Fixing Today’s Problems Prepares Us For Tomorrow’s

The world spent $312 billion on environmental resilience in 2015, according to an article in Carbon Brief. The story was prompted by a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change titled “Adaptation Responses to Climate Change Differ Between Global MegaCities“. The paper is paywalled, but one of the figures show that, surprisingly, rich cities are spending more than poor ones.

The Carbon Brief article says there is a “staggering difference between adaptation spending in developed and developing countries, with the city of New York spending 35 times more per person to protect its residents than Lagos.””In 2014/15, total spend ranged from £15m in Addis Ababa to £1.6bn in New York.”

This is written to generate a rather predictable response from climate activists, who are not fond of adaptation measures in the first place, precisely because not every threatened community has the resources to adapt. They prefer mitigation measures that lower the threat to everyone.

They have a point, although there is no law against doing both, which some of the more reasonable activists will grudgingly admit. But that point is vitiated by the fact that the bulk of emissions going forward will be coming from developing countries, not the rich world. China today is responsible for about a third of CO2 emissions. If rich countries feel it advisable to put storm barriers and reconfigure flood waterways in advance of global warming, why not?

More to the point, many of the measures this money is being spent on is not preparing for climate change at all. It is reinforcing infrastructure to deal with current climate, not the future. Megacities like Jakarta flood almost every year, usually more than once.

Floods in Jakarta

JAKARTA, INDONESIA, FEBRUARY – 28: Citizens can not move due to flooding in Cipinang Melayu, Jakarta, on February 28, 2016. The monsoon season, which took place in Jakarta in recent days have caused widespread flooding in several regions in Indonesia. (Dasril Roszandi). (Photo by Dasril Roszandi/NurPhoto)

It’s been that way for a very long time, long before anyone ever even thought of global warming.

$312 billion is both a lot of money and a drop in the bucket. I hope it’s spent wisely and that it continues. With low interest rates throughout the developed world, governments should be borrowing money to repair and replace all sorts of infrastructure.

The $100 billion casually promised to the developing world in Paris at COP21 would be very welcome if used to prepare for today’s disasters. And I don’t think anyone would mind terribly if some of that money was used to beef up the margins to account for future climate change.

But first things first.


4 responses to “Fixing Today’s Problems Prepares Us For Tomorrow’s

  1. Been to Addis Ababa on business. It’s altitude is 2300 meters with temperate weather year round. People wear business suits at the office, rare in most of Africa.

  2. A notable aspect of climate/eco imperialism is that the imperialists prevent good infrastructure maintenance and development.

  3. Tom,

    You wrote: “surprisingly, rich cities are spending more than poor ones.”
    Why is that surprising? Rich cities can afford to spend more.

    This connects to another point that you have often made. The best thing we can do for the poor parts of the world is to help them develop their economies to lift them out of poverty. Then not only will they be better off, but they will be able to afford to adapt, as well as to deal with all sorts of other challenges that will certainly arise.

    If that means more CO2 emissions in the near run, so be it.

  4. Mike M.,

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