Climate reparations are insanity. They will hurt poor nations most.
The Brookings Institution reported in September 2018 that humanity had reached a stunning milestone: “For the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty.” More than half of the world’s population – some
3.8 billion people – now earned enough to be considered “middle class” or
Think about what that means:
For most of what Ronald Reagan famously called mankind’s “long climb from the swamp to the stars” the norm for most people had been abject poverty. Now, the norm is prosperity.
What made this transformation possible? The collapse of the Soviet empire, the worldwide turn away from socialism, and the U.S.-led global expansion of free trade and free enterprise – fueled by access to cheap, reliable sources of energy – all have lifted people across the world out of poverty.
We should be doing everything possible to accelerate this progress, so millions more can join the ranks of the middle-class majority. Instead, climate activists are advocating policies that would deny poor nations access to inexpensive, abundant fossil fuels they need to develop their economies – which would ultimately leave tens of millions of people in poverty and more vulnerable to climate-induced disasters.
To make up for lost economic growth, activists are pushing government-to-government wealth transfer payments. First came a proposed $100 billion-a-year fund that rich countries agreed to a decade ago to pay poor countries to reduce emissions and forgo fossil fuels. Now, at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Egypt, known as COP27, wealthy nations have agreed to pay poor nations reparations for costs of natural disasters supposedly caused by the industrialized world’s use of fossil fuels.
This is insanity. The reason poor nations suffer disproportionate damage from natural disasters is poverty. When Hurricane Ian hit Florida in September, it caused lots of damage but relatively few deaths. Power was restored and bridges swiftly rebuilt. By contrast, a similar storm hitting poor countries could kill thousands and disrupt the economy for years because better infrastructure does more to save lives than cutting emissions.
Case in point: Those advocating reparations in Egypt cited recent flooding in Pakistan that killed 1,700 people, left one-third of the country underwater and caused $30 billion in damage as evidence of the costs of Western climate negligence for poor nations. But as Ilan Kelman, a professor of disasters and health at University College London, has written, “attributing this disaster to climate change is not supported by the decades of science on disaster research, including extensive research on how and why vulnerability has arisen and accrued in Pakistan.” He added in a post last month: “This is a disaster of poor governance, poverty, and inequity.”
The way to help poor nations such as Pakistan become less vulnerable to disasters is to lift them out of poverty. The anti-growth policies of climate activists would have the opposite effect. As Bjorn Lomborg, president of Copenhagen Consensus Center, has argued, the Paris climate accord is forecast to keep an additional 11 million people in poverty by 2030 than would otherwise be. That number would rise to 80 million additional people in poverty, he wrote, if the world adopts much stronger measures advocated by climate extremists.
Lomborg pointed out in October 2021 that, according to the U.N. climate panel, the cost of climate change by the end of the century, if we do nothing, would be about 2.6 percent of global gross domestic product. By contrast, he tells me, estimates put the cost of extreme net-zero climate policies at $ 5.7 trillion per year, or 5.4 percent of global GDP each year for the next three decades – more than double the cost of doing nothing. Other forecasts based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data suggest that net-zero climate policies could cause even greater losses in global GDP every year.
There is no way that taxpayers in wealthy nations will support the kind of transfer payments necessary to make up for lost GDP in poor nations. Nor should they. Why should American taxpayers pay developing countries not to develop?
The fact is, nations with higher GDP enjoy lower mortality, higher standards of living and greater resilience. Their citizens live in sturdy homes with middle-class luxuries such as air conditioning and central heat that protect them from temperature-related deaths. They have access to better health care and food security, which does more to fight malnutrition than reducing carbon emissions. And their societies can afford advanced flood-control and disaster warning systems, such as the European Flood Awareness System. There is a reason, as global poverty has dramatically declined, climate-related deaths from floods, fires, storms, droughts and extreme temperatures have plummeted.
Climate change is real. But forcing developing countries to abandon fossil fuels – and denying tens of millions the opportunity to join the nascent global middle class – will cost more lives. And no amount of reparations could ever make up for that.