Africa and the climate finance controversy

21 October 2010 by Patrick Bond

Will Africa end up paying for technologies that commodify life, or demand reparations for ecological damage done by the North, asks Patrick Bond.

Let us accept Pat Mooney’s six theses about damaging new world trends: Loss of diversity; the threat of shock-therapy bio-engineering; the profusion of state-subsidised technological fixes (mainly unworkable); the disempowerment of those promoting ecologically- and socially-preferable alternatives; amplified state-corporate control over body politics and individual bodies implied by many of these fixes; and ‘corporatist’ politics at global and national scales directly linking state resources to crony-capitalist private profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. .

Accepting these premises and turning our attention to Africa, the questions posed in this article are: How do such zany schemes get funded by global capital and multilateral financial institutions? Can we derail the techie agenda with a defunding strategy, by cutting off the financial lifeblood? And following logically: If lack of finance is a barrier to achieving alternative visions, how then might we break that barrier? The most challenging case, in which the money will flow fastest and most inappropriately – and where the need for an alternative, fair and just financing arrangement is most acute – is the climate crisis.


Setting aside hard-to-predict Chinese flows or the purchase of vast swathes of African land by other countries (India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia), it does seem that elites lack solid commitments for external financing to make possible both private sector speculative projects and public sector infrastructural investment in Africa. In some periods there is an overflow of such finance, such as the mid/late-1970s, mid/late-1990s and late 2000s, when bubbly Northern markets pushed credit into the pockets – and often the overseas bank accounts – of Africa’s venal rulers, to be repaid by the impoverished masses mainly through intensified mineral and cash crop exports, with structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

programmes as the banker’s squeezing technique.

Then came the 2008-09 economic meltdown, when within a six-month period, half the value on the world’s stock markets disappeared. Credit for even profitable firms became hard to get in the North, much less Africa. Other factors that dried up African financing included the mid-2008 commodity price crash (still nowhere near recovery), ongoing military strife in key sites, and worsening austerity conditions in the many rich donor countries which are cutting bilateral aid. While South Africa has received large financial inflows through emerging-market speculative funds, few private investors would put money into the rest of the continent.

Soon, however, a surplus of official multilateral credit became available, albeit with tight strings attached. Led by the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
(IMF), whose member states granted the institution more than US$750 billion in new lending capacity in 2009, the multilateral banks were financially re-empowered by the crisis. This was highly inappropriate, for their liberalising ideology was a central cause of the contagion, especially the 1990s command to drop capital controls and trade restrictions.

The World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, too, has a surplus of monies for investment, hence found it acceptable in April 2010 to dump US$3.75 billion into the largest coal-fired power station on the continent, the Medupi project in South Africa, in spite of myriad problems. But does new-found Bretton Woods Institution wealth translate into African credit-worthiness? The multilateral financiers would like us to accept their affirmative answer, yet the evidence is mixed.


Judging by a raft of reports in 2009-10, as well as some offhanded comments by the World Bank’s leading economist for Africa, Shanta Devarajan, the neoliberal bloc is promoting a curious argument: Africa’s ‘growth has accelerated since the 1990s’ because ‘these countries adopted exactly the Washington Consensus policies in the mid-1990s… out of their own accord, out of domestic political consensus, rather than imposed from Washington or Paris or London. And I think that’s the point that people are not recognizing, that the actual policies that are generating the growth, are actually very similar to what was criticized in the structural adjustment era’.

It is easy to argue with Devarajan – because the ‘growth’ is mythical, since GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
does not record the extraction of non-renewable resources. Once one makes this correction, as even the World Bank did in 2006, the net wealth associated with most African countries’ economies is negative (see Bond Bond A bond is a stake in a debt issued by a company or governmental body. The holder of the bond, the creditor, is entitled to interest and reimbursement of the principal. If the company is listed, the holder can also sell the bond on a stock-exchange. 2006 and World Bank 2006, even if Devarajan could not quite come to believe his own researchers’ analysis).

