Here in the temperate north, climate change can feel like a distant threat. It sort of hovers there as an abstract concern. We know we ought to do something about it eventually, but many find it hard to treat climate change with any sense of urgency.
This is what I call climate privilege, because in plenty of other places the threat is much more obvious. It is already a matter of survival, and people are struggling to adapt. Often these are places where carbon emissions are low, and that have done very little to contribute to the global crisis in the first place. This is the fundamental injustice of climate change.
Power Shift Africa has recently done some analysis of national adaptation plans for several countries in the region, and found that countries are spending significant sums on adaptation – funds that are then not available for other urgent priorities. Ethiopia, for example, is ear-marking $6 billion a year to adapt to more frequents droughts, storms and wildfires. This is equivalent to 5.6% of GDP – a larger percentage than healthcare spending for Ethiopia.
These funds are harder to find when you consider that climate change is also eroding GDP. Countries face a double squeeze – having to find more money to adapt, while climate change also reduces the funds available. Kenya estimates that climate change is already costing it between 3-5% of GDP in damage from droughts and floods.
This leaves a huge funding gap as African countries are forced to spend money they don’t have to adapt to a crisis they did not create. Richer countries have caused the crisis with our higher emissions, and so responsibility for closing that gap lies with us. As Power Shift Africa make clear: “It is incumbent on the rich polluting world, which caused climate change in the first place, to assume responsibility, and support the vulnerable communities and countries adapt to the inevitable and profound changes in the climate.”
This will be a theme at COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh later this year. Holding the conference in Africa is an opportunity to bring questions of adaptation, finance and compensation for loss and damage to the foreground. Because if the rich world fails to take responsibility for its emissions, the consequences for Africa will be devastating. History will record another chapter in a long story of injustice between the rich white north and the global south.
As Kenya’s national adaptation strategy says, ‘‘an increase of global temperature by 1.5 °C is 3°C for Africa and is not a statistic. It is a matter of life and death for our people who contribute the least in terms of emissions, yet bear the brunt of the devastating effects of the global warming.’’