Climate change

Governments should budget for climate adaptation

Ajay Chhibber says nations must start to realign or allocate resources to help people cope

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 2:32am

It's the extreme weather season in Asia again. At the same time, the world's finance ministers are preparing for their IMF-World Bank meetings this week in Tokyo. And these extreme weather patterns should be on their minds, and in their budgets.

After all, in Thailand alone, epic floods last year did billions of dollars of damage, while reconstruction costs will reach at least US$50 billion, according to the government and UN estimates.

How can countries find funds today to build "climate resilient" roads, bridges, schools and other vital infrastructure to prevent losses tomorrow? One answer is of course in more international finance. This means that developed countries should take the lead in combating climate change and its adverse effects.

But another part of the answer can be found when developing countries take a look at how climate change is reflected in their own national budgets and expenditures. The UN Development Programme has begun work with a handful of countries in Asia - Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand - to help them to undertake a "Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review".

In simple terms, this means looking through the national budget to identify where climate change is influencing allocations. For example, how much is being allocated to strengthen infrastructure against flooding? Or spent to adapt agricultural extension services to help poor communities in areas with increased risk of drought? Or spent to reform the energy sector to reduce emissions?

With a better understanding of exactly how much and where existing national resources are going on climate change, more informed choices can be made about how and where to channel additional resources or how to realign funds that are already being spent.

These budget reviews can also help to target increased international climate finance, when available, by ensuring that it is better aligned with national planning.

In general, these reviews are trying to solve a common problem that ministers of finance face. How do you make sense of the need to resolve challenges that are going to affect people's lives in 40 years, by spending money now?

By building more climate-resilient infrastructure today, countries can save money in the long run. International climate finance can help in this regard as countries may not have the money up front.

This is not only a matter of new funds changing hands, but also a matter of realigning existing funds, of new ideas changing old ways and, ultimately, of investing today for a safer tomorrow. Finance ministers should take note.

Ajay Chhibber is UN assistant secretary general, UNDP assistant administrator and regional director for Asia and the Pacific