Resource Rich, Poor Countries And Responsibilities of Rich Industrial Countries

Sep 24, 2022 | Features, International Relations, Speeches

Text of Speech
By President J. Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste
at g7+ forum
Held on 23rd September 2022, In New York
On the sidelines of 77th Session of United Nations General Assembly, 25 September 2022
A Just Energy Transition is a Global Peace Program.
On my recent visit to Australia I was questioned by a journalist about my country’s desire to develop the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field that is located on the continental shelf between our two countries. I was asked how do we weigh up the economic benefits to Timor of the development against the consequences for the climate and how is the project defensible to our people and to the broader region.
Now interestingly, this was a question from a citizen of Australian, a country that currently has a recorded per capita overshoot four times higher than China’s, and seven times higher than Brazil’s. How much larger it is than my tiny underdeveloped country we can only begin to imagine.
But the question, and I hope my response, raises a crucial issue, for the international community, as we face the continuing effects of global climate change.
As a signatory, along with 100 other Nobel Prize recipients and others of a letter calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty I am well aware of the environmental damage caused by fossil fuel and other things such as industrial agricultural production. We all are, or should be, aware that our planet is literally and metaphorically burning: massive wildfires; record temperatures; sustained, life-threatening high heat events and droughts; record floods; intensified tropical storms; species under high threat. There is an unarguable scientific consensus that we have already crossed tipping points that will take a millennium (40 generations) or more to restore.
But, whilst I am well aware of this global catastrophe, I am at the same time the President of a country without with a sovereign currency and that is, more or less, totally funded by receipts from oil and gas. Our current sovereign wealth fund has a current balance of around $18 billion which is derived from the Bayun Undan oil and gas field. It is expected to be exhausted by the first years of the coming decade.
For the last two decades we have been in either dispute or negotiation with developers and with our giant neighbour, Australia, concerning the development of a new project known as Greater Sunrise. Its estimate worth is somewhere between $50 and $75 billion. The estimated lifespan of the field is approximately 40 years.
Now the essential sticking point in the development of Greater Sunrise has been whether the pipeline that transports the gas to the processing facility will be to Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, or to Timor’s south coast. If,as has been our national desire, it comes to our south coast we expect there to be much greater downstream, economic and employment benefits to our people. If it goes to Australia we will not see the fruit of the downstream benefits. But if the pipeline goes to Australia, then some in that country might feel better about the fact that is not we Timorese that are putting the environment in danger!
So, there I was in Australia, a country planing to continue to expand more coal mining, faced with a question that sought to paint my country as a sort of environmental vandal. But as I responded, off the cuff, it is not countries such as mine that have brought civilisation to the brink of this enourmous climatic calamity. But it is in fact, countries such as mine that have to face the continual effects of this calamity, without the public infrastructure to cope with such things, whilst at the same time, journalists seek to shame us into foregoing our national and societal development.
The fact is that the majority of the ecological pressure from excess consumption in rich nations is out sourced to poorer nations. Since independence Timor-Leste has faced two decades of pressure in various forms to foresee its sovereign development in favour of further being relegated as an outsourced supplier of the developed world’s energy and industrial needs.
We must recognise that the ecological or environmental crisis is not, and has not, been caused by everyone equally. Low-income countries remain well within their fair share of planetary energy and resource use.
The basic fact is that, whilst we need to reduce overall global energy and resource use, most low-income countries actually need to increase their energy and resource use in order to meet their own human needs. You can see that in light of this, it is the others, not us, that need to make the sacrifices.
Global ecological breakdown is being driven almost entirely by excess growth in high-income countries. It is they that must urgently reduce their resource use to fair and sustainable levels. Research shows that resource use by high income countries needs to decline by at least 70% to reach the sustainable range. Consumption by high-income countries is in excess of what is required for human flourishing. It has has become completely unhinged from any concept of need. Meanwhile the consequences of this excess is disproportionately felt by the low income countries and their populations.
Ultimately, this is a crisis of inequality as much as anything else.
High-income countries, which represent only 16% of the world population, are responsible for 74% of resource use. Low-income and middle-income countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are responsible for 8%.
Nevertheless, we now face severe timelines to accelerate the societal, political and economic implementation of climate solutions. The faster we can invest in the future, the less it will cost. Many climate scientists fear that the 1.5 or 2.0 C degree Paris Accord targets, while ambitious in the current political context, are insufficient and could push us irreversibly onto a ‘Hothouse Earth’ pathway. We have already seen warming beyond this point in some places over the past
Part of the solution comes under different names, A Just Transition, a Global Green New Deal, Climate Reparations coupled with a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, or a Global Climate Marshall Plan. But whatever we call it, action is needed by 2026, by 2030, and by 2050 to turn this grim situation around.
The fact is that the high income nations need to take the lead in making radical reductions in their resource use. Over and above this they also must take the lead in making it possible for low income countries to be able to build their futures in a inclusive, just and sustainable manner simply in order for them to meet basic human needs.
This is but one way that we can begin to build an international community and an economy which embraces the values that will contribute to a inclusive, just and sustainable future. This is but one way that we can begin to restore and revive our wounded planet.
If the international community, and particularly the high income nations are serious about their concerns to tackle climate change, they need to do more than simply redouble their own decarbonization commitments.
They should also take thoughtful, equitable and decisive action on a global scale to assist those countries that only now have the opportunity to develop their own national resources.
They should also take thoughtful, equitable and decisive action on a global scale to assist those countries that need to transform their own energy production systems to make them reliant and self sufficient in the use
of renewable energy sources.
A less energy-intensive future requires more than hectoring questioning from people in countries whose environmental overshoot is immeasurably larger than a country such as mine.
As I responded to the journalist in Australia, the high income countries that bear the responsibility for the global climate catastrophe should not lecture us. Every month one or other high income country, or their NGOs come to teach us about how we should decarbonise our societies. Sure we could do better than cutting down our trees for firewood. But to do this we must have alternatives.
What these countries should do is put their money where their mouths are. I for one would be happy for my country to forego the benefits of building our own oil and gas industry. I would be happy to leave it, as they say, in the ground, or as it is, under the sea bed. But for this to happen, for us to forego our sovereign development benefits, the high income countries must compensate and finance us in such a way that we can build a inclusive and sustainable society based on new forms of energy and the jobs of the future.
One hundred billion dollars is the price tag I put on this when asked by the Australian journalist. It might be more, but in the context of things it is a small price for these nations to pay when the future of the planet and civilisation is at stake.
One hundred billion dollars is the amount the German defense budget increased in 2022. One hundred billion dollars is the amount the US has committed this year to Taiwan’s defense budget. One hundred billion dollars is less than the price of one Tomahawk missile. One hundred billion dollars is, a fraction of the cost, in fact, one thousand six hundredth of the lifetime cost of running one F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.
It is accepted these days that climate change has the potential to lead to social conflict, mass migration and even war. We can either plan a just and equitable global transition, or, we can wait for these conflicts to emerge and engulf us all. We have a choice. But a concerted global effort, led, now, by high income countries can work to avoid climate conflict in the future.
In this context the commitment by high income countries to fund a planned just global transition is in fact a matter of defence spending. It is an expenditure that seeks to avoid future conflict. A Just Transition is a global peace initiative.
A Just Global Transition is the policy of deterrence of our time. Climate conflict and war will not be avoided by an increase in military spending but by addressing the common challenge of climate change.
On a global basis, how many F-35s would we need to forgo to transform global energy production? How many F-35s would we need to forgo to begin the process of Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation? How many F-35s is it worth to save the planet from the increasingly ravaging effects of climate change?