The Global South does not need debt. We need climate justice

A climate activist takes part in the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice protest on November 6 in Quezon City, Philippines, which is one of the third deadliest countries in the world for environment and land defenders opposing industries such as mining and logging [File: Getty Images/Ezra Acayan]

In 2009, when I was 12 years old, world leaders gathered in Copenhagen for COP15. They made a pledge to allocate $100bn per year in climate finance for Global South countries by 2020 so that they could address the effects of the climate crisis.

It was also in 2009, when I was 12 years old, that I developed a deep fear of drowning in my own bedroom and of my home being washed away by floods as my country, the Philippines, was ravaged by Typhoon Ketsana. The typhoon caused hundreds of billions of dollars worth of damage and killed nearly 1,000 Filipinos.

But the rich countries that pledged to allocate $100bn a year by 2020 haven’t yet done so; in fact, they recently pushed their deadline back to 2023.

Now as presidents and prime ministers are gathered in Glasgow for COP26, Global South youth activists like me are demanding justice from our so-called world leaders. We are facing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. The fact that current policies still have us approaching an estimated temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is a slap in the face of those of us who are already living through the hell of floods, wildfires, storms and droughts at the current warming of 1.2 degrees.

Even with the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reductions pledges made during this summit, heating will still rise beyond the 1.5 degrees limit that so many of us are fighting for.

The recent pledges and promises of climate finance for impacted countries to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts are nowhere near enough and will be useless to us all if they are not scaled up to match the action that we need at the speed that we need it – that is if they are implemented at all, of course.

The broken promises and slow progress on climate action have led young people like me to feel a deep sense of betrayal.

Millions around the world face the prospect of sinking, burning, drowning or dying of thirst. But the climate crisis isn’t just about extreme weather events and reducing emissions. The crisis is also that Global South countries, which are most vulnerable, aren’t able to bounce back, deal with and minimise the loss and damages we experience because of the historical and ongoing exploitation of our lands and our people.

The Global North is, through its industrial activities, historically responsible for 92 percent of excess global CO2 emissions and has endangered our past and present. The $100bn a year is just a drop in the bucket of their debt to humanity as we expect climate impacts to cost $7.9 trillion by 2050. Not only is the current flow of money into climate finance not enough; it also creates debt. According to a 2020 Oxfam report, 80 percent of climate finance came in the form of loans to be paid back and not grants. This means impacted countries are sinking into debt to the countries that historically caused the climate crisis.

The bare minimum that rich countries of the north must do is meet the climate finance pledge of $100bn and then have that continuously grow. And to make sure climate action is going in the right direction, we need more concrete short-term targets and milestones, such as annual carbon budgets, to measure all the ambitious net-zero targets set by country leaders. We don’t need more words from politicians or to go deeper into debt to Global North countries. We need action. We need climate justice.

Reparations that address loss and damage and help countries adapt are crucial for climate justice. Scotland, for example, recently pledged a climate justice fund. But reparations must go beyond a transfer of money to include the redistribution of both finance and the technology and science needed for human-centred adaptation, for a transition to renewable energy, and policy changes to ensure the people who are most marginalised are listened to and prioritised.

In the Philippines, foreign-backed extractive mining industries flatten mountains and displace Indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. In 2017, I got a glimpse of the true meaning of fighting for climate justice through an Indigenous Lumad leader in the Philippines. He told me and the other students I was with about how they were being harassed, displaced, and killed – all for protecting the forests from mining companies. That, he said, is why we have no choice but to fight back. It was such a simple idea, but I realised that he was right. It is that simple. We need a system that prioritises people and the planet, not profit, and this can only happen through a collective fight.

It is in this spirit that other youth activists and I call for climate reparations from the Global North to the Global South for the historical injustices rooted in colonialism, profit-oriented plunder and planetary degradation that has led to the climate crisis.

So many of us in the climate movement are angry and tired of these injustices. Unlike so-called world leaders, we know how important it is to connect, collaborate, and show solidarity with one another. And as the movement continues to grow, as we learn from each other, and as we increasingly centre marginalised voices, it will only get stronger. We will continue fighting for a world where no one is left behind. Together, we are unstoppable because we know another world is possible.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.