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Funding Wars the Climate Way

 Posted by Michael Renner on December 18, 2009
Dec 182009

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.

  2 Responses to “Funding Wars the Climate Way”

  1. There are 2 main ways to fight the climate problem
    - mitigate the change, prevent problems
    - adapt to problems

    The plan to give billions to developing countries has the problem that is is mainly meant for adaptation, but that this adaptation will probably be really necessary after 2080, so, NOT NOW, or in 2030.

    Now, money should go to mitigation, reducing the consumption of fossile energie and changing to sustainable sources, mainly wind.
    So large and many windparks should be build, and they are, but not yet fast enough.

    The fossile industry will be harmed and is fighting back.
    Their core competence is causing the climate problem

  2. This is an excellent recasting of the issue, highlights the absurdity of the status quo and our current inability to move beyond the kind of thinking that is keeping us in a straitjacket of our own making.

    Broadening the focus beyond carbon and looking at the totality of what we are facing [overshoot ie. a human enterprise larger than the physical systems that sustain us, of which climate change is a symptom] could help create a dynamic for us to move forward; Worldwatch staff and readers/supporters may be interested in this event to be held in 2010:



    “From resource scarcity to the economic crisis, the world is ready for systemic change and there has never been a greater need for breakthrough ideas and new cross-sector collaboration. We will not be coming together to rehash old thinking or revisit traditional strategies; rather, Footprint Forum is designed to move our sustainability work to the next level of effectiveness and scale.

    A cross-section of participants will be gathering from around the world – all with the common mission of creating a society where all people can live well, within the means of our planet. The Forum will allow academics to share the latest in Ecological Footprint research; NGOs to discuss the latest innovations in personal behavior change; development agencies to explore what is needed to pull people out of poverty while preserving natural capital; governments to discuss how to maintain a competitive economy during a time of resource scarcity; and corporations to gain an understanding of how to build a robust business strategy that will withstand ecological pressures.”

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