How improving the design of our cities can lower emissions and increase equity

By Zack Budryk
The Hill

The idea that polluters should pay reparations for climate change is gaining steam among advocates. 

Some environmentalists and academics argue the companies or states that are most significantly contributing to the climate crisis should be made to compensate the people bearing the brunt of its impacts. 

Advocates have been calling for such reparations for years, especially since evidence emerged that fossil fuel companies were aware of the impact of carbon emissions. But the idea is now more practically achievable due to scientific advances, said Adrien Salazar, policy director at the nonprofit Grassroots Global Justice. 

He pointed to the increased sophistication of diagnostic techniques such as “attribution science, a rapidly developing field that says when this disaster happens, how much of this is attributed to the climate crisis [and] to the fact that humans have had an impact on the atmosphere.” 

Those developments, he said, are going to “help identify with quite some clarity who is responsible for climate pollution and how much going into the future.”  

Some advocates for reparations are making specific practical calculations of what they believe is owed. Last week, an analysis published in OneEarth concluded that fossil fuel companies including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron collectively owe $209 billion a year in restitution for the cumulative climate disasters expected to take place by midcentury.  


Last year at the COP27 international climate summit, world leaders struck a deal on a so-called loss-and-damages fund long requested by the countries on the front lines of climate change. The fund would provide monetary assistance to the nations most impacted by climate change. Details, including which countries will contribute and how the funds will be distributed, are still under discussion.   

However, that fund is distinct from reparations in one key aspect, according to Salazar.  

While he described the loss-and-damages agreement as “a major victory,” he noted that during negotiations, states including the U.S. and the European Union stipulated that it would not be considered compensatory or involve wealthier countries assuming responsibility for climate change.  

“Reparations are meant to morally address that as well as materially address it,” he said, whereas the loss-and-damages fund was “designed intentionally not to be fully reparatory and [to] absolve countries of legal responsibility.”  

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