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OPINION: Climate finance is failing the communities most at risk on a warming planet

Tuesday, 28 July 2020 14:20 GMT

People walk in a flooded street beside the Padma river as the flood situation worsens in Munshiganj district, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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

Wealthy nations have not kept promises to the poorest people, now being hammered hard by weather disasters

The year 2020 will be remembered as a dreadful time in human history. The COVID19 pandemic has wreaked havoc, decimating lives, livelihoods and global prosperity. But as terrible as this year is, there is another global crisis screaming for our attention, one that will dwarf the catastrophic impacts of the pandemic. We are, of course, talking about climate chaos.

Hardly registering a flicker of interest in the western media due to the pandemic, already this year we’ve seen massive cyclones in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea that have affected millions in coastal communities in India and Bangladesh. And right now, in India, Nepal and Bangladesh nearly 10 million people have had their homes, crops and livelihoods devastated by the worst floods in years.

The cost of these weather-related events severely impacts human development and essential infrastructure like schools and hospitals. But today the damages caused by natural hazards just keep piling on top of each other, meaning we rarely have the time to ponder the astronomical compound costs of these events.

Wealthy nations, as those most responsible for causing climate change, and recognising the existential threat it poses to humanity, in 2009 promised to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 for investment in climate finance to help vulnerable countries most at risk.

Fast forward 11 years and research by our organizations, members of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, can reveal that wealthy countries risk failing to allocate sufficient climate finance to nations most vulnerable to climate change.

What’s more, the funding is tiny compared to the daunting scale of the climate crisis, even though we acknowledge that the global pandemic means funding is severely limited.

But even before COVID19 donor nations were lagging far behind on their climate commitments. Wealthy donor governments must put this right by massively increasing spending on climate finance and allocating it where it is needed most, in the most climate vulnerable and lower-income countries. And they must do this with new funding, not by raiding existing aid budgets.


With the exception of Micronesia, our research reveals that the ten most vulnerable countries to climate change are chronically under-funded by wealthy donor nations.

For example, Niger is ranked as the world’s second most climate vulnerable country, but it doesn’t rank in the top twenty countries to receive climate adaptation finance, as measured by per capita of extreme poverty.

Chronic under-funding on projects that help prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change, like developing flood and drought tolerant crops, promoting water saving measures and mitigating the impacts of natural hazards, will make it harder to save lives, lift people out of poverty and promote economic activity. 

This makes no sense whatsoever because programs that help poor countries prepare for climate change and reduce their risk to hazards have what is known as a “triple dividend”. That is, losses are avoided when disaster strikes, economic activity is stimulated thanks to reduced disaster impacts, and economic, social and environmental co-benefits are felt.

If wealthy nations continue to underfund climate finance and neglect countries where it is needed most, places like Somalia, the Solomon Islands and Chad, then there will be ruinous consequences for us all, but especially the world’s most vulnerable communities who are least able to cope with climate chaos and least to blame for it.

That is because the escalating climate crisis acts as a ‘threat multiplier’, deepening global inequalities, with the most vulnerable countries disproportionately affected. Profound environmental, social, and economic challenges lie ahead – challenges that have the potential to trigger a future of rolling crises – unless there is immediate and serious global action.

According to research released last September by the Red Cross, without urgent action, climate-related disasters will lead to 200 million people needing humanitarian aid each year by 2050.

Wealthy nations must not shirk their responsibilities, as set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Instead they must honour existing commitments and set ambitious new targets that include doubling the climate finance going to the most fragile and climate vulnerable countries to make sure these countries are not, once again, ignored.

Humanity is at a crossroads. As countries develop their COVID19 recovery plans and investments, the most vulnerable people must be at the centre of them. Recovery must build our ability to cope with the impacts of climate change as well as to limit its extent.

There is reason for optimism.

We know from decades of working with communities vulnerable to climate chaos that whenever we invest to help people cope with threats like droughts and floods, the devastating impact of these threats on their lives and livelihoods can be avoided, economic losses can be reduced, economic activity can be stimulated, and essential services protected from damage and destruction.

The lesson is clear. People can adapt to the impacts of climate change and build their own resilience to natural hazards, but they must have support from the wealthy nations that are most responsible for climate chaos.

COVID-19 has laid bare how interconnected humanity is – a crisis in one part of the world can have profound impacts for us all. Now more than ever, the future prosperity and wellbeing of humanity depends on investing in helping people adapt to climate change, so we can all reap the benefits of a more stable, prosperous and peaceful world.

Sally Tyldesley is Concern Worldwide’s senior resilience policy officer. Ann Vaughan is advocacy lead for the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance at Mercy Corps.

Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is a consortium of nine organizations from the public and private sectors with a shared vision that floods have no impact on people’s ability to thrive.