In the latest year for which we have figures, 2019, they provided $80bn. Of this, just $20bn was earmarked for “adaptation”: helping people adjust to the chaos we have imposed on them. And only about 7% of these stingy alms went to the poorest countries that need the money most.
Instead, the richest nations have poured money into keeping out the people fleeing from climate breakdown and other disasters. Between 2013 and 2018, the UK spent almost twice as much on sealing its borders as it did on climate finance. The US spent 11 times, Australia 13 times, and Canada 15 times more. Collectively, the rich nations are surrounding themselves with a climate wall, to exclude the victims of their own waste products.
But the farce of climate finance doesn’t end there. Most of the money the rich nations claim to be providing takes the form of loans. Oxfam estimates that, as most of it will have to be repaid with interest, the true value of the money provided is around one third of the nominal sum. Highly indebted nations are being encouraged to accumulate more debt to finance their adaptation to the disasters we have caused. It is staggeringly, outrageously unfair.
Never mind aid, never mind loans; what the rich nations owe the poor is reparations. Much of the harm inflicted by climate breakdown makes a mockery of the idea of adaptation: how can people adapt to temperatures higher than the human body can withstand; to repeated, devastating cyclones that trash homes as soon as they are rebuilt; to the drowning of entire archipelagos; to the desiccation of vast tracts of land, making farming impossible? But while the concept of irreparable “loss and damage” was recognised in the Paris agreement, the rich nations insisted that this “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”.
By framing the pittance they offer as a gift, rather than as compensation, the states that have done most to cause this catastrophe can position themselves, in true colonial style, as the heroes who will swoop down and rescue the world: this was the thrust of Boris Johnson’s opening speech, invoking James Bond, at Glasgow: “We have the ideas. We have the technology. We have the bankers.”
But the victims of the rich world’s exploitation don’t need James Bond, nor other white saviours. They don’t need Johnson’s posturing. They don’t need his skinflint charity, or the deadly embrace of the bankers who fund his party. They need to be heard. And they need justice.