Preparation for the Poor: Why Climate Funding Can't Wait

By Katherine Philipson 11-19-2010

The effects of climate change -- coastal flooding, stronger storms, spreading vector-borne diseases like malaria, and changes in rainfall patterns -- are already taking their toll on marginalized people from Pakistan, to Malawi, to New Orleans. As people of faith and conscience witnessing these events, we must work to prevent more catastrophic climate change through political action and personal sacrifice to keep fossil fuels in the ground. However, we must also respond to current changes by helping to prepare and protect the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

World leaders will gather in Cancun, Mexico starting November 29 to continue United Nations climate talks. Their decisions on whether and how to financially support low-income countries to adapt to climate change could mean the difference of life and death for millions across the globe.

Last December's climate negotiations in Copenhagen produced mixed results. Wealthy countries failed to make critical binding commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Still, they did agree to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to support low-income countries to manage the impacts of climate change, protect their forests, and transition to clean energy-based economies. This was an important step in the right direction, but fell far short of U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs' 2009 estimates that developing countries would require between $500 billion and $600 billion annually to adapt to climate change.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 75 million to 250 million more people in sub-Saharan Africa will face water shortages by 2020. In some African countries, agricultural yields could decrease by 50 percent. The burdens of these changes will fall disproportionately on women and the rural poor.

Increased drought, however, doesn't have to mean starvation. Local and national solutions such as seed banking, food storage facilities, drip-irrigation systems, and agro-forestry can make a huge difference for food security. These initiatives, however, need adequate funding to get off the ground.

Furthermore, more extreme weather caused by climate change doesn't have to be lethal.
Currently, 97 percent of all natural-disaster-related deaths occur in low-income countries, but with better disaster preparation and public health systems, the world's poor can also survive the storms.

For example, in Bangladesh, the government created a Comprehensive Disaster Management Program to prepare for tropical storms and other extreme weather events. When a category-five cyclone hit with 100 mile per hour winds in November 2007, the country had already mobilized to build strategic shelters along the coast and teach school-children how to guide their families to shelter. Tragically, about 3,500 people died, but more than 1.5 million were successfully warned and evacuated. In contrast Cyclone Nargis, which hit an unprepared Burma six months later, took nearly 140,000 lives.

Many innovative tools to raise new resources for climate preparation are within reach now. Developed countries could transfer their unused IMF Special Drawing Rights to a green fund immediately. A tiny, globally coordinated 0.05 percent levy on financial transactions could raise approximately $400 billion per year. A $7 fee on every international flight would generate $14 billion per year. And redirecting subsidies away from fossil-fuel producers in wealthy countries could generate $100 billion. There is no shortage of potential resources, only a shortfall in political will. Sadly, the U.S. government has yet to endorse a single option to generate steady additional public finance for the most vulnerable.

The way in which global climate funds are dispersed will determine their effectiveness at reaching those who need them most. A global climate fund must be equitable, accessible, and accountable. In addition, it must have strong provisions for community participation in national planning processes, as well as monitoring and evaluations at the local level.

Helping the world's poor confront climate change is not a matter of charity, but justice. Together, we must call on President Obama and the U.S. Congress to support global climate preparation and start saving lives now.

Katherine Philipson is the Policy and Advocacy Fellow with Jubilee USA Network. To learn more and take action, visit

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