Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Climate for the People....?

In the last week, two things relating to climate change (and, subsequently, education) caught my eye.

The first was the occasion of largest and most diverse climate march ever, in which more than 400,000 people jammed the streets of New York City prior to the United Nations climate summit.  Amongst the marchers were U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.  These celebrities were joined by students, veterans, unionists, and farmers of whose presence Rolling Stone magazine said, "This confirms that the climate battle is no longer the burden only of environmentalists and older activists familiar with the barricades, but of everyone.  The devastating effects of climate change are being felt around the world....and the real fight for the planet is just beginning."

The second was this piece that ran the same day in The Guardian and addresses the issue of developing nations' budgets for climate change programming and how these funds are straining those allocated for health and education.  In Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda in particular, a new study exposes the funding gaps between plans to address climate change and what is actually available.
Read on....


Poor countries have had to divert large chunks of their budgets to adapt to climate change and now run the risk of crowding out spending on health and education, a new report suggests.

Over four years from 2008-11, Ethiopia committed 14% of its national budget to climate change, or nearly half of the national spending on primary education.  Meanwhile, Tanzania spent 5%, which is almost two-thirds of its health spending, according to the report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda, the three countries featured in the report, are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture and have all experienced higher temperatures and reductions of water sources consistent with climate change.  All have invested heavily to adapt their farming and cities in the absence of promised international aid, said Neil Bird, a climate researcher at ODI who wrote the report.

The study exposes large funding gaps between each country's proposals to address climate change and what is actually available.  Ethiopia's climate change strategy calls for annual spending of $7.5 billion, but the country is estimated to be able to afford only around $440 million per year.  Tanzania needs around $650 million a year to address current climate risks and enhance its resilience but can only spend $383 million.  And Uganda's climate change policy is estimated to cost $258 million per year compared to current public spending in the region of $25 million.

The report, released on the eve of the New York climate summit where world leaders will seek to catalyze action on climate change, highlights how poor countries are overwhelmingly having to finance adaptation to climate change themselves: "There is an existing international commitment to provide $100 billion a year from 2020, but ODI's research shows that the current estimates of global adaptation finance amount to a tiny fraction of that sum."

"In the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, international support to assist countries adapt to climate change has averaged only $130 million annually, far less than the $1.1 billion that the UK alone spent on the floods three years ago, in what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls 'adaptation apartheid,'" said Bird.

In contrast to the minimal help offered to countries that have played no role in man-made climate change, rich countries are already investing heavily in adaptation through strengthened flood-defense systems, coastal protection, and other measures.  The UK spent approximately £700 million on flood defenses between 2010 and 2011.  Poorer countries and their citizens have to address the adaptation challenge with far fewer resources, says the report.

"While richer countries invest heavily in flood-defense systems, coastal protection, and other projects, poorer countries have no choice but to divert scarce resources, potentially reversing the progress made in tackling poverty," said Kevin Watkins, executive director of ODI.

In Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda, climate change is seen as an economic development issue rather than solely an environmental concern.  This is reflected in the spending ministries such as agriculture, water, and energy.  Relevant government programs include irrigation projects, dry-land management initiatives, and development projects designed to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The ODI urges greater transparency to increase confidence in the effectiveness of climate finance and proposes a new approach to supporting national action on climate change.  This suggests that public climate finance from the international community should match the level of domestic public spending relevant to climate change in those countries acknowledged to be the most vulnerable.


Sighhhh....  So, clearly a bunch of different issues at play here, and I'm sure a great debate could ensue, but in the interest of time management, a rundown of the major points IMO below:

*I could almost forego pointing out the massive difference in the effects of climate change upon the masses and their reactions to it in developed countries vis-a-vis developing ones.... almost....  I suppose the photos say enough....

*So, in a new twist on the "sink or swim" idiom, it appears that in this case, developing countries must "sink or be eaten alive by sharks"....  How else can you describe having to choose between funding environmental programming or health and education?

*This is particularly messed-up when you take into account that these countries rely heavily on agriculture for their economies.  The issue of climate change is therefore not just a passing fancy that they can march for one Saturday in September; it is the backbone of their financial systems!

*Meanwhile, wealthy Western countries are not only able to invest in programming that addresses existing climate change dilemmas, they can also shore up their resources to protect them against future crises.  (And they can organize marches....)

*I could spin out into a long-winded criticism of the U.N. here, but I won't.  Let's see what happens....

*And, finally, allow me a moment of unapologetic smarm in reporting that Gore was seen making his exit from the People's Climate March in a Chevrolet Suburban SUV, just after giving reporters a sound bite about renewable energy....  Guess it would have been "inconvenient" to walk....

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