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Climate change and the world's poor

By Andrew Hewett - posted Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Climate change is arguably the gravest threat ever faced by humanity. Some say more of a threat to global peace and security than terrorism and diseases such as HIV-AIDS.

But what is beyond doubt is its threat to global economic progress in developing countries as well as wealthy nations such as Australia. Nowhere will the impacts of climate change be felt more than in the world's poorest nations where hundreds of millions of people live on less than a dollar a day.

It is a depressing irony that the world's poor who are least responsible for climate change should be asked to shoulder the worst of what is to come - increased environmental and human disasters, exacting a massive toll on human and economic development.


Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh could be deluged by rising sea levels, leaving millions of people displaced. Already in our region, the Asia Pacific, we are concerned for Pacific atolls whose inhabitants may become among the world's first climate change refugees - a humanitarian disaster with far reaching consequences for rich and poor countries around the world, including Australia.

That is why Oxfam, a global advocate for the poor, is urging the richest nations to commit to providing the resources necessary for developing countries to adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change.

After all it is the world's wealthiest nations that are responsible, for the most part, for our changing climate and therefore it is right that they assist less developed countries adapt to protect against the impacts of climate change.

Our new report, Adapting to Climate Change, estimates that at least $60 billion a year will be needed to enable developing countries to adapt to the harmful effects of climate change. But this figure will rise sharply and cost the world economy dramatically more if carbon emissions are not cut drastically and rapidly to keep global warming below 2C.

This new investment must constitute new funds and must not be siphoned off existing aid budgets. Our new Adaptation Financing Index estimates the share that each country should contribute towards financing developing country adaptation to climate change.

It ranks countries based on their responsibility for carbon emissions from 1992, the year nearly all of the world's nations committed to tackling climate change, as well as their capability to pay based on their ranking in the UN's Human Development Index.


It is no surprise that the USA, the world's richest nation as well as biggest polluter, needs to meet 44 per cent of developing countries' adaptation costs.

Australia is responsible for 3 per cent or a minimum of $1.8 billion a year.

The Australian Government has so far spent approximately $280 million over the last decade on climate change related activities through its overseas aid program. Recently it committed $200 million for programs to reduce forest destruction in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. This is a good start but there's a long way to go.

We run the risk of exacerbating human poverty unless we take immediate action to help poor countries with the cost of adaptation.

Rich countries are beginning to make investments at home to adapt to climate change. They know the scale of the problem but they are stalling when it comes to providing funds for poorer countries to do the same.

It is time justice was done and rich countries took responsibility for the damage their actions had or will have on poor countries as a direct effect of climate change.

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About the Author

Andrew Hewett is Executive Director of Oxfam Australia.

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