It is also easy to rebut the hubristic argument that in Africa the Washington Consensus ideology was adopted by ‘domestic political consensus’. And it’s easy to show how ‘growth’ has been so distorted in Africa – accompanied by rising inequality and macroeconomic imbalances – as to be untenable for anything more than building neocolonial rail lines, roads, ports and energy systems aimed solely at extracting more minerals, petroleum and cash crops. Backward-forward linkages and indigenous manufacturing were generally not on any financier’s agenda, and few if any African elites (aside from SA industry minister Rob Davies) have made efforts to balance Balance End of year statement of a company’s assets (what the company possesses) and liabilities (what it owes). In other words, the assets provide information about how the funds collected by the company have been used; and the liabilities, about the origins of those funds. their economies in a sensible way. As an ideology and political bloc stretching from Washington to the technocrats and politicians who manage every African capital, neoliberalism has simply been impervious to its own recent and soon-to-reappear crises.


For most foreign investors, Africa has always been a compliant site for not only mineral/petroleum extraction, but also abuse of the continent’s ‘ecological space’. Being on-grid for resource extraction and environmental exploitation in this manner is a curse. The looting of Africa’s environmental resources, the lack of industrial development and the role of the great central African rainforest as a prolific sink for the North’s CO2 emissions, together give rise to the argument that the industrialised powers owe Africa – and many other South sites – a formal debt for using too much ecological space, and for ripping out non-renewable resources in an unsustainable manner.

According to the Ecuador-based advocacy group Accion Ecologica (2000): ‘ecological debt is the debt accumulated by Northern, industrial countries toward Third World countries on account of resource plundering, environmental damages, and the free occupation of environmental space to deposit wastes, such as greenhouse gases, from the industrial countries.’

The leading scientist in the field, Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Joan Martinez-Alier (2003), calculates ecological debt in many forms: ‘nutrients in exports including virtual water, the oil and minerals no longer available, the biodiversity destroyed, sulphur dioxide emitted by copper smelters, the mine tailings, the harms to health from flower exports, the pollution of water by mining, the commercial use of information and knowledge on genetic resources, when they have been appropriated gratis (‘biopiracy’), and agricultural genetic resources.’ As for the North’s ‘lack of payment for environmental services or for the disproportionate use of environmental space,’ Martinez-Alier criticises ‘imports of solid or liquid toxic waste, and free disposal of gas residues (carbon dioxide, CFCs, etc).’

How should this debt be repaid? Simply through forgiving financial debt? More than a quarter century ago, ‘debt-for-nature swaps’ were pioneered in Latin America as a way local elites could maintain contractual obligations to global finance (thus not losing out on credit ratings and international standing) while several rather unprincipled international environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs) could tap into new donor pools to acquire ‘new enclosures’ for conservation purposes. Many organisations of indigenous people have been outraged, and today formally oppose the latest version of enclosures, the ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries’ (REDD) programme (Morales 2010).

Instead of such schemes, whose effects are to permit Northern polluters to continue business as usual and Northern financiers and ENGOs to gain greater control, those responsible for taking advantage of Africa’s natural resources should pay their ecological debt, according to the principle of ‘polluters pay’. This is an especially compelling argument, now that there is near-universal awareness of the damage being done by rising greenhouse gas emissions, and by the ongoing stubborn refusal by the rich to cut back.

However, demands by Jubilee South and others for no-strings eco-debt repayment plus dramatic cuts in Northern greenhouse gas emissions – to allow Africa its fair share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. of future industrial development – are the opposite of the elites’ strategy. Instead of repaying climate credits, the Northern capitalists have drawn African rulers into a financing game they much prefer: Carbon trading Market activities
Buying and selling of financial instruments such as shares, futures, derivatives, options, and warrants conducted in the hope of making a short-term profit.


In 1997 at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, the Global North offered to assist Africa financially through ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM) projects, in a context of declining overseas development aid associated with the end of the Cold War. Many African elites agreed, along with once reluctant environmental groups. Popular movements were unaware and uninvolved, and expert opinion was mixed about the efficacy and moral implications. The proponents of carbon trading argued that this would be the least painful – and least resisted – means of capping greenhouse gas emissions and allowing economies to adapt to new carbon constraints.

Market mechanisms – especially carbon trading and offsets – allow corporations and governments generating greenhouse gases to seemingly reduce their net emissions. They can do this, thanks to the Kyoto Protocol, by trading for others’ ‘certified emissions reductions’ (e.g. CDM projects in the Third World) or emissions rights (e.g. Eastern Europe’s ‘hot air’ that followed the 1990s economic collapse).

