it is quite difficult to prove on the basis of this “growing impact” not only that someone caused the damage, but that someone specific is to blame for it. I guess that is why the word “reparations” is employed rather for the use of young demonstrators, while official documents refer to a fund covering “loss and damage”.

Here, too, the US delegation showed a sense of realism, for even an apostle of climatism like John Kerry fought like a lion to ensure that the documents did not mention “commitments” and “compensation”. For these are legal concepts that could lead to incalculable consequences if someone wanted to sue the United States. So it is one thing to talk about “saving the planet” and another to make concrete financial commitments. This is where one of those famous “red lines” is drawn that have been talked about so much recently.

Whether Franz Timmermans had similar problems is questionable, because he is in no way dependent on the voters, so he can dispose of a budget that is not his own in any way. Fortunately, there still exists an America that has not lost all sense of realism. As a result, Europeans too can feel safe for the time being from climate lawsuits by clever entrepreneurs from the poor South. It is fair to think that Nigerian entrepreneurs in particular would quickly catch wind in their sails.
Last July, Belgium was also hit by flooding after heavy downpours. Photo by YVES HERMAN / Reuters / Forum
But the equation has been confirmed once again, and it looks like this: the developed countries have destroyed the Planet by developing, from which it follows that the developing countries have suffered and are suffering losses and damage, so the developed countries are to pay for it. This is called “climate justice” and there are scientists working on it in various universities in the West. Now another element has been added to the equation, namely that the developed countries, because they have developed, are responsible for the “loss and damages” of the present time.

The fact that, along the way, the developed countries have become increasingly aware of the fact that they are the culprits of atmospheric pollution and have therefore been reducing it more and more, and that, in the process of their development, undeveloped countries have also begun to develop, with a positive impact on the lives of their citizens, apparently escapes notice of all those involved in administering “climate justice”. As does the fact that climate disasters also occur in rich countries. Probably the activists think to themselves that “it serves them right”.

However, another problem arises. A problem of a cognitive-semantic nature. Rich Europe with the rich United States, Canada and Japan are responsible for less than a third of global CO2 emissions. In addition, they are not increasing these emissions, but reducing them. Developing countries, meanwhile, are increasing their emissions very rapidly because... they are developing. And they do not even want to hear about reducing emissions, because they want to develop first. Quite rightly so. Anyone in their position would use the argument that they too want their country’s citizens to attain an adequate standard of living. But can this be achieved without increasing CO2 emissions? Well, it can’t.

The logic of the whole process is therefore that the so-called rich North, which has managed to develop, should pay the so-called poor South for the natural disasters caused by that development, waiting for the poor South to develop sufficiently, emitting plenty of CO2 along the way. Admittedly, according to this logic, this will also cause new disasters, but in a subtle way, the Fathers of the Climate Agreement make a distinction between bad emissions, which require compensation, and morally indifferent emissions, which do not.

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Thus, the rich Netherlands will be paying poor Pakistan, even though both countries emit about the same amount of carbon dioxide (Pakistan slightly more), and Pakistan is increasing its emissions 20 times faster than the Netherlands. There would be nothing strange about this if the rich Netherlands were simply helping poor Pakistan to develop, but apparently aid alone is not enough and something more is needed: calling aid to poorer countries “reparations” in the name of “climate justice”, which makes the production of the same CO2 take on a completely different moral meaning depending on which country it occurs in.

The notion of this requires a truly delicate mind, to use the term of a certain Jew from Liskowiec, who was explaining to his wife the meaning of the successful transaction of selling an inedible cow for the use of the 11th marching company of the 91st regiment, in which Švejk marched to the Great War.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the creation of a “reparations” fund will not in the least encourage beneficiary countries to reduce emissions. This was the objective, at least in theory, of the creation, a decade ago, by the rich countries of the North, of a hundred-billion-dollar fund for the introduction of new energy technologies in the poor countries of the South. The use of such a fund had the aim, again, at least in theory, of reducing global CO2 emissions.

And the reparations fund? It will simply be used to rebuild what was destroyed. And emissions will increase. I mean the rightful emissions, because the wrongful ones are decreasing, or maybe it’s the other way around, I don’t know anymore.

Finally, something really optimistic. The mass of cognitive-semantic problems with “climate reparations” will probably provoke criticism, which will have to be dealt with somehow. After all, criticism cannot be allowed to degenerate into judgementalism. That’s a no-go.

So a light shone over Sharm el-Sheikh from Washington, and it was shone by a columnist from The Washington Post, Mr Henry Olsen, who warned that this excellent decision to compensate the poor for bad emissions by overlooking their own emissions could trigger a wave in rich countries of, what? But of course, dear readers, you guessed it: a wave of populism, indeed. In addition, Mr Olsen immediately established that this was an extremely dangerous variety of populism, namely right-wing populism. To prove it, he cited the protests of Dutch farmers who, in their wicked defence against bankruptcy caused by the introduction of harsh climate regulations, had become dangerous populists.

Mr Olsen’s method can be called “induced populism” or “Midas populism” and is as simple as it is useful. It consists of establishing a valid interpretation of reality and regarding all those who oppose it as populists, i.e. as people who are not to be discussed with. Well, left-wing populists can still be discussed, because they are known to be driven by noble motives, but right-wing populists? Never!

So, while warning anyone who wishes to engage in any discussion about the idea of “climate reparations” what they are in for, I would also like to encourage those interested to follow the whole debate. Because the fund has only just been agreed in Sharm el-Sheikh, and all the details – such as who is to pay and how much and on what terms (if any) the money will be collected – will be decided next year. And then it may well be that dangerous populists will emerge in more rich countries that are just being affected by multiple crises with the war crisis at the forefront.

– Robert Bogdański

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

– Translated by jz
Main photo: Climate activists protest in Sharm el-Sheikh during the COP27 climate summit. Photo by MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY / Reuters / Forum
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