Climate change and the poor
Adapt or die
Sep 11th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Environmentalists have long said the world should concentrate on preventing climate change, not adapting to it. That is changing
“I USED to think adaptation subtracted from our efforts on prevention. But I’ve changed my mind,” says Al Gore, a former American vice-president and Nobel prize-winner. “Poor countries are vulnerable and need our help.” His words reflect a shift in the priorities of environmentalists and economists.
For years, greens said adaptation-coping with climate change, rather than stopping it-was a bit like putting out a fire on the Titanic: desirable, no doubt, but the main thing was to change course. In July, however, a committee of America’s Senate set aside $20m for international adaptation efforts. That was peanuts; and nothing will come of it anyway because there is no comparable legislation in the House of Representatives. But it was the first time American legislators had showed willingness to put money into global efforts at coping. In June, the United Nations hammered out the details of how to control spending of the first carbon tax earmarked for international adaptation.
Two things have changed attitudes. One is evidence that global warming is happening faster than expected. Manish Bapna of the World Resources Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC, believes “it is already too late to avert dangerous consequences, so we must learn to adapt.”
Second, evidence is growing that climate change hits two specific groups of people disproportionately and unfairly. They are the poorest of the poor and those living in island states: 1 billion people in 100 countries. Tony Nyong, a climate-change scientist in Nairobi, argues that people in poor countries used to see global warming as a Western matter: the rich had caused it and would with luck solve it. But the first impact of global warming has been on the very things the poorest depend on most: dry-land agriculture; tropical forests; subsistence fishing. In a recent paper* for the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington DC, Robert Mendelsohn of Yale University estimates that African farmers on rain-fed land will lose $28 per hectare per year for each 1°C rise in global temperatures. Global warming erodes coastlines, spreads pests and water-borne diseases and produces more erratic weather patterns.
其二，有证据显示，两个特定群体不是问题的制造者，却不公平的承受了大部分冲击。他们是最为贫困的穷人和岛国居民：分布在100国家的10亿人口。奈落比气候变化问题科学家Tony Nyong表示，穷国的居民曾经认为气候变化是西方人的事儿：富人制造了这些麻烦，手气不错的话，也就解决了。但是首先受到全球变暖冲击的正是特困群体赖以生存的资产：旱区农业；热带雨林；生存渔业。位于华盛顿的一家智囊机构布鲁金斯研究所最近发表了一份报告，耶鲁大学的Robert Mendelsohn预计，全球气温每升高1°C，在雨养地耕种的非洲农民每公顷就要损失28美元。全球变暖侵蚀海岸线，使虫灾泛滥、水性传染病扩散，气候变化更加无常。
The victims share two characteristics. They are too poor to defend themselves by expensive flood controls or sophisticated public-health programmes. And (unlike China or Brazil) their own carbon footprints are tiny. Kirk Smith, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, calls climate change the world’s biggest regressive tax: the poorest pay for the behaviour of the rich (see map).
The new focus on adaptation shows itself in a slew of private- and public-sector projects. A private Australian company called New Forests cleans up degraded land in South-East Asia, creates “biodiversity conservation certificates” and sells them to big firms which want to be greener. Swiss Re is designing new kinds of subsidised insurance to help poor farmers in a dozen African countries guard against some of the impacts of climate change, creating innovative climate-risk indices and weather derivative contracts. Dozens of small firms advise big ones on cutting their carbon footprints; although most aim at reducing emissions, a few invest in reforestation, soil protection and the like.
私营和公共部门方案的一系列转变也体现了对适应活动的全新关注。一家名为New Forests的澳大利亚私营公司整顿了东南亚地区土质退化的土地，设立了”保护生物多样性许可证”并将其出售给追求绿色形象的大公司。Swiss Re正在构思几种新的有补助的保险项目、设置全新气候问题险情指数和气候衍生问题的相关合同，以帮助十多个非洲国家的贫穷农民防御气候变化的冲击。许多小企业就减少碳足迹问题向大企业们提供建议；大部分的企业致力于减少碳排放，但也有一些企业投资于森林重建，水土保护这类活动。
On the public-sector side, rich-country governments are levying new taxes and using the revenues for global poverty-reduction and adaptation. France, for example, imposes a tax on international flights of between euro1 and euro40 per seat, using the money for HIV/AIDS in Africa. Some environmentalists want a similar tax on all international flights to help adaptation. Countries are creating adaptation funds by auctioning rights to pollute under cap-and-trade arrangements. A fifth of the money raised by the European Union’s emissions-trading scheme-forecast at over $2 billion a year by 2020-is supposed to go on climate-change efforts including, as the scheme says, “developing countries’ adaptation”. A bill proposed this year in America’s Senate would have generated $10 billion-20 billion a year after 2025. The bill failed but similar steps have the backing of both Barack Obama and John McCain.
