Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Conversation complains that rich cities are spending more money than poor cities on climate adaption. The Conversation wants wealthy countries to provide climate cash transfers to poor countries; instead, they have inadvertently made the case for a very different course of action.
Cities across the world are increasingly at risk from climate change. People living in extreme poverty are especially vulnerable, both because global warming will tend to hit developing countries the hardest, and because they have less money to throw at the problem.
We used newly-available data to investigate how cities are responding to climate change and whether resources are being allocated efficiently or fairly. We expected there to be differences in spending between rich and poor. But we did not expect them to be so vast, with New York for instance spending more than £190 (US$260) per person to protect its people and infrastructure from the impact of climate change, while Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa spends less than £5 ($7).
It seems the amount spent on climate adaptation is driven more by the amount of wealth at risk rather than the number of vulnerable people.
The abstract of the study;
Adaptation responses to climate change differ between global megacities
Urban areas are increasingly at risk from climate change, with negative impacts predicted for human health, the economy and ecosystems1, 2. These risks require responses from cities to improve their resilience. Policymakers need to understand current adaptation spend to plan comprehensively and effectively. Through the measurement of spend in the newly defined ‘adaptation economy’, we analyse current climate change adaptation efforts in ten megacities. In all cases, the adaptation economy remains a small part of the overall economy, representing a maximum of 0.33% of a city’s gross domestic product (here referred to as GDPc). Differences in total spend are significant between cities in developed, emerging and developing countries, ranging from £15 million to £1,600 million. Comparing key subsectors, we demonstrate the differences in adaptation profiles. Developing cities have higher proportional spend on health and agriculture, whereas developed cities have higher spend on energy and water. Spend per capita and percentage of GDPc comparisons more clearly show disparities between cities. Developing country cities spend half the proportion of GDPc and significantly less per capita, suggesting that adaptation spend is driven by wealth rather than the number of vulnerable people. This indicates that current adaptation activities are insufficient in major population centres in developing and emerging economies.
Sadly the full study is paywalled. But the article in the Conversation provides some of the data used in the study.
The following are the numbers used for the graph at the top of this article, which I created from Excel, to show the correspondence between energy consumption and climate mitigation expenditure.
Note the climate spend per capita was scaled to the US energy usage value, when preparing the graph, to make it easier to visually compare the two sets of data.
|Total energy consumption
per capita per annum (2012)
kilogrammes of oil equivalent per year
|Annual Climate Spend per capita (GBP)|
The energy use per capita numbers are from the World Bank (2012 column).
The point is, the ability of countries to spend money on climate mitigation appears to be strongly correlated with their per capita energy usage (0.70 Pearson Correlation).
While not all energy consumed in rich countries is derived from Fossil Fuels (France derives a lot of its electricity from nuclear power), what is clear is that if we want to help vulnerable cities adapt to climate change, or extreme weather, regardless of the cause, the best thing we can do is encourage initiatives, such as ongoing Chinese and Japanese coal investment initiatives, which help poor countries build an energy rich, wealthy, fossil fuel powered economy – just like we have in the West.
The authors of the article in The Conversation praise China’s “strong central government”; as a proportion of per capita GDP, Beijing’s climate spend is higher than average. But a “strong central government” in real terms only produces a few British pounds improved spend, at who knows what cost. Being a rich country, having a high energy consumption per capita, makes a much bigger difference to cash per capita available for flood mitigation and other “climate” measures. In absolute terms, New York spends a lot more money per capita than Beijing.
Obviously the true relationship is likely to be between wealth and spending power, rather than fossil fuel usage and spending power. Greater per capita wealth means more money is available to spend on better flood defences. But the relationship between energy use and wealth is strong. As Willis explained in his excellent post, “The Cost in Human Energy”, it is difficult to be wealthy, if you spend all day performing repetitive manual tasks, tasks which could easily have been automated, with the right fossil fuel powered machine.
Note the authors of the study provide the following explanation for the anomalous French spend on climate mitigation: “Paris is an exception due to narrow definitions of its ‘city proper’”.