Ecological debt and historical responsibility revisited - The case of climate change
In spite of its strong appeal to NGOs, to certain governments and to some scholars, the concept of an ecological debt accumulated by developed countries due to their historical responsibility deserve a serious critical assessment. The paper provides this assessment in the context of climate change. It first shows how the rhetoric of ecological debt exploits confusion between a pre-modern concept of social debt and the modern one based on the contract figure. Two components of the climate debt are examined: a presumed duty of compensation of the damage imposed by climate change and rules of sharing out of atmospheric services when developed countries are presumed to have emitted GHGs in the past in excess of their fair share. The discussion considers successively the legal and the moral viewpoint. A review of arguments shows that both concepts of ecological debt and historical responsibility disintegrate under scrutiny in the case of climate change, as ill-founded backward-looking reparative concepts as well as additional obstacles to a forward-looking agreement in which responsibilities could legitimately be differentiated according to various variables referring to current states (emissions levels, needs, capacities, etc.). The GHGs emissions that cause problems are those that have taken place since 1990.
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