Funding Wars the Climate Way

At the Copenhagen climate conference, one of the key sticking points is finance—adaptation support for those countries that are most vulnerable to the repercussions of a destabilized climate, yet are least culpable and least able to undertake measures to reduce the negative consequences of living in a warming world.

Lack of generosity is perhaps a, well, generous way to describe what the wealthy countries have so far put on the table. That’s true even for the December 17 statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at Copenhagen’s Bella Center:

“…in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.”

While Clinton’s announcement can be read as a bold step forward (and seems way ahead of many U.S. Senators), some environmentalists denounced it as hollow. To me, it is another indication of how hard it is to mobilize adequate funding in timely fashion to counter one of the most existential threats that humanity has ever faced. In our deeply compartmentalized world, few ask why governments are super-cautious and stingy in the face of this danger, but are quite happy to keep feeding their war machines?

In times past, pacifists would half-jokingly say that they looked forward to a time when governments would have to hold a bake sale to finance their next armaments purchase. So, a subversive thought occurred to me: Let’s finance and govern warfare the climate way. Eternal peace can’t be far behind.

Just think: Money for war would depend on meeting tough conditionalities that are subject to an elusive international accord. Governments in military alliances would pledge that they “are prepared to work with other countries toward a goal” of mobilizing an aspirational sum of money for the military. And the bulk of the financing would become available in the distant future—and essentially consist of existing funds presented as a new package.

Governments would announce their expectation that “funding will come from a wide variety of sources”—because if carbon markets are such a great way to finance climate programs, then shouldn’t the same principle be applied to raising funds for war? Let countries exceeding their allocation of AWUs (assigned warfare units) purchase additional war indulgences from those that have stayed within their martial limits.

A farce, you say? Indeed! The point here, of course, is to raise questions about governmental priorities and long-accepted, yet badly outdated conceptions. If melting glaciers, rising oceans, failing harvests and raging storms portend growing upheavals that could shake the foundations of human society, then is it too much to ask that climate challenges be treated with at least the same degree of seriousness as the toys sought by the boys?

In a world where military spending in2008 ran close to $1.5 trillion, the haggling at Copenhagen over the comparatively small climate adaptation budgets has an unreal quality. Refuse to make adequate resources available now, and be prepared to spend far, far more in the not-too-distant future—on humanitarian operations, disaster relief [COP15 webcast], migrant and refugee flows … and on dealing with the conflicts that will likely sharpen because of climate chaos.

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