The exploitation of the environment has always been closely linked to the movement of global capital (Wright and Nyberg 2015: 98). Sustainable development has become central to understanding today’s global political economy (GPE). However, this debate is largely based on the assumptions of neoliberal, colonial-centered constructions of the problem (Okereke 2007: 4). This means that the proposed solutions have focused on a top-down approach to climate policy that protects the hierarchical status quo and decontextualizes the historical processes that have led to climate change (Parks and Roberts 2010: 148). Climate debt provides a counter-hegemonial framework that addresses the gross imbalances caused by a global political economy based on the exploitation of indigenous territories and resources (Warlenius 2018: 138).
Latin America offers a particularly relevant context for the effects of a climate debt system due to its historically high external debt and its significant contributions to the global export of natural resources (Perreault 2018: 423) at the expense of biodiversity and the indigenous peoples of the region (Fletcher 2018: 409). The first section of my essay will characterize the disproportionate damage suffered by indigenous Latinx peoples as a result of climate change and question this damage historically for the colonialist state-building. I will then examine models for the introduction of a climate debt scheme that relates to the theoretical foundations of the theory of counter-hegemonic world systems. In conclusion, I will analyze the possible effects of a climate debt system on indigenous Latin Americans.
The disproportionate effects of climate change on indigenous Latinx peoples
It is well known that the effects of more frequent natural disasters, rapid environmental degradation, and increasingly unreliable access to natural resources such as water will – and already are – seriously unsettling the livelihoods of people in the majority world (Roberts and Parks 2009: 386). The disproportionate effects of climate change on developing countries are due to the “colonial power matrix”[‘s]“(Quijano 2000: 23) Decision to create a GPE based on the exploitation of the labor, land and natural environment of developing countries (Robert and Parks 2009: 391). The classification of these effects as “disproportionate” reflects the unequal exchange of environmental damage in developing countries compared to the benefits they derive from the extraivist practices of natural resources and global food production (Claudio 2007: 503). The experiences of indigenous peoples in Latin America clearly reflect this reality. The study by Reyer et al. On the impact of climate change on Latin America and the Caribbean, it was found that even with a small 0.5 degree rise in global temperature, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer agricultural devastation and natural resource depletion will be an integral part of indigenous practices. and the collapse of traditional knowledge systems due to extreme weather events, which create suspicion of the credibility of older knowledge and the risk that community leaders will die of environmental diseases (Reyer et al., 2015: 1602).
Colonial expansion processes have fundamentally shaped not only the development of the Latin American economies, but also the existence of the Latin American nation-states (Muelle 2019: 54). Postcolonial theorists emphasize the decentralization of the state as a central analytical unit within the GPE in recognition of the role that nation-state narratives have played in maintaining the “modern / colonial capitalist / patriarchal world system” (Grosfoguel 2011: 11). at the expense of all other ways of knowing the world. The practice of statecraft is inherently based on the exploitation of the indigenous “other”, since the protection of the state encompasses the protection of indigenous government structures and political power (Gomez and Sawyer 2012: 33). The state is naturalized by legitimizing certain types of existence in the area vis-à-vis others (Soja 1980: 209). Feminist theory shows that treating the state as a neutral object and not as a subjectively constituted discursive tool conceals the damage that state structures cause (Haraway 1988: 599). In the case of Latin America, responsibility for climate deterioration is therefore treated either as a necessary loss in protecting the reified state or as an overreaction to a natural world that the state clearly controls.
Through a delegitimation process, the way in which indigenous peoples constitute space has been relegated to an essential mythology that belongs to the past, and not to a series of living knowledge that must have weight in shaping current politics (Fabricant 2013: 160) . The role of indigenous Latinx populations in their colonial history has been dynamic, active and heterogeneous. Indigenous peoples were “drawn into exploitative relationships with capitalism in order to engage it, to oppose it and to show alternatives to it” (Postero 2018: 50). This diversity of experiences has been incorporated into neoliberal multicultural narratives that have enabled indigenous peoples to determine themselves based on their “own vision of development” (Postero 2018: 50). However, these visions were consequently restricted by the colonial project “Global Capital and the Sovereign Nation State” (Postero 2019: 50). Indigenous peoples who attempt to establish a relationship with the world that resides within indigenous knowledge of land and place have been rejected by national and international government institutions. These institutions are perhaps more interested in continuing their policies of extractivism in the name of development and service to money business interests (Andreucci 2017: 171).
Application of the counter-hegemonial theory to the global climate crisis
In contrast to many other conceptual climate frameworks that were first developed by scientists and then applied to local communities, climate debt had a “bottom-up development among southern and northern NGOs” (Rice 2009: 246). Climate debt was first included in the literature in reports by the Chilean NGOs. Instituto de Ecologia Politica in the early 1990s (Martinez-Alier 2002: 213) and has since continued to be co-opted by NGOs and civil society (Paredis et al. 2009: 4). The premise of climate debt is that the industrialized countries have benefited significantly from their “plundering of resources, the environment”[ly] Damag[ing practices]and the free use of environmental space to deposit waste such as greenhouse gases from the [majority world]“(Acción Ecológica 1999: 23), and these debts should be recounted. However, the main limitation on climate debt as a policy proposal is that it is completely unclear in the literature by which mechanism it should be calculated and collected. While the principles of environmental debt are certainly compelling, the practicalities leave much to be desired.
Most calculations are based on the unpaid abatement costs[s]“(Paredis et al. 2009: 10), which focus on reducing CO2 emissions. These calculated repayments to the majority of the world range between USD 15.5 billion and US $ 4.6 trillion (Paredis et al. 2009: 10). These estimates take into account neither a damage calculation nor a sanction for the damage that could result if nothing is done to reduce emissions (Paredis et al. 2009: 10). Activists have continued to oppose attempts to assess the environmental debt owed to the majority world because they are morally convinced that nature should not be assessed according to the capitalist, monetary standards primarily responsible for the crisis (Martinez-Alier ) 2002: 249).
