Wealthy nations `should cancel Third World debt to make amends for pollution'

RICH COUNTRIES should compensate developing nations for the environmental damage caused by pollution and carbon emissions, by wiping out third-world debt.

The demand for a complete end to debt repayments - rather than the partial write-off agreed by the leading industrial nations - comes in a new report from Christian Aid. It calculates that the environmental or "carbon" debt being run up by rich countries as they increase global warming far exceeds the poor countries' financial debts.

In fact, it estimates the "heavily indebted poor countries" (HIPC) in line for a deal worth up to $100bn (pounds 63bn) to reduce their repayments are actually in credit to the tune of $612bn. That amounts to more than three times their conventional $200bn financial debt.

The report concludes: "Rich countries' huge and growing debt to the global community for climate change removes any shred of legitimacy which might have remained to justify their demands for repayment of the unpayable poor-country debt."

Christian Aid, along with many other charities and campaign groups, has been urging the Group of Eight nations, along with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, to cancel all third-world debt for the new millennium. The G8 HIPC initiative, which will significantly alleviate but not abolish the burden, is due to be finalised next weekend in Washington, at the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

Gordon Brown is to push the European Union to agree to make a 1bn euro donation to the debt relief initiative.

Today's report notes per capita carbon dioxide emissions, the main contributor to global warming, are more than 62 times greater in the industrialised than the developing world. Yet developing countries are most at risk from disasters that climate change may be making more frequent. Last year was the worst on record for natural disasters. Bangladesh had its worst floods in living memory, as did China.Hurricane Mitch set back the development of Nicaragua and Honduras - both making heavy debt repayments - by decades.

Who owes who: climate change, debt, equity and survival. Published by Christian Aid, 0171 620 4444.