Obama’s Climate Change Envoy To Developing Nations: We’re Not Paying for Destroying Your Property, and You Can’t Make Us

U.S. Advocates Human & Property Rights Solely for Those Nations Who Have the Power to Demand Them

Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, took note this morning of the Obama Administration’s perverse rationale regarding the compensation of the poorer nations bearing the earliest and worst effects of climate change, as spelled out in an October 22 speech by the State Department’s envoy on climate change, Todd Stern, in London. Stern was quoted in a New York Times piece which failed to note the significance of Stern’s comments. Normally the U.S. is a rather fanatical proponent of property rights.

Todd Stern, President Obama’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, Says U.S.
Can Take Lives and Destroy Property in Developing World With Impunity

Sunday, 17 November 2013 09:21 It would have been useful
if the NYT had made this point in an article that discussed the impact
of global warming on the developing world. After noting the destruction
caused by events related to climate change, like the typhoon that hit
the Philippines and the droughts afflicted wide areas across Africa and
the Middle East the piece tells readers:

“The United States and other rich countries have made their opposition
to large-scale compensation clear. Todd D. Stern, the State Department’s
envoy on climate issues, bluntly told a gathering at Chatham House in
London last month that large-scale resources from the world’s richest
nations would not be forthcoming.

“‘The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries
is not going to allow it,’ he said. ‘This is not just a matter of the
recent financial crisis. It is structural, based on the huge obligations
we face from aging populations and other pressing needs for
infrastructure, education, health care and the like. We must and will
strive to keep increasing our climate finance, but it is important that
all of us see the world as it is.’

“Appeals to rectify the injustice of climate change, he added, will
backfire. ‘Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will
produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and
their publics.'”

The position that the United States finds it inconvenient to compensate
poor countries for the damage it has caused them runs directly counter
to the United States usual position in international forums where it
typically is the strongest proponent of property rights. In this case
the United States is effectively arguing that it will not compensate
poor countries for the damage it has done to their property (and lives)
because they can’t force it do so. It would have been helpful if the
article had explicitly noted this departure from the normal U.S.

It would have also bee useful to note that Stern is 100 percent wrong on
the economics. For the foreseeable future the United States, along with
most wealthy countries, face no realistic budget constraints. With
economies operating well below full employment additional government
spending would help to boost demand, employment, and growth. The only
obstacle to more spending is a bizarre cult of budget balancers that
dominates politics in the United States and Europe in defiance of all
available economic evidence and theory.

Original post by Dean Baker

See Dean Baker’s always-illuminating blog on economic reporting, Beat the Press, here, where you can also find his RSS feed.

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