The pro-trading rationale is that once property rights are granted to polluters for these emissions, even if given not auctioned (hence granting a generous giveaway), a ‘cap’ can be put on a country’s or the world’s total emissions. It will then be progressively lowered, if there is political will. So as to minimise adverse economic impact, corporations can stay within the cap even by emitting way above it, by buying others’ rights to pollute.


Although in 1997, this theory may been plausible, by 2010 it was clear that the main pilots had failed. CDMs fit within the broader carbon markets: Roughly 6.5 per cent of the US$125 billion in 2008 trades, a ratio that fell substantially in 2009. For those Africans who bought into carbon trading, there were howls of protest about an obvious injustice: The share of CDM financing to Africa continued to be disproportionately low, around 3 per cent of all CDM projects. Most credits emanated from South Africa, with its huge emissions and large cadre of environmental technical specialists.

Given the controversies already evident in myriad European Union Emissions Trading Scheme credibility crises, corruption cases and price volatility problems – with the 2008-09 ‘value’ of a tonne of CO2 falling from €30 at peak to less than €9, before adjusting to around €15 during 2010 – the question emerged whether CDMs were not fundamentally flawed as a strategy for climate financing (Lohmann 2006, 2010). The apparent demise of carbon trading in the 2009-10 legislative session of the US Senate made this strategy a losing proposition not only for Africa but also at the global scale.

Even without the expected Washington gridlock, mainly as a result of sabotage by powerful fossil fuel interests, carbon trading had crashed on its own terms by early 2010. ‘The concept is in wide disrepute’, reported the New York Times (25 March 2010), with US Senator Maria Cantwell explaining that ‘cap and trade’ (the US description) was ‘discredited by the Wall Street crisis, the Enron scandal and the rocky start to a carbon credits trading system in Europe that has been subject to dizzying price fluctuations and widespread fraud.’

But it is to left-wing critics of emissions trading that we turn for a more rounded critique, especially the Durban Group for Climate Justice, founded in 2004 in South Africa. Most in the climate justice movement argue that the carbon market is not working:

- The idea of inventing a property right to pollute is effectively the ‘privatization of the air’, a moral problem given the vast and growing differentials in wealth inequalities
- Greenhouse gases are complex and their rising production creates a non-linear impact which cannot be reduced to a commodity exchange relationship (a tonne of CO2 produced in one place accommodated by reducing a tonne in another, as is the premise of the emissions trade)
- The corporations most guilty of pollution and the World Bank – which is most responsible for fossil fuel financing – are the driving forces behind the market, and can be expected to engage in systemic corruption to attract money into the market even if this prevents genuine emissions reductions
- Many of the offsetting projects – such as monocultural timber plantations, forest ‘protection’ and landfill methane-electricity projects – have devastating impacts on local communities and ecologies, and have been hotly contested in part because the carbon sequestered is far more temporary (since trees die) than the carbon emitted
- The price of carbon determined in these markets is haywire, making mockery of the idea that there will be an effective market mechanism to make renewable energy a cost-effective investment
- There is a serious potential for carbon markets to become an out-of-control, multi-trillion dollar speculative bubble Speculative bubble An economic, financial or speculative bubble is formed when the level of trading-prices on a market (financial assets market, currency-exchange market, property market, raw materials market, etc.) settles well above the intrinsic (or fundamental) financial value of the goods or assets being exchanged. In such a situation, prices diverge from the usual economic valuation under the influence of buyers’ beliefs. , similar to exotic financial instruments Financial instruments Financial instruments include financial securities and financial contracts. associated with Enron’s 2002 collapse (indeed, many Enron employees populate the carbon markets)
- As a ‘false solution’ to climate change, carbon trading encourages merely small, incremental shifts, and thus distracts us from a wide range of radical changes we need to make in materials extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal; and
- The idea of market solutions to market failure (‘externalities’) is an ideology that rarely makes sense, and especially not following the world’s worst-ever financial market Financial market The market for long-term capital. It comprises a primary market, where new issues are sold, and a secondary market, where existing securities are traded. Aside from the regulated markets, there are over-the-counter markets which are not required to meet minimum conditions. failure, and especially not when the very idea of derivatives Derivatives A family of financial products that includes mainly options, futures, swaps and their combinations, all related to other assets (shares, bonds, raw materials and commodities, interest rates, indices, etc.) from which they are by nature inseparable—options on shares, futures contracts on an index, etc. Their value depends on and is derived from (thus the name) that of these other assets. There are derivatives involving a firm commitment (currency futures, interest-rate or exchange swaps) and derivatives involving a conditional commitment (options, warrants, etc.). – a financial asset Asset Something belonging to an individual or a business that has value or the power to earn money (FT). The opposite of assets are liabilities, that is the part of the balance sheet reflecting a company’s resources (the capital contributed by the partners, provisions for contingencies and charges, as well as the outstanding debts). whose underlying value is several degrees removed and also subject to extreme variability – was thrown into question.