The second question, how environmental debt could be collected, also remains controversial. Three main models are suggested in the literature to answer this question. The first model is that debt payments are used to fund environmental rehabilitation programs and renewable energy projects in the majority of the world to turn their economic development away from reliance on extractivist practices (Warlenius et al. 2015: 26). The second model focuses on climate debt as a mere payment to creditors (the majority world) that can be used at will according to the norms of the global credit system (Warlenius et al. 2015: 26). The third and most popular model uses climate debt as a mechanism to unconditionally reduce the foreign debt accrued by the majority world, fueling a cycle of unsustainable debt levels that only “corporations” can satisfy[ing] ecologically destructive practices ”(Rice 2009: 237). In the Latin American context, this third model may be the most preferred implementation option because of its “long history of budget deficits and unsustainable debt ratios” (Mandilaras and Bird, 2008: 61). Latin America has been the victim of some of the worst effects of the neoliberal development policies of the IMF and the World Bank (Pastor 1989: 80), which have increased Latin America’s dependence on the industrialized core (Wallerstein 2004: 24).
The logic of the climate debt argument is undoubtedly compelling. In the literature, however, there is still a lack of scientific studies on the actual consequences of implementing a climate debt system (Warlenius et al. 2015: 28). For example, there are extensive studies on the negative economic effects of Latin American countries that have defaulted on their foreign debts (Hébert and Schreger 2017: 3119). One possible direction for future research is whether the consequences for investments and exchange rates would be the same if climate debts were taken into account (Rice 2009: 247). To a certain extent, this lack of practical application has limited the ability to assume climate debt in the global environmental space (Paredis et al. 2009: 13). In other respects this reality was irrelevant to their power, and civil society was more interested in using it as a campaign tool that has more political weight in its vision than in its implementation (Simms 2001: 4).
The empowerment potential of climate debt
Climate debt models have strong theoretical foundations in the counter-hegemonial world system theory. Although these theories have been challenged as being too deterministic (Ciplet 2017: 1055), they offer a lens that highlights the unequal exchange of power between the core and the periphery. This enables a rethinking of the GPE from the point of view “from below” (Davies and Seuffert 2001: 270), which “could have radical consequences: massive investments in containment and massive transfer of resources from north to south” (Warlenius et al. 2015 ): 151).
In particular, the main consensus on climate debt in the literature is that it should be “recognized” (Paredis et al. 2009: 11). This focus on recognition reflects a theory of justice that is not only interested in the distribution of “goods and advantages” (Rawls 1971: 423), but also deeply concerned with “recognition of group differences” and “political participation” (Schlosberg 2004: 519). The recognition of the climate debt that the minority world owes to the majority world is shifting from the historical focus to the debt of the majority world and instead offers people from these nations the discursive power to be creditors in the global financial system.
Di Giminiani (2018) warns of “the inadequacy of formulating indigenous environmental requirements in the universalizing language of global environmental protection” (p. 231). In recognition of this, many indigenous Latinx activists have focused on localized acts of world making that focus on the recovery of stolen territory (Di Giminiani 2018: 232). The relationship between land and identity for indigenous Latin Americans is not compromised by the gap between nature, body and spirit of West Cartesian thought (Ramón 2011: 6). Rather, all of these concepts are inextricably linked. It is not enough for environmental activists and researchers to use indigenous peoples for their “symbolic capital … that reflects little of their daily experiences with the environment” (Di Giminiani 2018: 230), and this is possibly the biggest gap in the debate about that Climate debt.
While many authors of the literature on climate debt promote their effectiveness in fulfilling the goals of “protecting the environment for the poor” (Martinez-Alier 2016: 10), I have seldom been able to find references to knowledge produced by and for indigenous peoples. Therefore, the implementation of climate guilt, despite its basis, harbors many of the same risks of “misidentification” and “disenfranchisement” (Schlosberg 2004: 522) of indigenous communities as many of the neoliberal solutions proposed to combat climate change. When indigenous movements demand the right to recognition of their traditional knowledge and the right to self-determination, it is not a question of how the minority world can calculate in monetary terms what is owed to indigenous peoples. The question is how the minority world can give way to pluralistic governance structures that promote the adaptation practices of indigenous peoples as they exist today (Di Giminiani 2018: 231).
In this essay I tried to evaluate the “view from below” (Davies and Seuffert 2001: 270). In characterizing the disproportionate effects of climate change on indigenous Latin Americans, I was not only interested in the specific consequences of climate change in the long term, but also in the stories and narratives that allowed the “colonial power matrix” (Quijano 2000: 23) to chaos the way it did. I then outlined the origins and principles of a climate debt system in a counter-hegemonial framework and assessed its potential benefits, effects and limitations in the context of Latin America. Finally, I highlighted the importance of recognition for environmental justice theories and challenged the ability of climate debt models to achieve the recognition of recognition required by indigenous peoples.
The devaluation of indigenous knowledge is based on a Western epistemological tradition that claims universality from an out of nowhere perspective (Haraway 1988: 581) that hides the way knowledge was produced within the community. By using post-colonial feminist epistemology to locate knowledge, we can turn to evaluating the perspective of the marginalized / oppressed. This does not mean that the view from below is more objective, but that when we look at the knowledge of the marginalized we are likely to be dealing with an … often more complete understanding of the oppression being studied (Davies and Seuffert) 2001: 271). The implications of this epistemological basis for the present research are that, in characterizing the problem of climate change, but also in the solutions examined, I was forced to turn to answers that not only focus on indigenous Latinx peoples.
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