One of the things we are hearing more and more about here in Paris is so-called “climate aid”. There has been a huge push from climate NGOs to convince rich countries to spend a fortune to help poor countries adjust to global warming. This term is a catch-all for money being given from rich countries to poorer countries for global warming education, solar panels, adaptation, or anything you can imagine that can be linked to global warming.
This push has already had an effect. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has analysed about 70% of total global development aid and found that about one in four of those dollars now goes to climate-related aid.
On Monday, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged to divert almost $1bn of Australian development aid to climate aid. In October, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim pledged a one-third increase in the bank’s direct climate-related financing, bringing the bank’s annual total to an estimated $29bn by 2020. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to match President Obama’s promised $3bn in aid to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. The UK is diverting $8.9bn from its overseas aid budget to climate-related aid over the next five years and France is promising $5.6bn annually by 2020, up from $3.4bn Tuesday.
For many delegates here, the goal is for the amount spent internationally on climate aid to add up to an astonishing $100bn a year. This figure came out of the ill-fated Copenhagen climate summit six years ago, when developed nations made a rash promise to spend $100bn a year on “climate finance” for the world’s poor by 2020.
Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice president and special envoy for climate change, recently told the Guardian newspaper that the $100bn figure “was picked out of the air at Copenhagen” to rescue a last-minute deal. Yet, in the way that these things often go, achieving that arbitrary goal has become fundamental to the success of the Paris summit.
I am deeply troubled by this development – and by the focus in Paris on negotiating a deal that is built around climate aid.
Much of this “climate aid” money is not new. It is not drawn from existing climate change budgets; instead, it is being harvested from existing aid and development funds. Money is being diverted to climate-related matters at the expense of improved public health, education, and economic development.
In a world in which malnourishment continues to claim at least 1.4 million children’s lives each year, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation; this growing emphasis on climate aid is simply immoral.
As I outlined on Monday, an online UN survey of more than eight million people from around the globe shows that respondents from the world’s poorest countries rank “action taken on climate change” dead last out of 16 categories when asked “What matters most to you?”.
Providing the world’s most deprived countries with solar panels instead of better healthcare or education is inexcusable self-indulgence. Green energy sources may be good to keep on a single light or to charge a cell phone. But they are largely useless for tackling the main power challenges for the world’s poor.
Climate aid is one of the least effective ways of helping the world’s worst off. The Kyoto Protocol’s carbon cuts would have saved 1,400 malaria deaths for about $180bn a year. Just half a billion dollars spent 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 climate policies. Helping people out of poverty is thousands of times more effective than relying on carbon cuts.
Climate aid is not where rich countries can help the most and it is not what the world’s poorest want or need.
Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He researches the smartest ways to help the world, for which he was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. His numerous books include The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030.