It's Time for the U.S. to Pay Climate Reparations | Opinion

The G7 meeting last month shows how much work is still needed to help less developed countries respond to increasing climate disasters. With rich countries merely reaffirming their over ten-year-old outdated commitment to provide $100 billion annually in aid for poorer countries hardest hit by climate disasters—a target they never met—the G7 is sending the message that they're unwilling to do what's necessary to save lives, protect infrastructure, and improve resilience around the world. $100 billion won't cut it, as former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others recently noted.

Not only is the old goal insufficient in terms of resources needed to bolster vulnerable regions around the world, but it's also a goal that was never met in the last decade of international climate talks, goal setting and pavement-pounding. And it's not because of lack of resources. To put that money in perspective, the U.S. was spending an average of $10 billion a month at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rich countries have the money, we're just choosing not to spend it.

In choosing not to shore up less developed countries' ability to be resilient in the face of rising sea levels, worsening storms and flooding, increasing heat waves and droughts and rising food and water insecurity, we are not only turning our backs to the important work of climate reparations, but we're also placing millions of people directly in harm's way, making them even more susceptible to death and starvation as well as extremism and violence. We'll end up providing aid to vulnerable communities regardless, so we should be sensible and make these investments now.

If we don't protect them on the front end, these volatile situations could easily devolve into instability and conflict that then gives rise to Defense Department spending. It's what happened in Syria and Yemen, as just two examples of our failure to prevent a climate-induced crisis from worsening. This is our opportunity to prevent these kinds of climate dynamics from destabilizing further.

In fact, climate reparations and climate security should be a primary focus not only for U.S. foreign policy but for all G7 and G20 states' foreign policy.

Take climate reparations. Rich countries developed their economies at the expense of poor countries around the world who are now disproportionately facing the climate impacts of those industrialized emissions-heavy decisions. Most of the emissions in the atmosphere are from rich countries, like those in the G7 and G20, which have already industrialized. Those are the emissions that are rapidly warming the planet and creating climate disasters globally. And yet, it is the lower wealth nations who bear the brunt of impacts from rising sea-levels and more extreme weather.

climate change
WIRRAL, MERSEYSIDE - MAY 31: Some of 26 ice sculptures of children installed on New Brighton Beach begin to melt, as ice statues of children were installed as part of a giant sand artwork on New Brighton Beach to highlight global warming and the forthcoming Cop26 global climate conference on May 31, 2021 in Wirral, Merseyside. COP26, the United Nations' 26th Climate Change Conference, will be held in early November of this year in Glasgow, under the UNFCCC presidency of the United Kingdom. The artwork was self funded by British artists Sand In Your Eye and asks world leaders to commit to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Reparations is all about making amends and repairing past wrongs. And developed countries could easily take a portion of their budgetary wealth, made possible by industrialization, to clean up the polluted mess they've created—if they care about climate justice and equity.

That's the right thing to do.

In addition to climate reparations, supporting vulnerable nations is also imperative from a climate security perspective. The Defense Department has long recognized that climate change is a threat multiplier and that poverty-stricken communities, further imperiled by climate disasters, can witness instability and potential conflict and violence. That's been publicly recognized already, but unfortunately, it hasn't appeared to influence or impact our spending priorities.

G7's decision to keep spending at ten-year-old status quo levels illustrates that. Given the growing climate migration trends, displacing millions and rapidly creating more climate refugees, we must invest the necessary resources into prevention (i.e., international climate aid) before we're asked to spend it on reaction (i.e., Defense Department spending).

Given the missed opportunity at the G7 to do what's necessary in terms of both climate reparations and climate security spending, the next opportunity to raise this flag is later this year at the international climate talks in Glasgow.

It might be wise to expand these talks to include humanitarian and refugee assistance organizations as well as defense departments and agencies because that is the level of crisis facing us right now. Stories by any of the tens of millions of climate refugees, running from food and water insecure environments in search of safe shelter and secure access to food and water, should be front and center in any climate talks going forward. Because that's what's at stake. They deserve the stage more than any suited influencer. It's their stories that the world needs to hear loudly and clearly.

The rich world has the money to help the countries and populations on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Now it's time to do what's right before dynamics devolve further.

U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke of New York is vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a leader in the tech policy space as co-chair of the Smart Cities Caucus. Dr. Michael Shank is communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and adjunct faculty at NYU's Center for Global Affairs.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.