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FEATURE: Financing improvements in the governance of climate risk – introducing the ‘Up for It’ Index

The relative vulnerability and exposure of developing countries to climate-related disaster events was a key feature of this week’s 3rd Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction hosted by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.  A conference session on Tuesday 10 May saw the launch of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011 (GAR 2011).

The report found that the risk of being killed by a cyclone or flood is lower today than 20 years ago, except for those in poor countries with weak governance. However, it also found that economic losses from disasters are going up in all areas and threaten growth, particularly in low-income countries.

GAR 2011 showed that the rate of increase in the exposure of people and assets to natural hazards is outstripping our ability to reduce vulnerability. For now, this means that the risk of being affected by a disaster is going up for people living in every developing country region, including the big economies of India and China. The report therefore argues that ‘strengthening risk governance capacities fast enough to address the rapidly increasing exposure of population and assets’ is a key development challenge of our time.

The need for strengthened risk governance in areas exposed to climate change-related disasters and wider climate change impacts is a recognised challenge to be addressed by increased flows of climate change adaptation finance. With the Cancun agreement committing rich countries to providing a total ‘approaching US$30bn up to 2012’, such countries and formal funding mechanisms are considering how to allocate their resources equitably among developing countries. This has sparked an explosion of studies trying to rank the relative exposure and vulnerability of developing countries to climate impacts.

GAR2011 bases many of its conclusions on DARA’s ‘climate vulnerability monitor’. The Pilot Programme on Climate Resilience (PPCR) uses a different measure in its justification of country selection. There are countless other studies – for instance, see Füssel (2009), Barr et al. (2010) – and a new slick map from Wheeler (2011). No two indices agree as they use different data sets and calculation methods. So DARA’s monitor finds Mongolia, North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan among the top few countries most vulnerable to climate-related weather disasters, whereas Wheeler’s ‘overall vulnerability to extreme weather index’ puts Afghanistan at 19, North Korea at 27, Mongolia at 67 and Venezuela at a lofty 74.

You might be forgiven for thinking this is just about boffins tweaking their data sets, but of course it matters, especially if these rankings become the basis on which money is allocated to countries from the new Green Climate Fund. Anecdotal evidence suggests that developing country governments take these rankings extremely seriously, pondering ways they can influence the allocation debate to push themselves higher up the rankings. The politics of vulnerability rankings is explored in paper by Klein and Möhner (2011) in the new Institute of Development Studies Bulletin – ‘Political Economy of Climate Change’ – and issues of discrimination in allocation measures are the subject of a paper by Nacpil and Buenaventura (2010).

While methods to agree equitable allocations between countries are crucial, taking a bottom-up view of what adaptation money is actually reaching poor countries tells a rather different story. Firstly, data from Climate Funds Update (CFU) points to very little adaptation money being disbursed – just US$350m, though CFU does only track adaptation spending through dedicated bilateral and multilateral climate change funds and does not account for all bilateral adaptation finance. It currently shows no spending in Somalia (top of Wheeler’s ranking), Venezuela, Libya or the Ivory Coast, but does show higher (yet still small) allocations to the PPCR countries of Bangladesh, as well as to Mozambique and the disaster risk reduction darling – the Philippines. So what is behind the current geographical distribution of adaptation spending?

Let me, for a moment, put myself in the shoes of an adaptation funder. I’ve got lots of money to spend on adaptation so I’d better get moving. I’ll start by doing a nice vulnerability ranking – great, lots of LDCs and SIDs at the top, that’ll show we mean business. Now, where do we work, and who do I know who can actually manage these projects for me?

There’s Bill in India, he knows about adaptation; and there’s Ben in Ghana – that’s a start. Oh. Whoops. India and Ghana aren’t in the top 20 …*Scratches head  … looks at rankings again* … who is top? How on earth am I going to spend adaptation money in Somalia: we’ve got no-one working there and surely they don’t care about adaptation when they’re fighting each other? Maybe I should just get going in India and Ghana, where I know we can spend money. There are still lots of poor people there anyway, it’ll be fine. ‘Hi Bill, will you get the government of India to support our nice project and accept our adaptation money … what … they won’t … what do you mean they won’t accept it … oh, fine then, I’ll call Ben’…. ‘Hi Ben, do you want this adaptation money? Will the government in Ghana support us … great … fantastic … deal done, I’ll send the money now’. Hmmm, what do I do with all this other money when we have no capacity in any of these other countries … ‘Hello, is that the World Bank?’

Of course I’ve exaggerated, and the names and countries involved are entirely selected at random. The point I am trying to make is that adaptation finance is being spent in countries where bilateral and multi-lateral organisations have good capacity to manage these projects, where they feel it can be justified on the basis of vulnerability and exposure rankings, and where governments are willing to accept the money.

So let me propose the new ‘up for it and do they have any capacity?’ ranking – I suggest it might be a more accurate tool in helping us understand the geographic distribution of adaptation finance to date. Nonetheless, If we want to see an adaptation finance landscape that matches money with the needs of the most vulnerable countries – or people within them – then climate finance is going to have to challenge the very politics of aid.

Dr. Tom Mitchell, Head of Climate Change, Environment and Forests Programme, Overseas Development Institute

Photo: Flood damage along the Choluteca River caused by Hurricane Mitch. Over 9,000 deaths and 9,000 missing were attributed to Mitch making it the second most deadly hurricane in history ranking only below a 1780 hurricane in the Lesser Antilles. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 1998 November. Photographer: Debbie Larson, NWS, International Activities.

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