Rich countries must not raid aid to pay climate debt

“Funds must be increased - not diverted - to help poor countries adapt to climate change and this cannot be seen as a two for one deal by politicians.”
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International
Published: 16 September 2009

A new Oxfam report has today warned that at least 4.5 million children could die unless world leaders deliver additional funds to help poor countries fight the growing impact of climate change, rather than diverting it from existing aid promises.

The warning comes as world leaders prepare to join President Obama at his first United Nations address on climate change, at next week’s Climate Summit in New York on 22nd September.  The meeting will be followed by the G20 Summit on the 24th September, where climate finance will be high on the agenda.  With only Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK in support of additional funds, Oxfam is concerned that December’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen could fail, unless action is taken now by Heads of State.

The report, 'Beyond Aid,' also warns that at least 75 million fewer children are likely to attend school and 8.6 million fewer people could have access to HIV/AIDS treatment if aid is diverted to help poor countries tackle climate change. Without at least $50 billion a year in addition to the 0.7 per cent of national income rich countries have already pledged as aid, recent progress toward the Millennium Development Goals could stall and then go into reverse.

There have been great strides toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since their inception in 2000. In just seven years,

  • 90 per cent of children in poor countries have been enrolled in school.
  • Between 1999 and 2005 there was a 24 per cent drop in the number of people living in extreme poverty,
  • and between 1990 and 2007 the number of deaths in children under five plummeted by 3.6 million, despite population growth.

But despite these gains, poor countries are struggling to meet the MDGs and many goals still fall short of the mark. Diverting aid for climate adaptation would strain an already overstretched system. For example, whilst Zambia now has free healthcare for all people living in rural areas and around 149,000 people are receiving lifesaving treatment for HIV/AIDS, one in six children still die before they reach the age of five and the number of mothers losing their life in pregnancy and childbirth is increasing. Ghana has abolished all primary school fees, resulting in 1.2 million more children being able to attend school. Yet almost half of Ghana’s population lives on less than US$1 a day and four out of ten men and women in Ghana cannot read or write.

“Funds must be increased – not diverted – to help poor countries adapt to climate change and this cannot be seen as a two for one deal by politicians.  Rich countries must not steal money from poor hospitals and schools in order to pay their climate debt to the developing world,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

“World leaders must show they are not content to stand by and watch recent successes in combating poverty, such as children attending school, mothers surviving child birth and the sick receiving life saving drugs, reversed," he added.

Oxfam points to the Global Fund, set up in 2002 to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as an example of how political will on a global scale can mobilize money quickly and effectively. To date, the Global Fund has approved funding for $15.6 billion in more than 140 countries.

Like the Global Fund, a fund for climate adaptation must be made available quickly, equitably governed, managed under streamlined arrangements and transparent. Currently there is no single route for delivering money for adaptation. A ‘spaghetti bowl’ of aid channels means it is impossible to determine which governments have and have not delivered their promises. To date, less that half the money pledged for adaptation funding has been delivered.

Climate shocks and the short-term measures that poor people take in order to cope can have long-term impacts, potentially spanning generations. Without adequate support to adapt to the changing climate, the effect is a downward spiral into deeper poverty and increased vulnerability. In the absence of additional adaptation funding, Oxfam is seeing people in poor countries going without food, pulling their children out of school or selling off cattle and other assets critical to their livelihoods, so that they can pay for debt caused by continuing failed crops and other climate shocks.  

Efforts to help communities adapt to climate change have proved successful in Oxfam projects around the world. In Char Atra in Bangladesh, where increased flooding has caused people to lose both homes and lives, 70 per cent of people now have access to clean water during flooding, death due to diarrhea has been virtually abolished and over 100 homes have been raised above flood level.  Likewise investment in small-scale farmers, such as training in new cropping techniques, the introduction of drought-resistant seeds and effective irrigation systems has helped ensure that food is available even in times of drought and failing rains. With 20 million people under threat of rising sea levels, 26 million people displaced as a direct result of climate change and many facing hunger and loss of life due to climate shocks, the twin challenge of addressing poverty and alleviating climate change has never been more pressing for aid agencies.

Download the report: Beyond Aid: Ensuring adaptation to climate change works for the poor