Written by By Daniel Erchin, CNN
For environmentalists, Glasgow is known as one of the world’s most polluted cities, which needs significant changes in what they call its ecological footprint. At the end of January, crowds from around the world, gathered in the Scottish city’s Green Square, for a Change.org petition to the United Nations, calling for the city to implement the kind of historic and preventative action needed to dramatically reduce its carbon emissions and build up support for a “climate reparations bill” to help build a sustainable future.
“Glasgow has one of the highest concentrations of carbon emissions in the world,” the petition reads. “Within the UK, it is a leading cause of air pollution in London. It is the single most prominent indicator of a loss of our relationship with nature due to carbon emissions.”
The most commonly cited effects of the city’s air pollution is severe lung damage, and hypertension, which have been linked to heart and circulatory problems.
Gary Smillie, co-founder of Greens in Action, which organized the event, says the green energy sector is suffering huge financial and reputational losses due to the city’s air pollution. “The negative impact is simply not acceptable,” he says. “If a significant portion of its gross domestic product went to sustain local and global climate change mitigation efforts for the next 40 years, Glasgow would potentially face a giant-sized deficit of 20-30%.”
He says not only could the reparations bill help deliver the level of resilience required, it could also support job creation. “There are around 100,000 people employed directly or indirectly in the green tech sector in Glasgow. By funding local programs, we have the potential to create 12,000 new jobs.”
“Glasgow is not unique in its problems with air pollution,” says David Lindenmayer, senior reporter on “Deep World” for the International Institute for Environment and Development. “However, it is unique in terms of the scope of its challenges. On top of existing poor urban air quality, Glasgow is facing the potential in the coming years of accelerated climate change from transport-led urban heat island effects.”
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Glasgow: Redefining capitalism
Lindenmayer says the “climate reparations movement” poses a challenge to current approaches to funding sustainable development, which largely ignores community input. He argues that grassroots efforts, such as the Glasgow impact fund, indicate that environmental charities have a long way to go before “redefining capitalism” to ensure community support for conservation efforts.
Gregor Boorman, co-founder of Climate Action, says he came to think of other cities, such as Seoul, or countries such as Ethiopia, the Philippines and Mexico, as places where people were looking at reparations.
“It doesn’t mean you should go and burn everything, but it can become a source of power to your economy,” he says. “The city can use reparations to create a city where a lot of value is created, but where that value is derived from a healthy climate and healthy people.”
He argues that proper reparations would help tackle a broad range of issues, such as urban heat island effects and transforming the energy sector. “Glasgow is really responding to problems that are similar to the areas that other cities are dealing with,” he says. “What I think is interesting is not the negative things that people see,” he says, “but the positive things that people would want to see take place.”
The Twitter hashtag #ClimateReppension has been used by locals from around the world who feel connected to the issue. Eric Smith, who co-organized the Glasgow event, says that the reaction from around the world was very positive.
“Many messages from San Diego and Utah were congratulatory, even telling us that in the recent government shutdown, they would have voted for us,” he says. “This is important, because people can see and feel and feel the impact of climate change,” he says.
Calls for reparations to address the impact of climate change are nothing new. For example, in 2017, the United States Senate passed the Climate Registry Reparations Act , which sought to “empower people impacted by climate change by empowering them to address the economic, physical, social, and cultural impacts caused by global climate change.”
The movement for climate reparations is evolving and gaining momentum. In the US, support for the bill grew following the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, who has come under scrutiny for his climate denial, and his recently concluded Middle East trip, which was widely interpreted as an endorsement of increased fossil fuel use.