Notwithstanding the chaos and corruption, there are prominent supporters of environment and development – including at least three leading Africans – who continue promoting the emissions trade. For some, this can be attributed to substantial conflicts of interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. , which arose in joint roles as climate cooling advocates and carbon traders. According to Michael Dorsey, professor of political ecology at Dartmouth College, ‘After more than a decade of failed politicking [on behalf of carbon trading], many NGO types... are only partially jumping off the sinking ship – so as to work for industries driving the problem. Unfortunately, many continue to influence NGO policy from their current positions, while failing to admit to or even understand obvious conflicts of interest’ (cited in Bond 2009).

In the highest-profile African case, Wangari Maathai, the former Kenyan deputy environment minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, such conflicts were not a factor. But there were certainly self-interested reasons for Valli Moosa, South Africa’s former environment minister (1999-2004), to promote carbon trading as minister at the critical 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. In the latter half of the 2000s, Moosa went on to preside over the IUCN and chaired the board of the continent’s largest energy company and CO2 emitter, Eskom, and became actively involved in the trade as a sideline. Then in March 2010, he was implicated, as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) financing committee, in unethically channelling tens of millions of rands in earnings to the ruling party by signing Eskom purchase orders for Medupi’s new boilers in a way that directly benefited the ANC, which in turn was financed by the controversial World Bank loan.

Moosa’s successor as minister of environment, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, was an apartheid-era youth spy for the white regime during the 1980s, who took control of the National Party in the late 1990s and then dissolved it into the ANC in exchange for the ministerial position (although in 2009 he was demoted to tourism minister). Van Schalkwyk (cited in Bond, Dada and Erion, 2009) argued in 2006 that ‘The 17 CDM projects in the pipeline in Sub-Sahara Africa account for only 1.7 per cent of the total of 990 projects worldwide. To build faith in the carbon market and to ensure that everyone shares in its benefits, we must address the obstacles that African countries face.’ At the International Emissions Trading Association Forum in Washington a year later, he insisted, ‘An all-encompassing global carbon market regime which includes all developed countries is the first and ultimate aim.’ Van Schalkwyk was nominated by South Africa to replace Yvo de Boer as UN climate negotiations director in early 2010, but his candidacy barely failed (to Costa Rican carbon trader Christiana Figueres).

Maathai, too, promoted carbon trading through her own Greenbelt Movement in the expectation that CDMs and emerging proposals for REDD would reward tree-planting in both her indigenous strategy as well as monocultural timber plantations. She was also the leading proponent of the document ‘Africa speaks up on Climate Change’, which fed FED
Federal Reserve
Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank :
into the ‘African Climate Appeal’, a statement which insists upon more CDM finance with fewer strings attached, especially for afforestation:

‘African governments should ensure that there is equity Equity The capital put into an enterprise by the shareholders. Not to be confused with ’hard capital’ or ’unsecured debt’. in geographical distribution of CDM projects and that this is entrenched in the international policy process. They should negotiate for the requirement of up front funding of CDM projects to be waived for many African countries who cannot afford it. The appeal calls upon African countries to embark on the development of CDM capacities and projects including capacity building and development of centers of incubation for CDM projects. African governments should explore possibilities of accessing grants to provide upfront funding for CDM projects and also project development and financing through bilateral arrangements’ (Matthai, 2009, p. 4).

