The IPCC report and climate justice

As the magnitude of the harms from climate change becomes clearer, poor countries have redoubled their efforts to achieve “climate justice”–large sums of money from rich countries, at least $100 billion, to compensate them for the harm caused by climate change. As the New York Times puts it,

Countries like Bangladesh and several in sub-Saharan Africa that are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change say the report strengthens their demand for “climate justice” — in other words, money, and plenty of it — from the world’s richest economies and corporations, which they blame for the problem.

But there’s a problem: President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry

know there is no chance that a Congress focused on cutting domestic spending and jump-starting the economy will enact legislation agreeing to a huge increase in so-called climate aid. Since 2010, the Obama administration has spent about $2.5 billion a year to help foreign countries adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon energy technology.

It will be a stretch even to continue that level of spending.

And not just for the United States. Other developed countries are also not likely to give much aid to poor countries.

So what’s to be done? The answer is pretty clear: countries will need to negotiate a climate treaty that does not redistribute wealth from rich countries to poor countries. You can have a climate treaty, but you can’t have climate justice, and the sooner everyone realizes this, the sooner a treaty will be negotiated.

I have made this argument (at greater length) in several places, including this book, this article, and this column.