The legacy of Hurricane Sandy and the climate finance debate

A woman carries her daughter through knee-high flood water as a result of Typhoon Bhopa in the Philippines.A woman carries her daughter through knee-high flood water as a result of Typhoon Bhopa in the Philippines. Bhopa and Sandy have been two examples of the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather in 2012 © Unicef/NYHQ2012-1694/Jeoffrey Maitem

Last week, the US Senate passed a bill allocating $60 billion in federal money to support relief for Hurricane Sandy victims and the post-storm recovery efforts. This figure is notable in size and scale – $60 billion to help those impacted in the US, a developed country, cope with the impacts of a single climate change related natural disaster. It also presents an interesting dimension to the climate finance debate that we at Unicef UK are actively engaged in.

By nature of levels of preparedness and development, when natural disasters hit developed countries, the impact is much less devastating than when they hit vulnerable developing countries where people, and especially children, are at greater risk. In developing countries, vulnerable communities often use unsafe, poorly constructed housing and schools and with less well resourced health and emergency services, which puts them at great risk when a climate related natural disaster such as a hurricane strikes. It is consequently shocking to see that Hurricane Sandy was able to cause so much costly economic, social and human damage in the US, on top of the devastating impact it had on the less developed Caribbean countries it also hit. The scale of the tragic damage caused in the US by Hurricane Sandy also highlights that developed countries are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and they need to take action to protect their own populations.

Perhaps what is most shocking is that $60 billion is in fact slightly larger than the $50 billion amount agreed by developed countries in total to help all developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change each year. At Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, developed countries agreed to mobilise $100 billion a year of new and additional money for developing countries to cope with climate change – $50 billion a year to be spent on low carbon development and $50 billion a year on adaptation, helping vulnerable countries have the skills and infrastructure to cope with the growing risks of climate change such as extreme weather

In other words, to support all developing countries to cope with all the impacts of climate change each year, less money has been committed than is estimated is needed to help the US recover and cope with the impact of a single a natural disaster. Even more shocking perhaps is that none of this money for developing countries has yet to materialise, despite the fact that the impacts of climate and change and extreme weather are increasing. Those such as Lord Stern and many developing countries have long argued that the $100 billion a year figure may well fall short of meeting the needs of developing countries to face climate change, especially with continued lack of action on emissions reductions. The $60 billion sum for Sandy highlights that not only is this probably the case, but also that with such figures for response, it evidently makes more sense to invest in climate adaptation and preparedness. DFID in fact state that for every £1 spent on disaster prevention, £4 in response can be saved. It is therefore both right morally to prepare vulnerable communities for the impacts of climate change, and also makes long term economic sense to do so too.

Here at Unicef UK we have been lobbying and campaigning for more action globally and by the UK to mobilise the global $100 billion a year climate finance target – to ensure that children in the most vulnerable countries have the resources they need to cope with the impacts of climate change. Climate adaptation, when done right, can help ensure that children are able to access education, health services and enjoy a full childhood in spite of the challenges presented by climate change.

2013 is a key year for developed countries to make progress towards mobilising this goal, and following on from encouraging commitments by the UK government and our work at COP 18 in Doha , Unicef UK will be lobbying the UK government to ensure that they continue to take a leadership role in this process. This will help ensure money is on the table to prepare children everywhere to be resilient to the impacts of climate change, rather than be unprepared and pick up the pieces from one of the many increasing climate related extreme weather events that are occurring globally.

Stay tuned for another blog exploring all the key moments for political change on climate finance in 2013, and Unicef UK’s work to lobby for action.

Jazmin Burgess is Unicef UK’s climate change policy officer. Twitter: @jburgessclimate

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