Stingy climate aid leaves poor nations digging deep: report

By Megan Rowling

By Megan Rowling BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A lack of help for the poorest countries to adapt to climate change may be undermining their efforts to tackle poverty, researchers warned on Monday. A report from the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said some African states are having to divert a large share of their national budgets to tackle climate threats, due to a shortage of funding from donors. The think tank called on wealthy governments to adopt a "matched-funding approach", meaning they would provide climate funding equivalent to national spending in poor countries. "While richer countries invest heavily in flood-defense 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, ODI's executive director. In Ethiopia, for example, which largely depends on rain for agriculture, the government is spending big sums on irrigation schemes. From 2008 to 2011, the East African nation allocated $440 million a year for climate action - equivalent to almost half its spending on primary education. Only $88 million of that climate spending came from international sources. In the same period, Uganda spent $25 million annually on climate change measures, including developing a national early warning system, with just $2 million coming from donors. According to the ODI's Neil Bird, international support to help sub-Saharan African states adapt to climate change averaged $130 million annually from 2008 to 2011 - far less than the $1.1 billion Britain spent on flood defenses three years ago. "International funds have been skewed towards helping mainly middle-income countries cut their carbon emissions, rather than helping the poorest countries adapt to the impacts of climate change," Bird, a research fellow, said in a statement. Tanzania has fared slightly better - it spent $383 million per year on climate measures, including forest protection, from 2009 to 2012, of which $237 million was internationally funded. The total equals almost two-thirds of the country's health spending, the ODI noted. 'SAFETY NET' Combining domestic and donor funds, the three African counties are still spending far less than the sums experts say they need to properly tackle climate shifts, the report said. In Ethiopia, climate spending amounts to only 6 percent of estimated need, and in Uganda 10 percent. For Tanzania, where more official development aid goes through the budget, the number is higher at 59 percent. Bird said if donors matched domestic spending that would provide a "safety net" for vulnerable countries like Uganda, which receive hardly anything from multilateral climate funds. The ODI research highlights how "government and household budgets in the poorest countries have been left to foot the bill for a threat that originates principally in richer countries," which have historically emitted the lion's share of planet-warming greenhouse gases. There are growing calls for countries to shoulder their "fair share" in tackling climate change - both in terms of finance to help poorer states adapt, and reducing emissions to limit temperature rise. This is a key area of negotiation on the road to a new global climate deal, due to be agreed in Paris late next year. A new online tool launched on Sunday enables users to explore what carbon cuts and climate aid nations might fairly contribute to provide a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, while also lifting people out of poverty, based on their historical use of a global carbon budget. Developed by Friends of the Earth, the Stockholm Environment Institute and Jubilee South, it proposes, for example, that Britain would need to make emissions cuts of 65 to 75 percent from 1990 levels by 2025, more than currently planned, while transferring up to $49 billion to developing countries. And China would ideally cut its emissions from today's levels by 27 to 37 percent by 2025. To achieve that, it would need support of up to $497 billion in the form of access to technology that could help it grow cleanly, the groups said. (Reporting by Megan Rowling; Editing by Ros Russell)