Maathai criticised three existing funds – the Special Climate Change Fund, the Least Developed Countries Least Developed Countries
A notion defined by the UN on the following criteria: low per capita income, poor human resources and little diversification in the economy. The list includes 49 countries at present, the most recent addition being Senegal in July 2000. 30 years ago there were only 25 LDC.
Fund and the Bali Adaptation Fund – because these funds have not been able to address concerns of African countries on adaptation, namely:

‘[A]ccess, adequacy and equitable geographical distribution. The funds are largely inadequate and inappropriately structured; currently relying on a 2 percent levy on CDM projects. Access to the funds has been made difficult, among others, by bureaucratic bottlenecks of the Global Environmental Fund and the World Bank.’ (Matthai, 2009, p. 4).


Instead of requesting more CDM carbon trading funds, many more civil society groups instead insisted on raising climate debt as the optimal financing route. In August 2008, African chapters of Jubilee South converged in Nairobi to debunk limited ‘debt relief’ by Northern powers and to plan the next stage of financial campaigning. Nairobi-based Africa Jubilee South co-coordinator Njoki Njehu concluded, ‘Africa and the rest of the Global South are owed a huge historical and ecological debt for slavery, colonialism, and centuries of exploitation’ (cited in Bond and Brutus, 2008, p. 1).

Behind African elite considerations is the threat to repeat their performance in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003, when denial of consent in World Trade Organisation WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

negotiations was the proximate cause of the summits’ collapse on both occasions. On 3 September 2009, Meles Zenawi issued a strong threat from Addis Ababa about the upcoming Copenhagen conference: ‘If need be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent’ (cited in Ashine 2009). To gather that power, Zenawi established the Conference of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change: chairpersons of the AU and the AU Commission, representatives of Ethiopia, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Chairpersons of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment and Technical Negotiators on climate change from all member states. They met at the AU Summit in Sirte, Libya in July 2009, agreeing that Africa would have a sole delegation to Copenhagen with a united front and demands for compensation.

The most important African negotiator – and largest CO2 emitter (responsible for more than 40 per cent of the continent’s CO2) – is South Africa (Bond, Dada and Erion 2009). Long seen as a vehicle for Western interests in Africa, Pretoria’s negotiators have two conflicting agendas: Increasing Northern payments to Africa (a longstanding objective of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which requested US$64 billion per annum in aid and investment concessions during the early 2000s); and increasing CO2 outputs through around 2050, when the Long-Term Mitigation Scenario – South Africa’s official climate cap – would come into effect and emissions declines are offered as a scenario. In the meantime, Pretoria has earmarked more than US$100 billion for emissions-intensive coal and nuclear fired electricity generation plants due to be constructed during 2010-15, which would amplify Africa’s climate crisis, requiring more resources from the North for adaptation.

But the current South African environment minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, made a demand in September 2009: ‘We expect money. We need money to be made available... we need money as of yesterday for adaptation and mitigation’ (Sapa 2009). What Sonjica didn’t comprehend is that any just calculation of financing responsibilities for climate debt would identify South Africa as a debtor not creditor country.


The effect of the Africans’ rhetoric appeared to entail some immediate concessions. In September 2009, the European Union announced it would begin paying its climate debt, but only up to US$22 billion annually to fund adaptation, roughly one seventh of what EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas observed would be required by 2020 (US$145b). Some of that would be subtracted from existing aid. The EU damage estimates were considered far too conservative, as China’s mitigation and adaptation costs alone would be US$438 billion annually by 2030, according to Beijing. According to one report, the EU view is that emissions trading should be the basis of ‘much of the shortfall’: ‘The international carbon market, if designed properly, will create an increasing financial flow to developing countries and could potentially deliver as much as €38bn per year in 2020’ (Chaffin and Crooks 2009: 24).

Because this offer was widely judged as inadequate, Zenawi carried out a trial run of his walk-out threat just prior to Copenhagen, in November 2009 at a Barcelona UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) meeting. Sufficient concessions were not on the table, so his technical negotiators registered a protest. But at the crucial moment in Copenhagen, during the final week when heads of state would arrive to negotiate a new protocol, Zenawi diverted his own flight from Addis Ababa via Paris, where he met French premier Nicolas Sarkozy. Shortly thereafter, he announced the halving of Africa’s climate debt demands (Vidal 2009).

