Oxfam: poor countries need funds to adapt

Climate change is already having disproportionate effects on the populations of many poor developing countries, a situation which will only get worse as the global temperature rises. Such countries do not have the resources to develop the adaptation measures they are going to need. Nicholas Stern devoted considerable attention to this question in The Global Deal, where he called for funding from the rich countries additional to their normal aid commitments (such as they are) to assist with the adaptation measures the poor developing countries will have to put in place.

Oxfam has now entered the fray with a report Beyond Aid: Ensuring Adaptation to Climate Change Works for the Poor, insisting that a small proportion of industrial nations’ GDP be devoted to investment in adaptation in poorer countries.  0.1 percent is the proportion they think necessary.  And it must be additional, not sneakily transferred from existing aid assistance.  

After pointing to the progress that has occurred towards development goals the report points out that:

“Climate change now threatens to unravel this progress and drive a larger wedge between industrialised countries – which became rich through decades of fossil fuel consumption – and poor countries – which are being hit the hardest.

“The impacts of climate change on people’s lives are already clearly apparent. Ranging from the sudden and catastrophic to the creeping and insidious: storms, floods, droughts, sickness, shifting seasons. For people living on the margins, even a small increase in climate risk can have catastrophic consequences that can span generations.”

 The report’s plea for adaptation investment is not vague or general.  Such adaptation finance as is already being delivered is coming through “a spaghetti-bowl of different bilateral and multilateral channels.” It is mostly driven by donor priorities and preferences. The result is adaptation that is not nationally owned, and is fragmented and incoherent, making it extremely difficult to integrate into national development processes.  

However the report acknowledges that developing countries have a responsibility to clearly understand and communicate the nature of the demand, and most of them have not yet estimated the requirements of their economies at any depth. This plays into the hands of the rich countries, such as Japan, that argue that poor countries must do more to define their adaptation needs before funding can be agreed.

What adaptation measures are called for? We can’t be sure about the future, but there is much that can be done now that will be robust in the face of uncertainty, if adequate funding is made available. 

“Access to reliable weather forecasts; reversing the degradation of soil, water and vegetation; Disaster Risk Reduction measures; and countless other interventions will help communities to deal with the impacts of climate change in any circumstances”.

 “Adequate, new, and additional funds” of at least $50 billion per year in the first instance need to be provided. They must not be cannibalised from existing aid promises. Doing that would stymie the millenial development goals. It would leave developing country governments with an impossible trade-off between helping their populations adapt to climate change or providing them with basic services such as healthcare and education. The report claims that India is already having to spend nearly three times as much on adapting to climate change as it does on health.

“It cannot be a case of continuing development or adapting to climate change – without both, neither will happen.”

The report goes into a good deal of detail on the sort of international framework that would overcome the failings of the present approach. It points to the successes of other international funding mechanisms, such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which was the result of a united vision and decisive action among the international community. To fund adaptation measures it proposes a single equitably governed entity through which funds can be channelled. The nascent Adaptation Fund set up under the authority of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and already operating on a small scale is favoured for this role. The advantages of such centralisation are listed: reduced transactions costs; greater stability of finance due to wider pooling; de-politicisation of finance since funds won’t be tied to the interests of donor countries; impoved learning which is very much needed in the new challenges climate change presents.  Funds should be raised predictably either through the sale of international emissions permits or through binding commitments based on responsibility and capability.

The report is combative. It warns that without a commitment to finance adaptation, there will be not be a deal at Copenhagen.

“Developing countries are being hit hardest by climate change, but are least responsible and have the least resources with which to adapt. They rightly see financing adaptation as an obligation of rich countries – those that created the problem and became rich doing so.

“The reluctance of many rich country politicians and policy makers to make this commitment is undermining the negotiations. They remain mired in the aid mindset, and would rather repackage old aid promises as adaptation finance, and channel this through an out-dated aid framework that marginalises the voice of developing countries. In particular, rich countries favour bilateral channels and the World Bank, in seeking to preserve their influence over how funds are spent.

“In the meantime, these countries provide a litany of excuses as to why what is required cannot be delivered.”

Let’s hope it is only in the meantime and that justice and good sense will be the final arbiters.

It is worth taking note of the World Bank’s newly published  World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change. Many see ambiguities in the bank’s lending on climate change related projects, but at least in this report they are unequivocal about the urgent need for a rapid scaling-up of spending on clean energy research and climate change protection for poorer countries.  In the press release accompanying the report the bank’s President, Robert B. Zoellick says, as he calls on the countries of the world to “act now, act together and act differently” on climate change:

“Developing countries are disproportionately affected by climate change – a crisis that is not of their making and for which they are the least prepared. For that reason, an equitable deal in Copenhagen is vitally important.”

3 thoughts on “Oxfam: poor countries need funds to adapt”

  1. “Access to reliable weather forecasts; reversing the degradation of soil, water and vegetation; Disaster Risk Reduction measures; and countless other interventions will help communities to deal with the impacts of climate change in any circumstances”

    All of these problems exist without climate change

  2. “All of these problems exist without climate change”

    Yes R2 they do. But there is no comfort to be found in such an observation. They are made much worse and much more threatening to human life by climate change.

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