Opinion piece by Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton: It's time to make polluters pay
Published on 11 September 2023 2 minutes read
This opinion piece by Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, who is the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was first published in The Herald on Saturday 9 September.
The climate is in crisis, and it is the poorest nations who are having to foot the bill. It's time to make polluters pay.
While it continues to be worrying, it is no longer shocking to hear of record temperatures being broken; wildfires ravaging through communities; of droughts and flooding occurring on unprecedented scales, all pushing the earth's life support systems to their very limits.
I remember vividly in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow hearing the story of Joyce Mhango in Chikwawa, southern Malawi. Joyce's home was completely washed away by a cyclone. She and her family lost everything. As Head of Christian Aid Scotland for many years I know that Joyce's story isn't a one off, a freak storm. Countries like Malawi, Bangladesh and South Sudan are being battered relentlessly by extreme weather events driven by our changing climate.
The UK, and Scotland in particular, has benefited significantly from industrialisation, with institutions, businesses and a small number of individuals building huge wealth from the proliferation of fossil fuels. The spoils have been earned here, but the cost is now being left for others to bear. The climate crisis is disproportionately affecting lower-income countries, and it is the responsibility of polluting, richer countries to pay for the damage they've caused.
In UN climate talks, the term for such costs is ‘loss and damage' and it describes events where the consequences of climate change exceed what people can adapt to. For some time now there have been calls for an international solidarity fund that channels support to those who need it most. In 2021 Scotland became the first industrialised nation to commit funding to loss and damage finance, pledging an initial £2 million at COP26 in Glasgow, rising to £7 million last year. However, while symbolically important, it represents a tiny fraction of what is needed, and of what some estimates project Scotland's ‘fair share' contribution to be, as highlighted in a report from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.
At a time when people are struggling with the cost of living and public finances are already stretched, it's clear that new sources of finance will be needed. Experts suggest a range of ways this could be done, such as a tax on fossil fuel profits, a tax on private wealth more than £1m, or smaller targeted taxes. However these funds are generated it's right that the responsibility for paying is placed on the biggest polluters.
That's why in two weeks' time, on the 23 September, communities across Scotland will be making their voices heard as part of Make Polluters Pay Action Day, calling on the Scottish and UK governments to lend their support to an international loss and damage fund (ahead of COP28).
It's time for Scotland and the UK to live up to their claims of leading the way in response to climate change. It's time to pay for the damage which has been caused. This is not a question of charity; it is about global social justice. It's time to make polluters pay.
You can find out more at: The climate crisis is costing the earth: make polluters pay - Christian Aid