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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 18:15 GMT
Polluters 'should pay climate victims'
refugee child drinking
A drink for a young Mozambican: Should there be compensation too?
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The World Wide Fund for Nature says Western industrialised countries should compensate developing nations struck by climate-related disasters.

WWF International made its call in the German city of Bonn, at a technical workshop being held by the United Nations framework convention on climate change.

It said governments contributing most to the build-up of global warming gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) must accept their duty to provide compensation for those suffering the effects.

WWF's call comes shortly after floods inundated Mozambique and other parts of southern Africa, and in the aftermath of the very high tides in Tuvalu, in the south Pacific.

Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's climate change campaign, said: "These are not isolated incidents, and are very likely to occur more often in a warmer world.

Paying the price

"Long debates over the responsibility of industrialised countries for the consequences in developing countries of the changing climate ignore the fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are already suffering the effects.

"Governments have to accept that if they are not prepared to take domestic measures to reduce their CO2 emissions, they will have to pay the price."

oil refinery
OPEC wants compensation for lost sales
Many scientists believe the Earth is gradually warming up because of the release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere from human activity. But other researchers dispute this.

They point to inconsistencies in temperature records over the last century, and in particular the data measured from space and by high-altitude balloons, which show no recent warming trend at all.

These scientists accuse green groups of making alarmist statements that are not supported by the facts.

Andrew Kerr, the public affairs manager for WWF International, told BBC News Online: "We are careful not to make a direct link between climate change and any particular event like Mozambique, because they could be one-offs.

Domestic compensation

"But the sort of extreme weather events we're seeing are characteristic of what we'd see in a warming world."

WWF says the governments of several industrialised countries already compensate their own people for damage caused by extreme weather.

It cites US compensation paid in the wake of Hurricane Floyd, and French payments made after the severe storms of Christmas 1999.

hurricane aftermath
Floyd's victims received payment
But WWF says no rich government "yet accepts its responsibility towards developing countries", despite "substantial new and accumulating evidence of a rapidly changing climate".

Developing countries account for about a third of the world's energy-related CO2 emissions, but they are likely to suffer the most severe impacts of climate change.

Paying for profits foregone

One topic for discussion at the Bonn workshop is the demand by members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that they should be compensated if their sales of oil fall because of agreements to tackle climate change.

Jennifer Morgan said: "It cannot be right that, while negotiations creep agonisingly forward, the victims of climate change are to be left unprotected and uncompensated.

"If the US tobacco industry can be held responsible for smoking-related deaths and illnesses, and ordered to pay very hefty fines, wealthy countries must be held responsible in some way for the contribution their carbon pollution is almost certainly making to recent droughts and floods."

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09 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
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