Original Publication Date: 
2 June, 2009
Sign on letter of climate debt.doc1.31 MB
Repay the Climate Debt.doc21 KB

Dear Friends,

As the the climate negotiations intensify on the road to Copenhagen, a key issue that has occuppied much attention is the issue of mitigation and the burden-sharing between developed and developing countries.

In this regard, these past few months, issues have been raised about the Earth’s limited carbon budget and how there should be fair shares in the use of this environmental space for enabling sustainable development. Issues of historical responsibility, fair effort sharing and the repayment of a climate debt have been advanced by several developing countries, including the Heads of States of several Latin American Countries, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, China, Algeria and others. Indigenous peoples and civil society groups have also been highlighting this. Please see below this message quotes from the various governments and of social movements and civil society that are evidence of this.

These issues are key in ensuring that there is equity, justice and fairness in any climate deal.

We in the Third World Network have taken the initiative to prepare a sign-on letter to galvanize members of civil society and social movements globally to support the call for the repayment of the climate debt and to advance these calls in the climate negotiations.

Please find attached the letter as well as a primer on climate debt. The sign on letter is called 'Repay the climate debt' and the primer is called 'Climate debt'.

As negotiations in Bonn begin on the 1st June, we are keen to get as many sign-ons by as many organisations as possible, so that this can be circulated and have an influence over the negotiations.

We look forward to you support in endorsing this sign-on letter.

Please let us know if we can add your organisation on and also do indicate the country you are based in.

Kindly send your endorsements to Yvonne Miller at

Thank-you very much for supporting these efforts.


Meena Raman and Lim Li Lin
For the TWN Climate team



As for climate change, developed countries are in an environmental debt to the world because they are responsible for 70% of historical carbon emissions into the atmosphere since 1750. Developed countries should pay off their debt to humankind and the planet; they should provide significant resources to a fund so that developing countries can embark upon a growth model which does not repeat the serious impacts of the capitalist industrialization.


IPCC reported that 70% of global warming is due to burning of fossil fuel. That heat pollution would be the biggest environmental catastrophe that humankind ever faced. To avoid this, IPCC suggested a carbon budget (1456 trillion tons of carbon for the whole century). However this budget will expire in 2032 if we continue business as usual.

According to IPCC’s Carbon Budget, the environmental permissible carbon quota per person for 2009 is 2170 kg. In Sri Lanka each person emits 660 kg annually. In USA and Canada it is 22,000 kg per person, that is more that ten times the permissible quota. The world average is 4700 kg, that is twice the permissible level. That means low emitting countries like us could not emit more because our space has already been exploited by developed or global polluting countries without our consent. And more importantly they exploited future generations’ quota as well. If we adopt scientific criteria of IPCC these so called developed countries should cut their emission level by at least 70-90 % by 2020. On the other hand they owe environmental debt to other countries and should compensate them by establishing an adaptation fund. Now these countries adopt delaying tactics by setting out long goals (promising a 50% emission cut by 2050) which are to be honored by their children and blaming developing world for increasing emissions which are now well below the permissible level.

If we look at the SAARC region, the region is having a population of nearly one sixth of the global population and has a total CO2 emission level of around 1330 million tones per year which is only 3.7% of the global total emission.

Let me share information with regard to the CO2 debt of developed countries towards SAARC region estimated in line with the HDI report published by UNDP in 2007/2008 and based on the principle that if the global per capita emission level of CO2 is 2.1 t and the countries that exceed this acceptable level are depriving the opportunities of the low emitting countries as well as the future generations. Bangladesh has 468.33 million credits available in terms of tonnes of CO2.whereas Sri Lanka has 56.96 million, Pakistan: 481.75, India:3342.6, Nepal: 83.23 and Afghanistan 80.12

It is necessary to assess the cost either in terms of monetary values or as an index to measure past accumulated “Environmental Debt” owed by the developed countries to the developing counties. This index could be used to estimate the environmental impacts of development activities of developed nation that have already caused natural resource depletion and environmental degradation in terms of an environmental debt to future generations of both developing and developed nations.

