OPINION: We will pay to help poor nations deal with climate change now - or later

by Rep. Yvette D. Clarke & Michael Shank | U.S. House of Representatives
Monday, 11 October 2021 19:31 GMT

People wade through a flooded street reflected in a mirror in Ban Sai village, Ban Mi district in Lopburi province, Thailand, September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Panumas Sanguanwong

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Wealthy countries have the cash to help poorer at-risk nations deal with climate change - they're just choosing not to spend it

U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke of New York is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a leader in the tech policy space as co-chair of the Smart Cities Caucus. Michael Shank is communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and adjunct faculty at NYU's Center for Global Affairs.

In preparation for the international climate talks next month in Glasgow, Scotland, delegates have again pledged $100 billion annually in climate finance to help less developed countries respond to increasing climate disasters. But this is an old, unfulfilled pledge made years ago. And it’s woefully insufficient.

With rich countries merely reaffirming their over 10-year-old commitment to provide $100 billion annually in aid for poorer countries hardest hit by climate disasters - a target they never met - delegates to the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) are sending the message that they're unwilling to do what's necessary to save lives, protect infrastructure, and improve resilience globally.

$100 billion won't cut it, as former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others recently noted. 

Not only is the old goal insufficient in terms of resources needed to bolster vulnerable regions, but it's also a goal that was never met in the last decade of international climate talks. And it's not because of lack of resources.

To put that money in perspective, the U.S. was spending an average of $10 billion monthly at the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rich countries have the money, we're choosing not to spend it.

In choosing not to shore up less developed countries' ability to be resilient in the face of rising sea levels, worsening storms and flooding, increasing heat waves and droughts, and rising food and water insecurity, we are not only turning our backs to the important work of climate reparations, but we're also placing millions of people directly in harm's way, making them even more susceptible to death and starvation as well as extremism and violence.

We'll end up providing aid to vulnerable communities regardless, so we should be sensible and make the morally correct choice to undertake these investments now and protect human life.

If we don't protect vulnerable nations on the front end, volatile situations could easily devolve into instability and conflict that then gives rise to Defense Department spending. It's what happened in Syria and Yemen, as two examples of our failure to prevent a climate-induced crisis from worsening.

This is our opportunity to prevent these kinds of climate dynamics from destabilizing further.

In fact, climate reparations and climate security should be a primary focus not only for U.S. foreign policy but for all wealthy states' foreign policies.

Take climate reparations. Rich countries developed their economies at the expense of poor countries who are now disproportionately facing the climate impacts of those industrialized, emissions-heavy decisions.

Most of the emissions are from rich countries, which have already industrialized. Those emissions are rapidly warming the planet and creating climate disasters. And yet, it is the lower wealth nations who bear the brunt of impacts from rising sea-levels and more extreme weather.

Reparations is all about making amends and repairing past wrongs. And developed countries could easily take a portion of their budgetary wealth, made possible by industrialization, to clean up the polluted mess they've created—if they care about climate justice and equity. That's the right thing to do.

In addition to climate reparations, supporting vulnerable nations is also imperative from a climate security perspective. The Defense Department has long recognized that climate change is a threat multiplier and that poverty-stricken communities, imperiled by climate disasters, can witness instability and potential conflict and violence.

That's been publicly recognized already, but unfortunately, it hasn't appeared to influence or impact our spending priorities.

The decision to keep spending at 10-year-old status quo levels illustrates that. Given the growing climate migration trends, displacing millions and rapidly creating more climate refugees, we must invest the necessary resources into prevention before we're asked to spend it on reaction.

The international climate talks in Glasgow are an opportunity to commit to what's necessary in terms of climate reparations and climate security spending.

It might be wise to expand these talks to include humanitarian and refugee assistance organizations because that is the level of crisis facing us. Stories by the tens of millions of climate refugees, forced to leave their homes in search of safe shelter and secure access to food and water, should be front and center in climate talks going forward. Because that's what's at stake.

They deserve the stage more than any suited influencer. It's their stories that the world needs to hear loudly and clearly.

The rich world has the money to help countries and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Now it's time to do what's right before dynamics devolve further.