Political Promise

Fair-weather Friends: How the World’s Biggest Polluters are Failing to Support the Victims of Climate Change

In Aidan Quh on January 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Aidan Quh writes on the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the contributions made by some of the world’s biggest polluters.

The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, established in 2005 to provide timely and reliable financial assistance to states during natural disasters or armed conflict, has assumed a certain poignancy in recent years. With the effects of climate change being felt ever more forcefully and widely, from the scorching aridity and droughts of Kenya to the claggy, waterlogged shores of Bangladesh, ensuring there are sufficient resources to respond to the debilitating effects of extreme weather has never been more critical.

And yet the Fund, which relies on voluntary donations from UN member states and third party organisations, is almost a third short of its $500m target for 2011. (Frankly, I think even that will seem a little paltry when we’re all floating past Harrods looking for bits of overpriced armoires to use as life rafts but still, it’s a start). The well-heeled Europeans have traditionally been large donors to the Fund, and it’s clear that their tightened purse strings are having a detrimental knock-on effect for UN initiatives. There are a couple of notable absentees from the list of pledges for 2011, including Ireland and Spain, the latter of which has typically been a large donor. Given the perilous state of Ireland’s finances and their recent EU bailout this news is hardly ground-breaking, although one would have thought Spain could pledge a small donation. Even Greece managed to cough up a token gesture.

More concerning however, is how little China and the United States donate to the Fund, regardless of economic or market conditions. Since 2006 the UK alone has contributed over $350m. In the same time period the two biggest global economies have given…$28m. (And no, I haven’t forgotten a zero). $25m from the United States, the world’s most powerful economy, and $3m from China. To add insult to injury, between 2008 and 2010 China received almost $13m from the Fund to respond to the devastation caused by earthquakes in the Sichuan and Qinghai provinces. Now maths may not be my strong point, but even someone of my worryingly limited ability can grasp the meaning behind those figures. As a twice beneficiary of the Fund it is disappointing, to say the least, that the Chinese have given so shamelessly small an amount as to not even cover their own backs.

Furthermore, the US and China are the top two producers of CO2 emissions, with the US the biggest producer until 2007 when it was superseded by China. These countries are effectively accumulating extraordinary wealth off the back of industry, and contributing significantly to the environmental degradation of our world through associated CO2 emissions, and yet they refuse to donate funds truly reflective of their culpability. I’m not asking for monumental displays of generosity and self-righteousness here, I’m not expecting the citizens of Guinea Bissau to donate 25% of their three dollar earnings to help combat climate change, I’m simply asking for those who have contributed the most to the destructive weather patterns battering our world to contribute the most towards putting things right.

Climate change is no longer a theory to be debated in lecture halls, laboratories and comfy coffee shops in Brussels, but it is here on our front doorstep, making an awful ruckus, banging pots and pans and screaming “you wanted proof?!?”. Failing to invest in central and regional funds for responding to extreme weather phenomena is akin to walking into the abyss desperately clutching a fistful of cash and hoping it’s not too late to sort everything out with the nice lady on reception. If we don’t formulate long-term strategies and allocate resources for responding to natural disasters now, then by the time they come around it will be too late. Just imagine the situation at Heathrow this Christmas, multiply it by a million and apply it to the whole world. Scared? Good. About time.
But, and here’s the million dollar question that has plagued weary student fundraisers for decades: How do you convince people to voluntarily donate money to a cause they don’t particularly perceive as their problem?

Answers on a postcard, please.

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  1. It seems to me that, rather than equating China and the US in terms of pollution output, the wealth of the people who live there (perhaps by GDP per capita) should be the yard stick. A really interesting article.

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