Developing nations are particularly vulnerable to impacts of global heating, including widespread destruction and death from storms, droughts, and floods. This is not just bad luck, it’s tragic climate injustice. Wealthy countries have run up a vast planetary and ecological bill with a century of resource extraction and greenhouse gas emissions. The bill has come due, but whenever possible we leave the bill at the door of developing countries – countries which are least able to pay, and which have done almost nothing, relatively speaking, to contribute to the climate and ecological crisis. Central to humanity’s attempt to save itself must be a massive effort by wealthy nations to take responsibility for paying the cost of the comforts they now enjoy.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
The Climate Crisis As a Bill That Has Come Due
Reparations for Climate Injustice
Seeing Our Connection to the Fate of Developing Nations
Taking Responsibility for Paying the Cost of Amassing Wealth


climate injustice

Pakistan floods – Displaced people fleeing Sindh streamed into Balochistan. PHOTO: Abdul Majeed Goraya / IRIN |

As of yesterday, September 7th, 2022, almost 1/3 of the country of Pakistan was under water.[i] 33 million people are affected, 6.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 1.7 million homes have been damaged or destroyed, and at least 1,355 people have died.[ii] As flood waters abate, it will take years for Pakistan to rebuild schools, hospitals, homes, and infrastructure, and for its agriculture and businesses to recover. Even before the flooding, Pakistan was in danger of economic collapse, appealing to the International Monetary Fund for a $1.7 billion relief package. The costs of the recent flooding are expected to be well over $10 billion.[iii]

The primary causes of the massive flooding in Pakistan are heavier-than-usual monsoonal rains and accelerated glacial melting. Both causes are exacerbated by global heating, making the people of Pakistan victims of the climate crisis even though they have done relatively little to contribute to the problem.


The Climate Crisis As a Bill That Has Come Due

Ironically, wealthy countries have driven global heating and ecological breakdown with their resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution – but they now tend to be more insulated from catastrophic climate-related impacts due to their northern locations, wealth, and far superior infrastructures. Even when wealthy countries experience terrible climate-related events or conditions, they are far better able to prepare for, mitigate, and recover from them.

For a hundred years or more, industrialized nations have plundered our planet’s natural resources as if there was no cost to paid for this – beyond that incurred while extracting, processing, and consuming them. But there was a cost, just a delayed one. Our bill has come due, but whenever we can, we leave it at the door of developing nations. Not only that, as the developing nations struggle to cope, they fall deeper in debt to wealthy ones, thereby making the imbalance even worse.

There is more and more discussion about how wealthy countries owe reparations to the developing ones now on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This seems not only fair and just, but also, of course, humane. How wonderful it would be if the richest countries in the world – including the U.S., Canada, European nations, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan[iv] – quickly mobilized a massive rescue effort in Pakistan, just as they would for their own citizens. Because developing nations in particular are paying the price for the comfort the wealthy nations now enjoy.


Reparations for Climate Injustice

However, the discussion about climate reparations has largely remained just that – discussion. Starting in 2009, the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set a goal of providing $100 Billion a year to assist developing nations by 2020 – not just for climate change compensation, but to help them develop in climate-friendly ways as possible. At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, it was acknowledged that wealthy nations had increased their contributions in this area but had fallen short of the $100 Billion a year goal.[v]

$100 Billion may sound like a lot of money, and we can hope that this kind of assistance will be happening soon, but consider that Pakistan’s recent flooding could eat up 10-20% of that amount – and that would simply be for recovery, not for investment in climate-friendly development. And that’s just one country facing unprecedented and destructive climate-related events (think also of millions of people facing food shortages in the Horn of Africa due to their worst drought in 40 years[vi] and recent floods in Bangladesh that some called the worst in 100 years,[vii] to name just a couple current situations in developing countries).


Seeing Our Connection to the Fate of Developing Nations

It’s human nature to care most about what it close to us – to feel concern about and generosity toward our families, friends, and people in our immediate communities. To be focused on what’s happening within our own country, or within the groups with which we identify. It’s easy to look through pictures of floods in Pakistan and feel sorry for the people affected, but then to stash our knowledge of this situation away in our minds, along with subtle, semi-conscious rationalizations like, “They always have monsoons in that area of the world,” or “They’ll get over it.”

Despite the extremity of the situation in Pakistan, when I went to search for the latest reports on the flooding, I found the issue was no longer on the front pages of the digital editions of the New York Times, Guardian, or Washington Post. I had to search for “Pakistan Flooding” in Google and set the time frame for the search to the last 24 hours in order to get anything current.

Imagine having lost your home and livelihood in a flood, even though you lived in an area that has never flooded in living memory – even in the monsoon season. When the waters finally rose far enough to force you to evacuate, you were utterly shocked. Imagine huddling with your children and elders in a leaky, makeshift shelter, without enough food or clean water, skeptical that any help will be coming any time soon. All support systems are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people affected by the floods. You talk with other refugees, and some of them say the crazy weather over the last 5-10 years is caused by the greenhouse gas emissions from rich countries like the United States. You wonder if anyone in those rich countries is thinking about how their way of life has destroyed yours. You see no end to the difficulties you are facing.


Taking Responsibility for Paying the Cost of Amassing Wealth

Bearing Witness to the tragic injustice of the climate crisis is not meant to make you feel guilty, although guilt may be an appropriate emotion when we have participated in something wrong. However, as I’ve discussed before on this podcast, no one of us is responsible for our climate crisis.

I think it’s valuable for us to face the injustice of the climate and ecological crisis because it shifts our sense of the problem. We see it not as a merely physical matter of finding sources of energy that don’t emit so much greenhouse gas and mitigating the effects of pollutants we’ve already emitted while enriching ourselves. Instead, we see it as an issue of humanity, justice, and fairness. Almost any indigenousness culture of the world could have told us that carelessly and greedily plundering earth’s natural resources would have a cost, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Now that the bill has come due, it is our duty to pay it – to mitigate, correct, and repair damage caused by global heating, wherever it occurs. We do this NOT because poor people in a foreign country need our charity, but because it’s our responsibility – and to dodge our responsibility in this case is reprehensible.

Over the coming years, you will probably hear more about climate justice, climate reparations, or climate compensation. I hope any of us with blessings like shelter, food, safety, and education will be open to seeing these matters as part of our responsibility as moral and respectful global citizens.











Photo Credit:

Pakistan floods – Displaced people fleeing Sindh streamed into Balochistan. PHOTO: Abdul Majeed Goraya / IRIN | Creative Commons license:

%d bloggers like this: