current affairs development equality

Could we be sued for climate change?

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day – could the countries already suffering from climate change legitimately sue the developed world?

I don’t know if anyone remembers this, but in the summer before 9/11, there was a running story that a conglomerate of African nations was planning to sue the US and the EU for damages done during the slave trade. Events overtook that particular news story, and I haven’t heard much about it since, but it continues to tick on in the background and there were some developments in the summer.

The thing is, if there is a genuine case for reparations for something that happened hundreds of years ago, how much more of a case is there against the developed nations now? Every day that we continue to live as we do is another day of irreparable damage to other parts of the world – often the same parts of the world that were exploited by the slave trade. The Bonn Agreement in 2001 even formally recognised that developed countries are largely responsible for climate change and should pay towards alleviating its effects in poorer countries, with several countries promising money. (Which we haven’t paid, by the way)

If we are demonstrably responsible for damage happening now, what’s to stop us being sued for our abuses? Does anyone know of a historical precedent for this?

Update: Ellee Seymour followed this up on her blog, and quotes Stephen Timms of the New Economics Foundation, speaking in 2001: ‘“..all industrialized countries whose emissions are, per person, above a sustainable threshold should be looking over their shoulders. The next message G7 heads of state receive from their poorer cousins may not be an invitation to a reception, or a plea for more aid. It may be much more abrupt: “We’ll see you in court for global warming.”

Further, today’s Guardian quotes Kevin Watkins, writer of the UN’s Human Development Report, which came out yesterday: “It is about social justice and the human rights of the world’s marginalised. Failure to act on climate change would be tantamount to a systematic violation of the human rights of the poor.”

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