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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 23:10 GMT 00:10 UK


'Climate change cancels debt'

Climate-related disasters like Hurricane Mitch are happening more often

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A United Kingdom charity says the developed world owes far more, because of its environmental profligacy, to the poor countries than the debts they have run up by borrowing from governments and banks.

The charity, Christian Aid, has campaigned for a decade for the cancellation of the Third World's unpayable debts.

World Debt
In a report - Who owes who?: Climate change, debt, equity and survival - it says rich countries' debt to the world for the environmental damage they cause is immense.

It says they are overwhelmingly responsible for global warming, with per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 62 times higher than those of the least developed countries.

And the report says that, dollar for dollar, the poorest countries are about twice as efficient as the industrialised ones in their commercial use of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) to generate national income.

[ image: A Christian Aid debt protest]
A Christian Aid debt protest
"Heavily indebted poor countries are actually in credit on their global climate account by up to three times the value - $612bn - of their conventional $200bn of debt, because of their under-use or efficient use of fossil fuel resources."

The author of the report, Andrew Simms of Christian Aid, told BBC News Online: "It's a bit like a customer and a bank".

Breaking the bank

"If you owe the bank £5m, you've got problems. If you owe it £500m, the bank's got problems.

"The rich countries have run up such an immense debt in their use of the global commons, like the atmosphere, that the entire world is in trouble."

Christian Aid, the Global Commons Institute, and the International Institute for Environment and Development produced the report together.

[ image: The poor are not the debtors, says Christian Aid]
The poor are not the debtors, says Christian Aid
Aubrey Meyer of GCI said: "If we carry on only improving the efficiency of our fossil fuel use at current rates, within 100 years we will have taken greenhouse gas concentrations the first step towards turning this planet into Venus."

Christian Aid says it, with other charities, is having to devote more and more money to emergency relief in places like Nicaragua and Honduras after climate-related disasters have struck them - like Hurricane Mitch last year.

This is money it believes should go to projects to help the poor to lift themselves permanently out of poverty.

It says the rich world should cancel the Third World's unpayable debts, and transfer technology and new resources to help it to deal with climate change.

"Our climate is owned by no one and yet needed by everyone, rich and poor. Our survival depends on equity."

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