Ecological debt outweighs financial debt

15 December 1999

The view that poor countries owe the rich millions of dollars in loan repayments is challenged by a Christian Aid report. Who Owes Who?, Climate Change, Debt, Equity and Survival, argues that this financial debt is far outweighed by the ecological debt which richer countries owe the poorest.

The atmosphere can only safely absorb a certain amount of greenhouse gases, so countries must live within this environmental budget. On this basis the report’s illustrative estimates show the G7 rich countries running up carbon debts of around $13 trillion per year.

Many African, Asian and European governments have backed a new approach to tackling climate change: “contraction and convergence”. This involves reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously moving towards more equal rights for all people to share in the sustainable use of fossil fuels.

The report concludes that poor countries should be able to impose a reverse form of structural adjustment: “Enhanced Sustainability Adjustment Programmes on the North, in response to their profligate over-consumption of resources”.

Such reports help change the terms of debate, although the political make-up of the key multilateral agencies make rapid change in official policies unlikely.

Contact Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London SE1 7RT, or see: or