Poorest people get less than one cent per day to protect themselves from impacts of climate crisis

Published: 23rd September 2019

People living in the poorest countries receive around $3 per year – less than one cent per day - to protect themselves from the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, Oxfam estimates in a new report today ahead of the Climate Action Summit in New York. The report highlights how people in Mozambique and the Horn of Africa are facing mounting human and financial costs from climate-related disasters they did least to create. 

Climate adaptation pledges from wealthier nations are overstated and notoriously opaque. Taking this into account, Oxfam’s analysis suggests that the 48 least developed countries are receiving as little as $2.4-$3.4 billion per year in actual funding for adaptation – equivalent to around $3 per person.

The report Who Takes The Heat? focuses on Mozambique and the Horn of Africa where millions of people are already suffering the consequences of prolonged droughts and devastating cyclones – a terrifying portent of things to come without urgent action from world leaders. Mozambique sustained $3.2 billion worth of damage from two cyclones earlier this year amounting to more than a fifth of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the equivalent of 23 Hurricane Katrinas hitting the US. 

Oxfam is releasing the report ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York today at which it is hoped world leaders will heed the climate strikes happening around the world and bridge the gap between the targets set in the Paris Agreement in 2016 and the lacklustre progress made since. 

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam’s Executive Director, said: “Wealthy governments are failing to live up to their promise to help poor nations adapt to the climate crisis. The poorest and most indebted nations on Earth have done the least to cause this crisis but are being left to foot the bill. To avoid a downward spiral of ever more frequent humanitarian crises we need more funds for adaptation in the hands of the poorest communities. This should be genuine assistance - not loans that need to be paid back.”

In the last year, the drought in the Horn of Africa has left more than 15 million people needing humanitarian aid in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Repeated cyclones in Mozambique have left 2.6 million people in need of assistance. Substantial levels of climate finance provided on an annual basis would allow countries to reduce the impact of climate shocks by, for example, diversifying crops, conserving water or investing in better weather monitoring systems. 

In 2009, developed countries agreed to reach $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020 to help poorer nations cut emissions and adapt. Developed countries reported last week (13 September) that they have reached $71 billion – almost certainly an overstatement and still substantially short of that target. 

High levels of debt in countries like Somalia and Mozambique further exacerbate the impacts of climate shocks by squeezing the resources available for them to become more resilient to future climate shocks and to develop in a low-carbon way. Somalia’s debt stands at 75 percent of its GDP and any climate finance provided in the form of loans risks pushing them deeper into debt. Oxfam estimates that around two-thirds of climate finance is provided in the form of loans that need to be repaid.  

Halima Adan, Deputy Director with Oxfam partner organisation Save Somali Women and Children, said: “Millions of Somalis, especially women and children, are facing the reality of starvation and their livelihoods decimated by this third failure of the seasonal rains in a row. This humanitarian crisis, unfolding so soon after the 2017 drought, is further hampering recovery efforts by the affected communities. As well as immediate emergency assistance to save lives, we need climate action with a focus of resilience building to lessen the impact of future humanitarian crises.”

Jose Mucote, founder of the Mozambican humanitarian organization AJOAGO, said: “The slow response to the cyclone devastation has increased the risk of diseases such as cholera and malaria, and has left many people suffering from depression as a result of the increased physical, emotional and financial burdens. Many families are still without food with their children are dropping out of school as a result. We need to support these people and make sure the next rainy phase does not lead to the outbreak of even more disease.” 

Oxfam is calling on wealthier nations to make ambitious emissions reductions and ensure more climate finance is directed towards adaptation in the least developed countries. This should include meeting their 2020 climate finance commitment and doubling their pledges to the Green Climate Fund compared with the previous round. 

Notes to editors

The report Who takes the heat? Untold stories of climate crisis in the Horn of Africa and Mozambique,' was produced by Oxfam and its partners Save Somali Women and Children, Arid Lands Development Focus-Kenya (ALDEF) and Mozambique’s Associação dos Jovens e Amigos de Govuro.

Hi-res photos of the drought in the Horn of Africa and the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai are available here - 

The 2019 Climate Action Summit takes place in New York on 23 September and will be attended by heads of state and government. The UN is holding the talks to “boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change” by calling on leaders to bring their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/un-climate-summit-2019.shtml

Oxfam calculated the headline statistic by estimating the amount of climate finance provided specifically for adaptation in the 48 least-developed countries ($2.4-3.4 billion per year) and dividing this by the combined populations of all these countries ($2.5-$3.5 per person per year). All figures are an average of the years 2015 and 2016 - the last year for which official UNFCCC data is available. Read more about the methodology here: https://oxfam.box.com/s/gd60tjt7e93g78e2w8wzcsuyvyjbz3o3

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that adapting to climate change and coping with damages will cost developing countries $140-300 billion per year by 2030. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/unep-report-cost-of-adapting-to-climate-change-could-hit-500b-per-year-by-2050/

The OECD announced on 13 September that developed countries had mobilized $71.2 billion in climate finance for developing countries in 2017 https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/climate-finance-for-developing-countries-reached-usd-71-billion-in-2017.htm

On 10 September, the Global Commission on Adaptation published a major study calling for an acceleration in adaptation action and an increase in political support for building climate resilience. https://www.wri.org/our-work/project/global-commission-adaptation

Contact information

Attila Kulcsar  |  attila.kulcsar@oxfam.org  |  +1 646 327-2199

Lauren Hartnett  |  lauren.hartnett@oxfam.org  |  +1 203-247-3920

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.

Read more about Oxfam's life saving work in the Horn of Africa and in Mozambique.