12/06/2016 03:38 EST | Updated 12/06/2016 03:40 EST

We Need To Help Protect The People Most Affected By Climate Change

Feisal Omar / Reuters
An internally displaced woman carries her child as they wait for assistance at Hariirad town of Awdal region, Somaliland April 9, 2016. Across the Horn of Africa, millions have been hit by the severe El Nino-related drought. In Somaliland and its neighbouring, also semi-autonomous, Puntland region, 1.7 million people are in need of aid, according to the United Nations. In Somaliland itself, the most affected areas include the northwest Awdal region bordering Ethiopia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar SEARCH "DROUGHT SURVIVAL" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES

By Groupe de réflexion sur le développement international et la coopération (GREDIC)

The 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22) held in Morocco from November 7 to 18, evaluated progress since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed with great fanfare just over a year ago.

The outcome? The "Marrakech Action Proclamation for our Climate and Sustainable Development," which urges all countries to further their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, important decisions regarding Paris Agreement procedural requirements will only be finalized in 2018. This meant that Marrakech disappointed several observers and participants, in particular representatives from poor countries who saw few tangible and significant decisions at the meetings that would address their situation.

Poor countries are starved

Poor countries, including those in Africa, bear by far the most impact from climate change. Droughts and floods have devastating consequences on agriculture and staple food prices. According to a World Bank study, by 2030, climate change will likely have pushed an additional 100 million people below the poverty line.

Astonishingly, people that come from countries most in risk of suffering the worst consequences from climate change live in the same countries with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. Annually, CO2 emissions per capita reach 16 tons in the United States, 14 tons in Canada, seven tons in China and of only 0.1 tons in the poorest nations -- like the majority of African countries! Overall, Africa is only responsible for three per cent of global emissions.

A Climate Fund, financed by rich countries, was created to reach $100 billion US per year by 2020. This Fund will finance both initiatives to reduce emissions through mitigation efforts in poor countries and to strengthen their capacity to adapt to climate change. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, on average only 16 per cent of the US$57 billion collected in 2013 and 2014 went towards adaptation, while close to 80 per cent supported mitigation.

This situation was condemned by the group of African countries at COP22, led by Mali's Seyni Nafo. These countries indicated that damages caused in poor countries result from the rich countries' emissions and that at least 50 per cent of the Climate Fund should focus on climate change adaptation, particularly in the area of agriculture. However, rich nations did not accept this request and the amounts allocated to adaptation will remain around 20 per cent. Therefore, rich countries will not have to acknowledge their historical responsibility nor compensate countries for the damages caused by the climate changes they have triggered.

Many, including Oxfam, condemned this refusal by rich countries, declaring that: "Developed countries remained inflexible and ignored the issue of the financing shortfall for adaptation and rather turned a blind eye on the Agreement's incapacity to protect the people most affected by climate change."

New money or existing obligations?

Seyni Nafo also stated that rich nations tend to recycle existing resources into climate funds that were already intended for development aid. Nafo is asking for real new money, in addition to existing funds for development cooperation, be specifically dedicated to climate financing. This ambiguity is also present in Canada. A year later, and it is not clear whether the $2.65 billion over five years in climate financing announced by Prime Minister Trudeau in November 2015 will be new and additional or not.

It would be unfortunate if such a modest contribution, compared to the objective of $500 billion over five years expected from the pool of contributors, ended up replacing parts of the international assistance budget -- which has already been so undercut over the past few years. Indeed, the Canadian official development assistance budget now represents only 0.26 per cent of GNI, ranking Canada 14th among the OECD member countries.

According to Serge Michaïlof in his book Africanistan, the degradation of life conditions in poor countries, partly caused by climate change, could be a contributing factor to the reinforcement of Islamic terrorist movements, including in the African countries of the Sahel Region. It could also lead to a mass migration of "climate refugees" toward rich countries, far greater than the ones experienced over the last few years.

Under these circumstances, wouldn't it be preferable to invest now in strengthening the capacity of countries to adapt to climate change, rather than face the costs of new humanitarian crises, new wars and a "global security" issue?

This blog was first published in French

Groupe de réflexion sur le développement international et la coopération (GREDIC): Nicole St-Martin, Robert Letendre, Nigel Martin, Yves Pétillon, Mario Renaud and Pierre Véronneau. Former Directors General of international co-operation organizations and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.

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