There are other, far more severe issues to tackle first, from malnutrition to poverty
In a world where malnourishment continues to claim at least 1.4 million children’s lives, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation, diverting scarce resources from aid that address these obvious challenges to climate policies is not only wasteful; it is immoral.
When we think of aid, we picture taxpayer funds being used to help battle malnutrition or poverty, or perhaps respond to HIV or build schools. Of the aid that the OECD analyses – about 60% of total global bilateral development – more than one in every four pounds goes to climate aidand cutting greenhouse gases like CO₂.
According to Cameron, this money helps “the poorest and most vulnerable”.
But they don’t want climate aid. The UN has asked more than 8 million people across the world what they want. Both for the entire world and those living in the poorest countries, climate comes 16th out of 16, after 15 other priorities.
Instead they clearly tell us their top priorities: Education is the top demand for the world’s most disadvantaged, followed by better healthcare, better job opportunities, an honest and responsive government and affordable, nutritious food.
Climate campaigners often point out that that these other problems will be made worse by climate change. Malaria will become more endemic; food will become scarcer; weather disasters will become worse.
This can be true, but the same argument goes for almost all problems: More malaria not only kills, but reduces school attendance, depletes health systems, erodes economies and make everyone more vulnerable to most other problems.
Moreover, climate aid is one of the least effective ways of helping. The Kyoto Protocol’s carbon cuts could save 1,400 malaria deaths for about $180 billion a year. Just half a billion dollars on direct malaria policies like mosquito nets could save 300,000 lives. Investing directly in agricultural research and better farming technologies will help agriculture much, much more than any carbon cuts. Extreme weather mostly hurts the poor because they’re poor: the same level hurricane can claim many lives in Honduras yet leave somewhere like Florida relatively unscathed. Helping people out of poverty is thousands of times more effective than relying on carbon cuts.
Photo: EPA/ABUKAR ALBADRI
Cameron’s announcement focused on UK support for green energy to developing countries. According to Cameron, “That energy not only keeps the lights on, it also improves health and education, spurs economic growth and creates jobs.”
Solar panels may be good to keep on a single light and to charge a cell phone. But they are useless for tackling the main power challenges for the world’s poor. Three billion people suffer terrible indoor air pollution because they burn wood and dung to cook, but solar panels cannot power clean cook stoves. Likewise, they can’t power the refrigerators that will keep the vaccines and food from spoiling, and they cannot power the machinery for agriculture and factories.
Moreover, they are intermittent and need heavy subsidies, creating few useful jobs. Indeed, a study from the Center for Global Development shows that if we instead of spending money on renewables used it on gas electrification we could lift four times more people out of darkness and poverty.
The truth is that not all aid spending is equal. Donors like the United Kingdom have a moral imperative to focus first on the areas where each pound will achieve the most good.