As developing countries suffer from climate change, polluters like the U.S. aren’t stepping up

The president has made it clear efforts like the Green Climate Fund aren't a priority.

People walk through waterlogged street at Pratiksha Nagar, Sion on September 20, 2017 in Mumbai, India. CREDIT: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
People walk through waterlogged street at Pratiksha Nagar, Sion on September 20, 2017 in Mumbai, India. CREDIT: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

People around the world who have done the least to contribute to climate change will suffer the most from its impacts, many of them in lower-income countries. But wealthy Western countries are lagging in their efforts to help — including the United States, where President Trump has launched an assault on international climate aid.

According to a new study published in the journal Science Advances Wednesday, countries that produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions are set to suffer disproportionately from fluctuating temperatures as the planet warms. Tropical countries and islands are especially vulnerable, as are areas across both South and Southeast Asia, as well as Southern Africa.

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European researchers from France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom conducted numerous climate change simulations for the survey using 37 “state of the art” climate models. Eyeing the impact of shifting temperatures in either direction, the study’s authors noted that as soils get drier in tropical areas, islands and warm coastal regions are will have decreased protection from winds.

Subtropical areas are expected to experience more extreme temperatures. The study found that these vulnerable regions are likely to see alarming swings between unusually hot and cold temperatures, with Southern Africa and the Amazon particularly hard hit. Other lower-income and developing areas also saw large hot-cold fluctuations.

The study also found that only one country considered wealthy based on its annual GDP is likely to suffer high climate variability similar to what its lower-income counterparts will experience with climate change — Australia.

“The countries that have contributed least to climate change, and are most vulnerable to extreme events, are projected to experience the strongest increase in variability,” write the study’s authors. “These changes would therefore amplify the inequality associated with the impacts of a changing climate.”

But while lower-income countries may be set to suffer more from shifting weather patterns, a separate report published by Oxfam found that Western aid is lagging behind. Many argue that wealthier, Western nations — those largely responsible for historic fossil fuel emissions — should help provide assistance to the lower-income nations whose development contributed far less to causing climate change.

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As the Oxfam report shows, wealthy countries are failing in their pledge to help poorer counterparts develop sustainably in keeping with the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Initial climate finance goals under the agreement aimed for $100 billion in aid for developing countries by 2020. Oxfam says that number currently rests at a reported $48 billion — an amount the organization is skeptical about, as that number appears to largely be the result of loans. Climate-specific assistance globally is likely between $16 billion and $21 billion, the report estimates. Moreover, Oxfam says assistance for climate adaptation specifically remains far too low and isn’t shifting quickly enough.

“Despite people in poor Caribbean islands staring down supercharged hurricanes and others in Africa reeling from brutal droughts, the money flowing to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to climate change remains woefully inadequate,” said Tracy Carty, Oxfam’s climate change policy expert, in a statement.

The United States is currently the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouses gases after China, but the Trump administration has actively moved away from climate finance commitments achieved under the Obama administration. In June 2017, the president announced plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement, claiming the United States was shouldering too much of the landmark pact’s demands.

One particular source of ire for Trump is the U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF). The fund serves as a mechanism for wealthier countries to assist developing nations in acquiring green technology and sustainable development. Countries like coal-reliant India have indicated efforts like the GCF are crucial to achieving the Paris agreement’s targets and easing the burden of developing quickly without relying on fossil fuels and endangering communities.

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President Obama pledged $3 billion to the GCF, $1 billion of which was paid before he left office. But Trump has indicated he has no interest in following through on the pledge, which represents around a third of the total amount pledged globally to the GCF. Instead, the president has indicated he wants to use the U.S. seat on the fund’s board to lobby for U.S. energy interests — namely “clean” coal and natural gas infrastructure.

Experts have largely dismissed clean coal as a myth and coal itself plays an outsized role in climate change. In addition to releasing more carbon dioxide when burned than other fossil fuels, the process of mining for coal can be devastating for the environment, in addition to being deadly for workers. Trump’s support for coal isn’t likely to help areas struggling to shift away from fossil fuels and their environmental impacts.

In addition to touting fossil fuels, the Trump administration has proposed slashing global climate funding aimed at mitigating the impact of natural disasters on developing areas as well as aiding in their recovery.

Experts say such assistance efforts are crucial. Last fall, intensive flooding across South Asia displaced millions of people and killed more than a thousand, while hurricanes devastated a number of Caribbean islands. The Obama administration gave $30 million to aid climate risk initiatives in developing areas in the Pacific and Caribbean regions, as well as Africa, but Trump has steered away from similar endeavors. The White House has argued European countries and other areas should take on the burden instead.

At the same time as the Oxfam and Science Advances studies come out, world leaders are meeting at the U.N. climate change conference in Bonn, Germany.  None of the president’s top advisers, however, are present.

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Trump’s newly-appointed Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has called the Paris agreement a “costly burden” and repeatedly downplayed the impact of climate change. And a report released last week also revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed online content regarding “international priorities” and “international grants and cooperative agreements” from one of its websites.

But that doesn’t mean requests for climate assistance are set to go away. Howard Bamsey, director of the GCF, said Thursday that the fund is likely to seek replenishment in 2019, reaching out to wealthy countries across the world.

“As far as we are concerned, we are waiting for the next step (from Washington),” he said.