BJORN LOMBORG for WA TODAY – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s diversion of $1 billion of development funds to climate aid might please climate activists at the Paris summit, but it’s one of the least effective ways of helping the world’s poor.
What would help is support for an end to the $680 billion wasted on annual fossil fuel subsidies that not only increase CO₂ but suck dry the public purse in many developing countries, keeping funds from areas that need it.
In diverting money to climate aid, Turnbull joins US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will each invest $4.15 billion ($US3 billion) in the UN’s Green Climate Fund Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, who is shifting $12.5 billion (£6 billion) from overseas aid to climate-related aid over five years; and summit host French President Francois Hollande, who pledges $7.3 billion (€5 billion) annually by 2020. This adds up to a massive, immoral waste.
Those opposed to the Copenhagen Consensus approach of comparing different uses of development money like to claim that it’s a “false dichotomy” to contrast climate spending with other investments. But that’s exactly what politicians are doing: taking money from child health, girls’ education, infrastructure, or strengthening grassroots organisations, and spending it instead on so-called “climate aid”. The OECD analysed about 70 per cent of global development aid and found that now about a quarter goes to climate-related aid.
Two billion people suffer from some form of malnourishment and it is an underlying cause of death of 2.6 million children each year, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.4 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation. For such challenges there are effective solutions that require political willpower and commitment to action.
Of course, some activists argue that all problems should be seen through the “prism” of climate change because it exacerbates other issues, such as malaria or educational attendance. There can be such a link, but this does not make climate change exceptional. The scourge of malaria, for example, directly reduces school attendance, depletes health systems, erodes economies, and makes the world’s poorest more vulnerable to other problems.
If, for instance, the climate aid is spent on solar and wind, using today’s technologies, Australia’s $1 billion in climate aid would postpone global warming by about six minutes by the end of the century, according to a standard UN climate model.The same money spent on vaccinations could prevent more than 1 million child deaths in just one year.
Climate aid is a singularly poor response to global challenges. If we want to solve malaria, direct investments in mosquito nets and medicine will save tens of thousands more lives than carbon cuts. Concerned about agriculture? Then invest directly in agricultural research and better farming technologies, not subsidising inefficient wind turbines. Worried about “extreme weather” events? These hit the poor the hardest: 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.
Energy poverty is a real problem for the world’s poorest: when the sun goes down, the lights go out. Handing out poor, inefficient, intermittent solar panels is at best a small part of the answer. A 2014 study by the Centre for Global Development found that while using $13 billion to get renewable energy to Africa will lift 20 million people out of darkness and hence poverty, providing access to gas-generated electricity with the same money could help 90 million people. Leaving 70 million in the dark seems indefensible.
But climate change should not be ignored. Australia’s decision to be part of the Gates-led innovation fund is laudable. Australian solar energy researchers in particular are world leaders. Addressing global warming effectively requires long-term innovation that will make green energy affordable for everyone. The $27 billion fund is only a start, though; global investment in the region of at least $136 billion is what’s required.
A responsible response to global warming also requires governments to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels. This is a sound climate policy, but more importantly it frees up more money for challenges such as health and education. Subsidies cost the world $684 billion. A disproportionate share is wasted in developing countries, where it goes to the middle class and the rich – the people who can afford a car. It’s unfortunate that Australia has chosen not to join 40 other countries supporting an end to these subsidies.
Climate aid is a poor use of limited funds, especially when this money is being taken from development spending that could make a real difference.
Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.