In order to fight climate change we need new criteria for emission cuts based on IPCC’s carbon budget and there should be an adaptation fund estimating the actual cost of climate change. A new monitoring institution and a new international climate change court of justice, where defaulting nations would to be answerable in order to ensure environmental justice, should be established...

We can define sustainable development as a new development which treats all living beings equally and shares capital as well as natural wealth equally among the present and future generations while maximizing the wellbeing and happiness of human kind. Ecologically it would be the new development which preserves the dynamic equilibrium of the planet while enhancing Ecosystem diversity.


The climate debt of developed countries must be repaid, and this payment must begin with the outcomes to be agreed in Copenhagen.

Developing countries are not seeking economic handouts to solve a problem we did not cause. What we call for is full payment of the debt owed to us by developed countries for threatening the integrity of the Earth’s climate system, for over-consuming a shared resource that belongs fairly and equally to all people, and for maintaining lifestyles that continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of the poor majority of the planet’s population. This debt must be repaid by freeing up environmental space for developing countries and particular the poorest communities.

There is no viable solution to climate change that is effective without being equitable. Deep emission reductions by developed countries are a necessary condition for stabilising the Earth’s climate. So too are profoundly larger transfers of technologies and financial resources than so far considered, if emissions are to be curbed in developing countries and they are also to realise their right to development and achieve their overriding priorities of poverty eradication and economic and social development. Any solution that does not ensure an equitable distribution of the Earth’s limited capacity to absorb greenhouse gases, as well as the costs of mitigating and adapting to climate change, is destined to fail.



We call upon the Parties to the UNFCCC to recognize the importance of our Traditional Knowledge and practices shared by Indigenous Peoples in developing strategies to address climate change. To address climate change we also call on the UNFCCC to recognize the historical and ecological debt of the Annex 1 countries in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. We call on these countries to pay this historical debt.


We, Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), representing 63 civil society organisations from across Africa, call for a fair, just and equitable global deal to urgently respond to climate change.

PACJA believes that climate change is fundamentally a justice issue. The 53 African countries are responsible for less than 4% of global emissions and have over 15% of the global population. The developed countries have emitted almost three quarters of all historical emissions but they represent less than one fifth of the world’s population.

By their excessive emissions, this wealthy minority has appropriated the majority of the Earth’s atmospheric space, which belongs equally to all and should be fairly shared. For their disproportionate contribution to the causes of climate change – denying developing countries their fair share of atmospheric space – the developed countries have run up an “emissions debt”.

These excessive emissions, in turn, are the principal cause of the current adverse effects experienced by developing countries, particularly in Africa. For their disproportionate contribution to the effects of climate change – causing rising costs and damage in our countries that must now adapt to climate change – the developed countries have run up an “adaptation debt”.

Together the sum of these debts – emissions debt and adaptation debt – constitutes the climate debt.
Proposals by developed countries in the climate negotiations, on both mitigation and adaptation, are inadequate. They seek to pass on the costs of adaptation and mitigation, avoiding their responsibility to finance climate change response efforts in Africa.

They also seek to write-off rather than reduce their emissions and continue their high per-capita emissions. This would deepen their debt and deny atmospheric space to the developing countries like ours, which would be asked to crowd into a small and shrinking remainder.

We therefore call on developed countries to fully, effectively and immediately repay the climate debt they owe to African countries....

In conclusion, PACJA strongly believes that meeting these demands is a basic prerequisite for success in December 2009. Copenhagen must be a key turning point for climate justice – a crucial milestone on the journey to stabilizing the Earth’s climate and securing the rights and aspirations of all people.



The case for climate justice is grounded in the recognition that the industrialized countries have a huge environmental debt toward the countries of the South on account of the development that, for more than 150 years, they have pursued on the basis of overexploiting fossil fuels: gas, carbon, and oil. The case in question is about a climate debt, which, therefore, they must pay off. Climate justice will only be reached when the Rich States of the North recognize this environmental debt, which also entails a drastic and urgent reduction of their contaminating emissions, the provision of funds for poor countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation processes, and the transfer of “clean” technologies to the global south for the development of environmentally sustainable productive processes.