Opinion: There can be no sustainable and inclusive development without climate justice

By Shaughn McArthur, Policy and Influence Lead, CARE Canada

Climate change is a growing threat to everything we do as a humanitarian and development organization.

After decades of decline, global hunger is on the rise. In many parts of the world, competition over dwindling natural resources is fueling conflict. Weather-related hazards like flood and drought account for more than 87% of all displacements forcing families from their homes.

Climate change is widening the gap between wealthy and poor, and threatens to push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, eroding decades of progress in social and economic development.

In every one of these scenarios, women and girls in developing countries - those most dependent on natural resources and least likely to have access to resources - bear the brunt of the climate crisis. Developing countries, responsible for just 3% of the global carbon footprint, are absorbing some 80% of the costs of climate change, including through food insecurity and compromised livelihoods and instability.

As climate-related mayhem closes in, the question looms: what should be done and by whom?

An opportunity to be seized

In 2009, developed countries agreed they would deliver USD $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change. This agreement, part of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, calls for investments which are balanced between adaptation (initiatives aimed at helping people withstand climate change impacts) and mitigation (aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions).

But while international climate finance reached USD $71.2 billion in 2017, the ledger is anything but balanced as only 19% of the total has gone towards adaptation. This is a missed opportunity.

According to the Canada-supported Global Commission on Adaptation, investing $1.8 trillion globally in adaptation actions from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits - an idea supported by former UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, Bill Gates, and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva.

Think local

The Global Commission on Adaptation’s call to action is underpinned by a fact often overlooked in the climate change debate: we already have many investment-ready solutions for mitigation. Green technologies are increasingly available and being used by governments, businesses, and civil society alike to reduce deforestation, preserve ecosystems, and create new cadres of green entrepreneurs.

Take, for example, Raquel Vásquez who is the leader of the grassroots organization Madre Tierra (Mother Earth) in Guatemala. With CARE’s support, Madre Tierra is working with the national disaster response agency to develop training and analysis that helps women learn about the consequences of climate change, manage risks and adapt to impacts.

“The earth is changing. The strongest impact we have experienced due to climate change is the lack of water,” says Raquel. “Considering that the destruction of the earth is caused by human beings, the solution is in our hands.”

The main difficulty facing local-level solutions is they are small and easily overlooked by key investors, including multilateral development banks, funds, and donors. Many of these players prefer to finance fewer, larger projects, over working with numerous smaller organizations.

This presents a gap that Canada, whose policies recognize the importance of local solutions that reach the poorest women and girls, is well-positioned to fill.

Shaughn McArthur

CARE Canada Policy & Influence Lead

Opportunity for Canadian leadership

This presents a gap that Canada, whose policies recognize the importance of local solutions that reach the poorest women and girls, is well-positioned to fill.

In April, The House of Commons Environment and Sustainable Development Committee published its report Clean Growth and Climate Change in Canada: How Canada Can Lead Internationally.

The report calls on Canada to increase its international climate finance flows to levels commensurate with Canada’s “fair share”; to ensure adaptation investments make up 50% of those flows; and to deliver more of its climate finance through “Canadian non-governmental organizations and local civil society organizations capable of delivering effective projects to support adaptation and vulnerable populations in other countries.”

With hundreds of years of combined experience, and networks of local partners like Madre Tierra, Canadian NGOs are up to the task.

Wanted: political will

The real problem is that identified by millions of youth, workers, business leaders and others who took to the streets in late September: political will needs to galvanize in support of bold and urgent responses.

Some have spoken of a Green New Deal, others of a Marshall Plan for the global climate crisis. Regardless of its label, the success of any such plan requires it be rooted in social justice and driven by measures that address the impacts of climate change on human suffering, inequality and insecurity.

Our collective response to climate change - in the global North and South alike - cannot be separated from efforts to help people climb out of poverty, and build greener and more egalitarian societies.

In the most vulnerable countries on earth, this starts with adaptation.

Shaughn McArthur

Shaughn McArthur

Shaughn McArthur is CARE Canada's Policy and Influence Lead

About CARE Canada

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. In 2018, CARE worked in 95 countries and reached more than 56 million people around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca.