Extreme weather claims more lives in poor countries

In the last four decades, more than a million people in the world's poorest countries have died in climate-related disasters - more than five times the global average - yet funding for their adaptation plans eludes them, says a new paper released during the UN talks on climate change in Warsaw.

"Less than one-seventh of the US$5 billion needed to fund the Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs) most urgent climate change adaptation projects has been delivered by wealthy countries - a sliver of their annual spending on their own disasters, and globally on fossil fuel subsidies," says the paper, A Burden to share? Addressing unequal climate impacts in the Least Developed Countries.

The amount of money needed by poor countries contrasts sharply with the amount countries across the world are spending on defence - $4.6 billion a day - and the $1 trillion the world spent on fossil fuel subsidies in 2012 alone.

The paper, produced jointly by the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Brown Center for Environmental Studies (at Brown University in the US) analysed mortality data from the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) from January 1980 to July 2013 in 49 of the LDCs.

They found that 1.28 million people had died in climate-related disasters in those countries alone. From January 2010 to July 2013, the number of deaths "rose to a staggering 67 percent of the world total, reaching 5.5 times the overall global per capita death rate due to climate-related disasters". One of the biggest events was the drought and famine in East Africa in 2011, which took an estimated 50,000 - 100,000 lives, more than half of them children under five.

LDC Fund shortchanged

The LDC Fund set up under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has only received $679 million and is short of at least $4.2 billion to support existing adaptation projects. The Fund is meant to finance projects according to urgent needs identified by countries in their National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA).

The authors of the paper, including Pa Ousman Jarju, the special climate envoy of Gambia and former chair of the LDC group at the UN climate talks, points out that even the process of drawing up the NAPAs was constrained by insufficient administrative capacity and funding shortages, and nations had used various methods to capture "social, economic and environmental vulnerability to climatic stresses and risks."

Given the fact that climate disasters are already claiming many lives in poor countries, is the situation perhaps beyond adaptation, and might the LDCs need to seek redress through a possible loss and damage mechanism?

"The need for scaled-up finance to support adaptation efforts in the Least Developed Countries has never been greater. Fully funding the implementation of the adaptation plans developed by these countries as part of the NAPA… will have myriad benefits in saving lives, protecting livelihoods, and building resilience against future disasters,” David Ciplet of the Brown Center, one of the authors of the paper, told IRIN.

"At the same time, due to painfully weak action by wealthy countries to mitigate climate change, and to provide adequate funding for adaptation, there are also now climate disasters that cannot be readily adapted to. This transformed global context, and the inequality it exacerbates, necessitates a distinct 'loss and damage' mechanism."