Global agreement on emissions reduction targets and linked-up market mechanisms are vital outcomes of the negotiations in Paris. But viewed through the lens of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – children in developing countries – equal weight must be placed on urgent and practical interventions to help them survive.
The good news is we already have one mechanism in place to do this: a global climate finance fund. It just needs to be adequately funded.
It’s children who are already feeling the effects of a changing climate and stand to be affected the most through our inactions. Human induced climate change could wipe out hard-won development gains, painfully built over decades. We’ve seen this in Vanuatu in 2015 and the Philippines in 2014, where both developing countries were smashed by extreme weather events.
If these trends continue, the effects of climate change will be felt most acutely by the poorest and most marginalised groups, who have the least capacity to cope. They have less access to emergency support like health care and disaster recovery payments, or to resources that allow them to prepare, manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The World Bank reported that “ending poverty will not be possible if climate change and its effects on poor people are not accounted for and managed in development and poverty-reduction policies.” The same report finds that without “short run, rapid, inclusive, and climate-informed development” an additional 100 million people may be forced into extreme poverty by 2030.
The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report tells us that throughout the 21st century, climate-change will slow economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps.
It will also reduce access to drinking and irrigation water, which in turn will reduce agricultural productivity, and cause a loss of rural livelihoods and income, especially in semi-arid regions.
Climate change is expected to affect all aspects of food security and production. Since the 1980s, global maize and wheat production have declined by 3.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively, compared to a world without climate change. Several experts argue that crop yields could be reduced by up to 5 per cent globally in 2030 after accounting for adaptation.
This impact on the quality and quantity of food production will affect more children than adults. On a body weight basis, children require three to four times the amount of food compared to adults, and have a higher respiratory rate so are more likely to be affected by increases in air pollution. Children are also more at risk of illness or death from water and parasite-borne diseases, and physiologically less able to adapt to increasing temperatures.
The World Health Organisation estimates that a third of the global burden of disease is caused by environmental factors and that children under 5 years of age bear more than 40 per cent of that burden, even though they represent only 10 per cent of the world’s population.
Our changing environment will affect children in more radical and violent ways. Climate change is predicted to increase the severity and frequency of both slow building disasters like droughts, desertification and sea-level rises, and more frequent and violent rapid-onset disasters like floods, typhoons, and storms.
One of the best ways to help communities cope with the impacts of a changing climate is by financing the systems, materials, equipment and programs needed to aid their adaptation.
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was set up to manage and channel the flows of climate finance from developed nations. It aims to help countries limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and support vulnerable societies to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
Recognising that the poorest are those most vulnerable to climate change, and also those least able to access resources necessary to adapt to its effects, this climate aid is divided in two: mitigation, aimed at reducing the sources of greenhouse gases; and adaptation, which aims to moderate or avoid harm to current and predicted effects of climate change.
The GCF aims to distribute its funds 50:50 between mitigation – solar panels, wind turbines, for example – and adaptation, which includes helping provide access to nutrition, water and livelihoods in a changing climate.
If we are to have any chance of supporting poorer communities through this process, we must avoid them becoming part of the existing fossil fuel economy. By incentivising these communities to join the renewable economy, thus bypassing the fossil fuel industry, we can enable them to avoid contributing to the very problem that has caused the climate to change.
For example, solar power is increasingly being seen as a viable way to deliver power to remote or isolated communities who are not connected with the grid. In Tanzania, where only 40 per cent of people have access to grid electricity, the government has launched an initiative that aims to provide more than a million Tanzanian homes with access to solar electricity by 2017.
At its peak, it is expected to provide 10 per cent of the population with electricity while generating 15,000 jobs. This will bring enormous benefits to remote communities as well as key infrastructure like healthcare centres that currently keep paper records for patients and can’t run electronic HIV/AIDS testing equipment.
This is the sort of breakthrough development that the GCF can finance. And although advanced economics have formally agreed to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 from a variety of funding sources, so far a paltry $10.2 billion has been pledged.
Children will inherit whatever world we leave for them, climate change or not. The world needs to come together in Paris and commit to a path that tackles climate change once and for all, and this must include a fully funded Green Climate Fund.
If not, it is the world’s children who will suffer most.
Tim Norton and Corinne Schoch work for Save the Children Australia.