Climate change adaptation a victim of North-South inequality

Without significant action against climate change, much of central London may be under water by 2050. [Surging Seas/screenshot]

The cities of the developed world are beginning to adapt to climate change, but financing for adaptation in the Global South is far harder to come by, according to a study published in the journal Nature. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

The major cities in the Global North are protecting themselves against the risks of climate change, while cities in developing countries continue to suffer from massive under-investment. A study on ten cities, led by Lucien Georgeson of University College London, found that financing for climate change adaptation had increased across the board by 3% to 4% per year in recent years.

But severe inequality persists: New York invested €2.11 billion in climate adaptation measures in 2014-15, 108 times more than the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, which spent just €19.6 million.

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Beijing top of the bunch?

As a proportion of GDP, Beijing invests more than any other city in climate change adaptation. With 0.33% it is well ahead of London, New York and Paris, which all invest between 0.22% and 0.23% of their respective countries’ GDP in climate change adaptation.

China is an exception among emerging and developing countries, whose capitals tend to invest between 0.14% and 0.16% of GDP in climate resilience projects. According to the London-based researchers, this difference is down to China’s highly centralised government.

But in terms of investment by population, Paris comes out on top, spending €516 per inhabitant. New York comes in second place with €251 per head, while Addis Ababa and Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria and Africa, invest only around €6.50 per inhabitant.

Paris may be the heaviest investor per inhabitant, but the researchers noted that the city’s relatively small population makes this title fairly easy to obtain. In absolute terms, it comes third.

New York leads the group and London comes in second, with climate resilience investments worth €1.17 billion in 2014-15, or 0.22% of UK GDP. Paris also comes third in terms of money spent in preparation for climate disasters, with €13.2 million.

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Different priorities

The researchers also observed slight differences in the projects different cities chose to finance. Cities in the Global South are more likely to fund programmes focussed on agriculture and forestry (around 4% of total funding, against 1% in the North), or health.

Cities in developed countries tend to prioritise water (15% to 18%, against 13% in the South) and energy investments (8% compared to 6% in the South). Once again Beijing is the exception. The Chinese capital invests 48% of its climate adaptation funds in buildings, compared to 31% to 35% in the other nine cities studied.

More material than human

The researchers observed that “adaptation appears to be influenced by the need, connected to the market, to protect physical capital, rather than the populations at risk”. In terms of preparation for climate disasters, New York spent €27.7 million over the two-year period examined, while Addis Ababa spent only €260,000.

According to the team, “the big cities in developing and emerging countries do not have enough resources to properly adapt, considering their current and future populations. This is particularly worrying for cities like Jakarta and Lagos,” whose populations are highly exposed to the effects of climate change.


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