Secure climate finance makes the difference between life and death

By Pascale Palmer
December 11, 2009

Are you ready for this? I’m going to talk climate finance. Fascinating, I hear you whoop. Quite right.

Many NGOs are working hard at Copenhagen to ensure developing countries get a secure pot of money that pays for “adaptation and mitigation”.

What does this mean? Well – climate change is altering the environment and lifestyles of people in the poorest nations. To cope with this, people need to adapt – sometimes it’s adapting to frequent flooding, or maybe frequent drought, or storms and so on. This adaptation might be learning how to grow your food and keep your livestock on floating shelves that can deal with constant or rising water; it might be finding new crops that can survive in different climates or altitudes as your community has to move to higher ground or you stay put and make the best of the changes. Or it might be having the tools and knowledge to survive when a cyclone hits your town for the third time in a season.

And mitigation? Well that means the developing world starting to be able to make choices about low carbon technology and lifestyles that ensure their own emissions don’t follow the same trajectory as the industrialised nations. This won’t only mean being able to cut emissions but set countries on sustainable economic paths – the direction we all need to move in. In reality, “mitigation” could be brought about by a whole range of things - from wind and solar energy, to electric cars, or no cars, or more efficient forms of industrial technology.

But what you can see from the explanations above is that it costs. And it costs a lot.

If you think about a village in Bangladesh that is consistently storm-hit and flooded… in fact don’t think about a village in Bangladesh, think about the flooding in Cumbria. On the news we saw homes turned upside down by the swirling water that couldn’t be stopped; while the winding streets were a mess of battered cars and debris and fallen bridges. And people died.

To put right that damage costs money, but what the people of Cockermouth and Workington will want on top of the money for a mega-clean up, repair and replacement of lost items, is for their homes to be better protected when the next flood comes. That may mean stronger flood defences, replacing the Victorian bridges, having shelters that can accommodate the evacuated and so on.

But let’s get back to Bangladesh. It’s fair to say that when the cyclones and floods hit the infrastructure of a poor country, it puts up very little resistance. Structures tend to be made of more brittle stuff than stone and cemented brick. And roads and bridges simply disappear as the storms abate. And lots and lots of people die.

So when it comes to rebuilding, it’s almost always from near-scratch, with fewer people to help and many of those left to clear up coming down with water-borne sicknesses. And then these villages need to try to prevent the damage happening again – sturdier homes, stronger roads and bridges, cyclone shelters, warning systems, riverbank strengthening and so on. And at the same time, the infrastructure can be developed with new technology like solar panels on homes, solar cookers, wind turbines to drive water pumps and light hospitals to make sure unsustainable fuels are not the default.

Obviously all this all costs a lot of money. But who should pay? Well, the changes in climate that are affecting developing countries already, and will continue to do in the future, are being caused by greenhouse gas in the atmosphere – this you already know. But it’s the industrialised world that pumped those into the atmosphere – remember how small the carbon footprints of poor nations are. Climate change, sadly, doesn’t bear down on those who cause it – it knocks gently through its systems and cycles in one area, while raging in another. And the poorest countries, often already subject to weather extremes, are hit worst.

So let’s get this straight: climate change is caused by the developed world and is affecting the developing world. Just to see it another way – our consuming, car-driving, twenty-pairs-of-shoes-per-year, flying, energy-using lifestyles are hurting and killing people thousands of miles away. Now, I’m not criticising the lifestyle (in this blog anyway), what I’m pointing at is who should pay.

Considered estimates put an annual figure needed for developing nations to adapt and mitigate against climate change at $195billion. It looks like a massive figure, but set it against the $35billion spent worldwide on bottled water, and we get perspective. At the climate talks here in Copenhagen we’re pushing for that money to be given by the rich to the poor. This isn’t aid and shouldn’t be seen as aid. This is a payment for the damage our mega-boom years have caused. The poorest need it and have a right to it.

Today the EU, who should shoulder a fair share of around $65billion, didn’t offer cash above and beyond money already promised for aid. Moving money from one pot into another gets the poorest nowhere. Aid money is for other problems that badly affect developing nations. To dip into that budget to pay for climate change impacts risks the lives of millions upon millions of people.

Secure climate finance will make the difference between life and death for people from Bangladesh to Kenya, from Brazil to Sudan, from Bolivia to the Maldives. If heads of state don’t deliver at Copenhagen, they’ll be selling the poorest nations down the river.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.