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Climate change and the other 'fiscal cliff'

Posted by Richard Casson Digital producer and campaigner

26th Nov 2012

If you tuned into coverage of the US election earlier this month, you'll almost certainly have heard talk about an impending 'fiscal cliff' - a term to describe the need for new legislation to get the US economy on track.

While the debate continues about the course of action that Obama should take, here in Doha, Qatar - where the latest round of United Nations climate talks are about to begin - there's another precipice that's looming. A financial cliff that, like the US one, stands to have a far-reaching impact on people's lives.

The climate fiscal cliff - what is it?

In 2009, at climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, rich countries' governments promised to deliver a pot of money to help communities in poor countries adapt to climate change and to develop their economies in a low carbon way. $100bn was promised per year by 2020, with a down payment of $30bn from 2010 to 2012. But now, just as the finance needs to ramp up, instead it looks set to fall in 2013.

With time running out before the deadline to provide the money, and with rich countries' governments under increasing pressure to cut back foreign aid, there is a real danger that the pledges made in 2009 may be scaled back - despite the fact that the devastation caused by climate change is becoming increasingly clear.

The damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy only served to emphasise the gap between how rich and poor countries cope with extreme weather and how poor countries cope. Because although the clean up operation in the US goes on, life is beginning to return to normality for most. Contrast this with Haiti, which was also hit by the super storm, where in the initial aftermath there were 2 million people at risk of malnutrition, and 70% of crops washed away.

Raising the $100 billion

While $100bn per year is no small amount of money, there are steps negotiators here in Qatar can take:

  • Global schemes to get the aviation and shipping industries to reduce their emissions could raise billions a year - a portion of which could go toward assisting developing countries
  • And a financial transaction tax on the banking sector - better known as a Robin Hood Tax - could create major funds that would also go a long way.

Oxfam's team at the talks in Doha will be putting the pressure on the political leaders present, to make solid commitments to these options for raising the money - because without it, it's poor countries who'll be hit worst as the effects of climate change continue. We'll also be continuing to highlight the need for the urgent for cuts in emissions. Keep up to date with what we're up to over the coming two weeks of talks on our blog - or if you prefer your news in 140 characters or less, then follow us on Twitter.

Blog post written by Richard Casson

Digital producer and campaigner

More by Richard Casson