Burning of fossil fuel has had a significant role in exacerbating climate change crisis, the tipping point of which appears to be around four decades ago as the recent monumental report on climate change by United Nations' (UN's) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The World Meteorological Organization of the UN takes increased climate change phenomena even a decade earlier, whereby a recent Financial Times (FT) article 'Economic losses from extreme weather hit $3.5tn over five decades' points out in this regard that 'Scientists at the UN's World Meteorological Organization said the number of weather-related disasters around the globe had increased fivefold over the past 50 years. The death toll of 115 people and more than $200m lost every day in the period was driven by climate change, more extreme weather and improved reporting. ...The total losses over the period amounted to $3.6tn and 2m deaths.'
At the same time, one manifestation of the climate change crisis has been an increased level of air pollution globally, and just like climate change, here too, fossil fuel burning is at the heart of rising air pollution globally. According to a recently-released report on 'Air Quality Life Index (AQLI)', globally air pollution had the biggest impact on life expectancy, whereby on average, 2.2 years were lost by a person globally due to air pollution, followed by 1.92 years due to smoking, and as compared to road injuries at 0.39 years. Moreover, a recent report titled 'The state of global air quality funding 2021' by the Clean Air Fund pointed out: 'Air pollution is one of the most urgent and deadly global challenges. In 2016 the World Health Organisation estimated outdoor air pollution led to the early deaths of 4.2 million people and studies since suggest the actual toll could be 9 million a year or more.'
The same Report also pointed out that while this situation of air quality called for greater policy focus, and funding, especially in low-income countries, the reality is quite disappointing, whereby, according to the Report, 'In 2019, over $1.4 billion in official development spending was disbursed to projects with the primary or secondary objective of improving air quality. This is less than 1% of total aid spending. ...Air quality projects received 21% less official development funding in 2019 and 2020 than projects that prolong fossil fuel and contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. ...The volume and pace of funding does not match the 153% rise in deaths caused by air pollution in low- and middle-income countries over the last 30 years.'
In his recent article 'More global aid goes to fossil fuel projects than tackling dirty air - study', environment editor of the Guardian, Damian Carrington, while commenting on the situation of quality, its impact on life expectancy, and the status of official development funding, pointed out: 'Air pollution kills more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, but such health issues receive vastly more funding, the report found. When compared in terms of years of life lost, HIV/AIDS projects received 34 times more funding, while malnutrition programmes received seven times more. Increasing funding to similar levels to tackle air pollution would save many lives, experts said.' Moreover, as highlighted in the same article, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) head, Inger Andersen indicated in this regard: 'Our relentless burning of fossil fuels pollutes our air, costing the global economy billions of dollars each year. Ending the financing of fossil-fuel development and instead investing in growing clean, carbon-free economies will bring immediate benefits. It will save many lives.'
Yet, this is not the direction being taken by both the focus of foreign aid, and also emphasis of climate funds, as pointed by a recent FT article 'Climate funds often fall short of Paris goals, says report'. According to it, for example, 'Funds marketed as "climate themed" often hold shares in large polluters including big oil companies, and many are inconsistent with the goals of the Paris agreement despite claiming to be "aligned" with it, according to analysis by think-tank Influence Map. About 72 of the 130 climate-focused funds examined - which collectively hold more than $67bn in assets and are managed by leading investment houses... - were found to be misaligned with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2C.'
In fact, while the recently released IPCC report emphasizes the need to limit global warming to 1.5C to ensure a reasonable level of life on earth, the current policy commitments - and as being highlighted by a lack of focus of foreign aid, and climate funds - are not remaining on track that leads to this, as pointed out by George Monbiot in his recent Guardian-published article 'Earth's tipping points could be closer than we think. Our current plans won't work' in the following manner: 'As a report by ActionAid points out, there's not enough land in the world to meet the promises to offset emissions that companies and governments have already made. ...Even when all the promised techno fixes and offsets are counted, current policies commit us to a calamitous 2.9C of global heating. To risk irreversible change by proceeding at such a leisurely pace, to rely on undelivered technologies and nonexistent capacities: this is a formula for catastrophe. ...It's not a smooth and linear transition we need. It's a crash course.'
(The writer holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Barcelona; he previously worked at the International Monetary Fund)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021