On day two of COP15 in Copenhagen, the country that claims it is "the most vulnerable" to climate change has asked to receive 15 percent of any climate change adaptation fund that is created. Bangladesh has more than 20 million people in its coastal region that will most likely end up under water if sea levels rise on even the modest end of predicted amounts. Is their request reasonable?
First of all, there is no fund yet, so this may be a bit premature. Aside from setting emissions goals, though — which has generally been the cited point of the summit — the adaptation money provided by rich countries to poor countries is probably the most important piece up for discussion. Officials from the European Union have set a goal of having a $150 billion annually by 2020 going to countries most in need, and a shorter term goal of $10 billion annually between 2010 and 2012. Failing to set up at least some sort of fund in the next two weeks will “create a very emotional context for Copenhagen that if not handled with sensitivity could derail the summit as well." So said Achim Steiner, the head of the UN Environment Program, in an interview with NY Times blog Green Inc.
That makes it sound largely symbolic, but for the countries in question the symbolism is hitting pretty close to home. A Bangladeshi spokesperson said that their coastal region has a higher population than all island countries at risk, but in a way that is beside the point. Sure, the Maldives, a handy poster child for climate change disaster zones, does have only 309,000 people, but what about, say, Tanzania? It has close to 44 million people, and the country's glaciers are disappearing rapidly. Other African countries will also suffer greatly, although not from the easily visualized sea level rise. Drought and erratic weather patterns will make life in some already poor nations unpredictable and extremely difficult. Whether or not the 15 percent Bangladesh demands is appropriate will obviously be much discussed as the plan for an adaptation fund moves forward, but here are a few other countries that could benefit from such support.
The tiny island nation already had two islands disappear underwater in recent years. With a meter rise in sea level, much of the country will be either submerged or salinated to the point that arable land will barely exist.
Another island nation, although on the other side of the world. Most experts say that climate change will result in increased hurricane intensity (if not frequency), which will endanger millions of lives in this country and much of the Caribbean. An adaptation fund could go toward building stronger structures and protecting the poor from storms.
Recently 24 government officials of Nepal met for a meeting more than 17,000 feet above sea level. Wearing oxygen masks and drawing comparisons to the Maldives scuba meeting, they sought to call attention to the impressive pace of glacial melting that will soon threaten the entire country.
One of many East African countries that is already suffering the effects of climate change, drought and changes in weather patterns have altered farming practices significantly from only decades ago. Agriculture will become even more difficult in the coming years, and a climate adaptation fund could be used to modernize techniques as well as provide aide in areas that are hardest hit.