According to Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), this act had the effect of ‘undermining the bold positions of our negotiators and ministers represented here, and threatening the very future of Africa… Meles wants to sell out the lives and hopes of Africans for a pittance. Every other African country has committed to policy based on the science’ (cited in Reddy 2009, p. 1).

Then on 17 December, US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton offered what appeared to be a major concession (Clinton 2009, p. 1):

… in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.

Yet there was no firm line-item in the US budget to this end, just a promise (the US had regularly broken similar aid promises in the past, and at the same time the US President Barack Obama was cutting back AIDS medicines funding to Africa). The private sources of finances alone could easily exceed US$100 billion, with CDMs at the time in excess of 6 per cent of the US$125 billion emissions markets. If, as predicted, the size of the 2020 carbon market reached US$3 trillion, it would take just 3.3 per cent dedicated to CDMs to reach the US$100 billion target. So given the private sourcing and likelihoods of loans not grants, Clinton’s offer could readily be rejected as meaningless.

However, several countries had insisted on climate debt as a negotiating framework even before Copenhagen, including Venezuela, Paraguay, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. But in Copenhagen, only Sudan stood out, partly because its UN Ambassador, Lumumba di-Aping, had such a visible role as G77 chief negotiator. At one point, when briefing civil society a week before the fatal Copenhagen Accord deal, he ‘sat silently, tears rolling down his face,’ according to a report, and then said, simply, ‘We have been asked to sign a suicide pact.’ For much of the continent, said Di-Aping, 2 degrees C globally meant 3.5 degrees C: ‘certain death for Africa’, a type of ‘climate fascism’ imposed on Africa by polluters, in exchange for which the Third World would get a measly US$10 billion per year in ‘fast track’ funding, although ‘US$10 billion is not enough to buy us coffins’. Agreeing with leading US climate scientist James Hansen, the Copenhagen deal on offer was ‘worse than no deal’, said Di-Aping, concluding, ‘I would rather die with my dignity than sign a deal that will channel my people into a furnace.’ As for the main negotiator, he had this prophesy: ‘What is Obama going to tell his daughters? That their [Kenyan] relatives’ lives are not worth anything? It is unfortunate that after 500 years-plus of interaction with the West we [Africans] are still considered “disposables”’ (cited in Welz 2009).


After this debacle, it was up to the Bolivian government to pick up the baton. In April 2010, the World Conference of Peoples on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, issued demands for a formal compensation mechanism for climate debt. The conference’s Working Group on Climate Debt (2010, p. 1) argued as follows:

‘Climate debt is an obligation of compensation that is generated because of the damage done to Mother Earth by the irrational emissions of greenhouse gases. The primary responsible for these irrational emissions are the so-called ‘developed countries ‘, inhabited by only 20% of the world population, and which emitted 75% of historical emissions of greenhouse gases.

‘These states, which stimulated the capitalist development model, are responsible for climate debt, but we shouldn’t forget that within these states, there live poor and indigenous peoples which are also affected by this debt…

‘The responsibility for the climate debt of each developed country is established in relation to the level of emissions, taking into account the historically emitted amount of tons of carbon per capita.’

The Working Group (2010, p. 2) made suggestions for payment as follows:

- The re-absorption [of emissions] and cleaning the atmosphere by developed countries

- Payment in technology (eliminating patents) and in knowledge according to our worldview for both clean development and for adaptation to developing countries
- Financing
- Changes in immigration laws that allow us to offer a new home for all climate migrants
- The adoption of the Declaration on the Mother Earth’s Rights.

The Working Group also called for funding to be routed through the UNFCCC, ‘replacing the Global Environment Facility and its intermediaries such as the World Bank and the Regional Development Banks.’ A further suggestion was that ‘The financial mechanism must respect the sovereign control of each country to determine the definition, design, implementation of policy and programmatic approaches to climate change.’ As for timing, ‘The financial mechanism shall be defined and approved at COP16, and be made operational at COP17.’ These documents were based upon visionary civil society demands that had emerged over the prior months and years. Some earlier, very ambitious demands – such as the end of apartheid or access to AIDS medicines – were only won after years of struggle, after initially appearing equally audacious and unrealistic.

