Nicaragua, climate crisis and capitalism

In the final analysis, there aren’t hundreds of problems in the world – there is just one.

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This article is based on a recent webinar addressed by Ambassador Valdrack Jaentschke, who led the Nicaragua government delegation to the 2023 United Nations climate change conference in Dubai, more commonly known as Cop28.

During his presentation, the ambassador explained how Nicaragua is combating climate change, both at home through its renewable energy and other programmes, and in the international arena through cooperation and by the power of its example in implementing policies that demonstrate a real concern for the earth (in contrast to imperialist greenwashing).

Ambassador Jaentschke began by recalling the Paris climate conference of 2015. While Nicaragua upheld the position that the capitalist economic system is at the root of our environmental problems at that meeting, the majority of participants and all the meeting’s outcomes simply reinforced the status quo.

The recent Cop28 conference, said the ambassador, was simply a continuation of that same old line. Whilst accepting the continued pollution problems created by the imperialist economic model, the western nations had the audacity to rub salt into the wound by blaming developing countries for the problems created by their own economic system!

The Paris agreement agreed targets that were aimed at setting a limit on the absolute rise in global temperatures. But Ambassador Jaentschke explained that technical conversations about points of degrees are moot for those who are suffering the real consequences today. The most important question in Nicaragua’s view is: who is principally being affected by temperature increases?

Unequal effects and an unbearable burden

Today, the people who are already feeling the brunt of climate change include the populations of small island development countries (SIDS), and islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean. A mere 1.5C increase in temperature in the lowlands of central America, one of the most vulnerable areas of the world, will result in these islands’ complete disappearance.

Ambassador Jaentschke spoke passionately about the reality that lies behind the politicians’ rhetoric about ‘limiting global warming to 1.5C’. Western audiences may be reassured by such empty promises, but the reality is that, as temperatures rise, life is literally disappearing from under the feet of many people across Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

More than that, the affected nations, already facing huge obstacles to their development as a result of imperialist looting and domination – including economic sanctions, debt, war, corruption and poverty – are now also having to contend with the recurring devastation caused by climate change. This in turn necessitates recurring costs in infrastructure and resilience capacity rebuilding.

Nicaragua did not and does not cause climate change, said the ambassador. Data show that a few rich countries with the highest carbon emissions in the world are responsible for more than 83 percent of global emissions, while Nicaragua emits less than 0.05 percent of the global total. Yet Nicaragua’s economy suffers a yearly impact from climate change that is equivalent to 8 percent of its GDP – up to $4bn annually.

This is adversely affecting not only its infrastructure but also production, the environment, health, education and energy. Floods and changing patterns of rainfall and temperature are depleting crop production and yields, making farming unpredictable at best and impossible at worst.

Having to replenish the regular devastation of public goods is a huge burden for a poor country to bear. The ambassador pointed out that for a developing society trying desperately to lift its people out of poverty, the endless struggle to create vital infrastructure like roads, buildings, houses, schools and health centres, only to have them decimated by floods and hurricanes, doesn’t just impact the country’s finances but its psychology.

By undermining the country’s capacity for development, this cycle is affecting every aspect of social life.

Imperialists breaking their promises, refusing to pay what they owe

Climate reparations are a core demand of the Nicaraguan government. Ambassador Jaentschke explained that the capitalist rulers of the world always ensure reparations for damages to their own interests. He cited the example of Zimbabwean landowners, and we could add many more, one of the most notorious being the two centuries’ worth of payments made by the government to former slaveowners for the ‘losses’ they suffered when slavery was officially abolished in Britain!

This system of compensation only ever works one way, however, from the poor to the rich. No restitution is ever made to those who are adversely affected by the actions of western imperialism, whether they be the victims of slavery, of colonial genocides or of climate change.

Since it was the western capitalist-imperialist system of production that caused the climate problems besetting so many developing countries today, said the ambassador, it is the beneficiaries of that system who need to pay the bill humanity now faces. Those who set up these unequal and damaging dynamics, and who have profited so mightily from their global plunder and despoliation, have ultimate responsibility for funding the measures that are now urgently needed to reverse and mitigate the effects on the poor communities whose lives are being blighted and livelihoods destroyed.

The Paris agreement and subsequent Cop conferences agreed that the western imperialist countries would fund a mechanism to compensate poor countries, pledging to provide a replenishment fund of at least $100bn annually to help towards replacing what is being lost every year.

In reality, however, less than 10 percent of the promised funds have been received since 2015. Instead of paying as promised, western nations are doing everything possible to circumvent their responsibilities, both in terms of paying the promised reparations and in terms of addressing the ongoing impact of their activities on the global climate.

As one of the countries most seriously affected, Nicaragua is at the forefront of the campaign to have this global injustice recognised and addressed. The ambassador pointed out that the imperialist nations are not emitting any less than they were when they made their commitments in 2015; and that they are emitting four times the target that was then agreed upon. Meanwhile, the western concept of ‘carbon neutrality’ is a cynical bit of greenwashing that manipulates public understanding, creates business opportunities and achieves nothing.

Greenwashing v real green measures

Cop28 ended with an agreement that “signalled the beginning of the end” of the fossil fuels era but which was itself unequal, said Ambassador Jaentschke. The western nations have reached a stage of technological advancement that the developing nations have not; using climate excuses to forbid the development of other countries is entirely unacceptable.

Nicaragua itself is proactively seeking alternative sources of energy. On 27 November 2023, Latino Metrics highlighted the huge progress the country has made in the field of renewable energy. Not that we would know if from reading the western environmental columnists, but Nicaragua has surpassed Norway and Sweden to become a world leader in the production of clean energy, raising its production rate from 21 percent to 70 percent of energy consumed in the last two decades.

As a small, developing but revolutionary country, Nicaragua approaches the issue of climate from a perspective of social responsibility and with a real care for its people and their environment. The Sandinista government’s decisions and actions, whether in the field of health, education, development or climate change, are underpinned by the socialist principles of their revolution.

The capitalist system of production is at the core of the climate crisis. The pursuit of maximum profit is the reason humanity faces these problems – and the reason it is unable to address them in any meaningful way. Capitalist-imperialism is the motivator for wars, genocide, poverty, injustice, inequality, as well as for social and environmental degradation.

In the final analysis, there aren’t hundreds of problems in the world – there is just one. The perceptible and accelerating deterioration in the quality of our lives and of our environment is directly attributable to the outdated, parasitic, moribund system of capitalist production for profit, and will only be solved when that barrier to human progress has been removed.