Ecological debt

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Ecological debt is the consumption of resources from within an ecosystem in excess of the system's regenerative capacity.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • The developed nations have been using up far more than their fair share of the global atmospheric carbon budget and not paying for the consequences of global warming. In this way the rich countries are running up huge ecological debts to the poor, majority world.
  • So far, the international response to climate change has failed to fully account for this ecological debt. Action has been confined by the limited ambitions of the Kyoto Protocol and the failure of governments to even stick to that.

All about ecological debt

Ecological debt is not a new concept though now there is increased awareness about it and is considered a different way of understanding international economic relations.

Carbon debt

The developed countries owe three times what the developing nations owe in terms of carbon debt. Derived from the idea of the “atmospheric commons”, the concept implies that the air we breathe is part of a globally shared atmosphere. Industrialized countries are overwhelmingly responsible for the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere weakening the ozone and make the air dangerous to breath.

This has resulted in climate change that is predicted to get worse as the earth temperature increases. Internationally there are carbon quotas that estimate how much carbon each nation should emit into the atmosphere. Due to gross overconsumption, the industrialized nations have racked up quite a carbon debt to the poor and developing world. This debt removes the moral justification that wealthy nations use to force impoverished nations to pay back their debts.

Ecological debt suggests a fundamental realignment of power and responsibility between nations. The concept turns upside down both the debates on poor country debt and global warming. It puts poor people and poor countries on the international moral high ground, and in the strongest position to argue for a better deal.

Human exploitation and harm

As a result of this resource extraction people in developed countries loose lands, livelihoods, access and control over natural resource. Human energy is over used and exploited as more and more people in the South must turn to low paying factory or assembly line work making goods for consumption in wealthy countries. They work long hours for very little pay often in hostile and unsafe working conditions. In the mines and in the forests workers toil with little or no labor protections and in unsafe and often toxic conditions.

Nature of ecological debt

The Ecological debt, which was initiated during the colonial era, continues even today by means of:

  • The extraction of natural resources such as the petroleum, minerals, marine, forest and genetic resources. This is destroying the basis of people’s survival
  • Exporting goods without taking into account the social and environmental damages caused by their extraction or production.
  • The intellectual appropriation and the use of ancestral knowledge related to seeds, the use of medicinal plants and other knowledge. Modern biotechnology and agro-industries are based on these and for these royalties are to be paid.
  • The use and degradation of the best lands, of the water and air, and of human energy, for the development of export crops , thus putting at risk the food and cultural sovereignty of both local and national communities.
  • Industrialized countries are contaminating the atmosphere through disproportionate emission of gases, which is the main cause of climate change.
  • Illegitimate appropriation of the atmosphere and of the carbon absorption capacity of the oceans and vegetation.
  • Production of chemical and nuclear weapons, substances and toxic residuals that are deposited in the countries of the Third World.

According to data of the United Nations, 20% of the rich population of the world, most of which is in countries of the North, consumes 80% of the planet’s natural resources.


  • According to the United Nations Development Program, the 20% of the world’s population living in the highest income countries make 86% of all consumer purchases while the poorest fifth buy a minuscule 1.3%. [1]
  • The richest fifth consume 58% of all the energy used by humans while the poorest 20% use less than 4%. [1]
  • The high-income fifth account for 53% of carbon dioxide emissions, the poorest just 3%. [1]


  • Ecological debt
  • What is Ecological Debt?
  • Ecological Debt


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Deuda Ecologica