From the standpoint of civil society forces that have lost confidence in states, multilateral agencies, donors, corporations and ENGOs, how might debt repayments in the form of financing be best distributed? It became clear to many civil society groups in recent decades that postcolonial African governments were too easily corrupted, just as were United Nations and aid (and even international NGO) bureaucracies. One solution to the payment distribution problem appeared in 2009: The idea of simply passing along a monthly grant – universal in amount and access, with no means-testing or other qualifications – to each African citizen via an individual ‘Basic Income Program’ payment. According to Der Spiegel, the village of Otjivero, Namibia is an exceptionally successful pilot for this form of income redistribution (Krage 2009). First priority would be to supply a Basic Income Program to Africans who live in areas most adversely affected by droughts, floods or other extreme weather events. Logistically, the use of Post Office Savings Banks or rapidly-introduced Automated Teller Machines would be sensible, although currency distortions, security and other such challenges would differ from place to place. The Namibian case has much to recommend it, in part because it amongst the driest sites in Africa.

Such a strategy would be just an emergency salve on a burning problem: How to ensure that the greenhouse gas ‘polluters pay’ in a manner that first, compensates their climate change victims; that second, permits transformation of African energy, transport, extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal systems; and that third, in the process assures the ‘right to development’ for Africa in a future world economy constrained by emissions caps. Extremely radical changes will be required in all these activities in order not only to ensure the safety of the species and planet, but also that Africans are at the front of the queue for long-overdue ecological and economic compensation, given the North’s direct role in Africa’s environmental damage. The contemporary argument for climate debt to be paid is simply the first step in a long process, akin to decolonisation, in which the master – the polluting Global North – must know that not only is it time to halt the reliance on fossil fuels, but having ‘broken’ the climate, it is his responsibility to foot the clean-up bill.


In contrast to financing for techie fixes via carbon trading – and similar strategies associated with other fields of bio-engineering – there is an alternative approach to financing based upon climate justice and an awareness of historic responsibility.

To get climate justice higher on the agenda will require higher levels of eco-social protest. So far the grassroots, NGO and labour components of various climate justice movements have developed extremely unevenly across space, with mainly Northern radical environmentalists only fusing with Southern economic justice advocates outside the 2007 Bali Conference of the Parties. The fusion of red and green influences was called the ‘Climate Justice Now!’ network, and after the elites’ Copenhagen summit fiasco in December 2009, gained momentum in an April 2010 ‘World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth’ in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

As for intergovernmental cooperation, it appears hopeless going into the Cancun Conference of the Parties 16. The Latin American left leadership will be squashed by the US and most of the United Nations, and although before Copenhagen the African elites engaged in rhetorical challenges to climate apartheid, their role was ultimately to polish the chains, not break them. Most African elites will follow the path of Moosa, van Schalkwyk and Maathai, and will have similar levels of success: Negligible or even negative.

Mooney’s theses about the false technological solutions rely upon flows of money to support the flows of bad ideas. But like many dysfunctional, malevolent or incompetent development projects over the ages, these flows can be halted if the balance of forces improves. Fortunately, when dealing with environmental financing, elites – especially in the World Bank, the United Nations and donor agencies – invariably choose unsustainable schemes, though unfortunately they never pay the price, leaving the damage to be carried by social and environmental victims.

Still, the elites’ record of financing climate change strategies does suggest a growing awareness of how impossible it is to commodify nature, turn environmental credits into derivatives, sell these in the global financial markets, dress them up with multilateral pseudo-credibility, and expect the inverted pyramid to stay aloft. The record of the carbon market’s demise in 2009-10 should encourage critics to include financing handles in their campaigning against technological eco-fixes. To move from demands for climate debt payment – now explicitly on the world agenda – to a broader agenda of ecological debt advocacy, is just the next step in connecting the dots between these related issues, and building African-led alliances that can ultimately prevail.

Patrick Bond is director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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Published by Pambazuka

Patrick Bond

is professor at the University of Johannesburg Department of Sociology, and co-editor of BRICS and Resistance in Africa (published by Zed Books, 2019).



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