对于私营部门，富国政府征收新税种，所得税收用于全球减贫和适应性活动。例如，法国对国际航班每位次征收1欧到40欧不等的税，用于解决非洲地区艾滋病问题。一些环保人士希望对所有国际航班都征收这类税种，用于适应性活动。世界各国正通过拍卖限额交易制度下的污染权建立适应性活动基金会。预计，欧盟碳排放交易计划集资的五分之一—-据估计到2020年将超过每年20亿美元—-将被用于继续应对气候变化活动，包括—据该计划规定—“发展中国家的适应性活动”。今年美国参议院提出了一份法案，规定2025年后每年集资100-200美元。该法案虽然没有通过，但Barack Obama和John McCain都支持类似的应对措施。
Most important, a United Nations conference in Bali last December set up what is essentially a global tax on carbon, with the money to be spent by an international body. Under the Kyoto protocol, companies in rich countries that have signed the climate accords can finance reductions in emissions by private firms in developing nations. In return, rich-country companies can offset a portion of their own (capped) emissions. These company-to-company deals produce “carbon credits” which have a value and can be traded. In June, it was agreed that 2% of that value (forecast at up to $950m by 2012) will go into an adaptation fund controlled by donors and recipients. About $100m-worth of these credits are already in the bank.
So adaptation is becoming a proper business. As it does so, however, it encounters a host of problems.
To begin with, the money involved is just a puff of smoke. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest the cost of coping with climate change is in the tens of billions a year for poor countries (see table). The total pledged to date (cumulatively, not per year) is $300m, of which just 10% has actually been spent. China says rich countries should allocate 0.5% of their national incomes in official aid to help developing countries adapt. But most rich countries are failing to fulfil earlier promises to increase aid for other reasons, so that looks like a non-starter.
The discrepancy means poor countries will end up bearing most of the burden themselves. China has a national climate-change programme with an elaborate series of targets and exhortations to cope. Bangladesh this year put $50m into a national adaptation fund and invited rich countries to add of their plenty. But this sort of thing is much easier for giants like China or large countries like Bangladesh, than it is for poorer Mali or tiny Maldives.
With more problems than money, there will-as always-be a fight over the spoils. Rich countries may concede the poor are harder hit and need help, but once there is a pot of money, they too will want a share. For an American administration, rebuilding the levees of New Orleans (an adaptation programme) will take precedence over projects in Africa or the Caribbean.
Even if poor countries do get help, there are bound to be fights over how to use it. In general, says Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, most adaptation spending should go on what countries are doing anyway-irrigation, drought-resistant seeds and so forth. But that leaves plenty of room for disputes.
If sea levels go up, do you build sea walls or rehouse people? If infectious diseases are rising, do you spend money trying to eradicate the worst ones, like malaria, or on health and nutrition in general? The latter makes sense but most donors concentrate on single-disease efforts. George Soros, a financier who runs a chain of philanthropic organisations, says that in their experience, few people in poor countries have a clear idea about climate change and how to cope with it.
Lastly, the international arrangements that might help sort out some of these disputes are a shambles. Among developing countries, most negotiations on climate change (as on everything else) are led by the big three: China, India and Brazil. But they are large polluters themselves and their interests differ from very poor states and islands. Angus Friday, Grenada’s ambassador to the UN who speaks for island states there, says the states most vulnerable to climate change are least able to participate effectively in climate-change talks.
The poorest lose out in another way. When industrial polluters in emerging markets cut emissions, they are rewarded through Kyoto. But the poorest are not rewarded for the big contribution they could make towards reducing emissions, which is the better management of tropical forests. That is because forests were excluded from Kyoto, to the chagrin of the poor.
Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for human rights, says that there should be a “rights-based” approach to climate change, meaning poor countries should have some redress under international law for the environmental costs they suffer. This seems like a recipe for alienating rich countries. But it reflects a growing impatience. As the costs of climate change bear down on the poor, so their demands grow that rich countries, which caused most of the problems, should help them cope.