Study: Education and health spending compromised by climate change


Impoverished states have had to divert large chunks of their budget to adapt to climate change and run the risk of crowding out spending on health and education, a new report suggests.

Between 2008 and 2011, Ethiopia committed 14% of its national budget to climate change, or nearly half of the national spending on primary education. Meanwhile, Tanzania spent 5%, which is almost two-thirds of its health spending, according to the report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, the three countries featured in the report, are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and have all experienced higher temperatures and reductions of water sources consistent with climate change. All have invested heavily to adapt their farming and cities in the absence of promised international aid, said Neil Bird, a climate researcher at ODI who wrote the report.

The study exposes large funding gaps between each country’s proposals to address climate change and what is available. Ethiopia’s climate change strategy calls for annual spending of $7.5bn (£4.5bn), but the country is estimated to be able to afford only around $440m per year. Tanzania needs around $650m a year to address current climate risks and enhance its resilience, but can only spend of $383m. Uganda’s climate change policy is estimated to cost $258m per year compared to current public spending in the region of $25m per year.

Released on the eve of the New York climate summit where world leaders will seek to catalyse action on climate change, the report highlights how poor countries are overwhelmingly having to finance adaptation to climate change themselves: “There is an existing international commitment to provide $100bn a year from 2020, but ODI’s research shows that the current estimates of global adaptation finance amount to a tiny fraction of that sum,” said Bird.

“In the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, international support to assist countries adapt to climate change has averaged only $130m annually, far less than the $1.1bn that the UK alone spent on the floods three years ago, in what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls ‘adaptation apartheid’,” Bird added.

In contrast to the minimal help offered to countries that have played no role in man-made climate change, rich countries are already investing heavily in adaptation through strengthened flood-defence systems, coastal protection and other measures. The UK spent approximately £700m on flood defences between 2010 and 2011. Poorer countries and their citizens have to address the adaptation challenge with far fewer resources, says the report.

“While richer countries invest heavily in flood-defence systems, coastal protection and other projects, poorer countries have no choice but to divert scarce resources, potentially reversing the progress made in tackling poverty,” said Kevin Watkins, executive director of ODI.

In Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda climate change is seen as an economic development issue rather than solely an environmental concern. This is reflected in the spending ministries such as agriculture, water and energy. Relevant government programmes include irrigation projects, dry-land management initiatives and development projects designed to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The ODI urges greater transparency to increase confidence in the effectiveness of climate finance and proposes a new approach to supporting national action on climate change. This suggests that public climate finance from the international community should match the level of domestic public spending relevant to climate change in those countries acknowledged to be the most vulnerable.

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