If the "human cost" of climate change is calculated, countries will be forced to sit up and take notice, according to a former senior United Nations official.
"Most people are unable to relate to the projections of increase in temperature or the impact of climate change on the economy, but if the climate change forecasts are linked to possible deaths, then countries will be forced to contemplate prevention plans," said Yvette Stevens, the former UN Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator.
"We need a 'Stern review' of the human costs; people are not motivated by the impact of climate change on a country's gross domestic product (GDP)," added Stevens, who retired from the UN recently.
The 'Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change', prepared by economist Nicholas Stern for the British government in 2006, said if countries did not check their greenhouse emissions, the overall costs of climate change would be equivalent to losing at least five percent of global GDP each year. It calculated the cost of reducing emissions to avoid the worst impact of climate change at one percent of global GDP annually.
Climate change projections and forecasts so far have failed to move most countries to draft a national plan of action.
Molly Hellmuth, a scientist with the United States-based International Research Institute for Climate and Society, pointed out that only a handful of 49 least-developed countries (LDCs) had drawn up National Adaptation Programmes of Action, as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "Most LDCs lack the capacity to draft the plans; they have other development priorities."
Developing countries need funds to improve capacity, and adding up the human cost would bring in the money, Stevens argued, as it did in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. More than 220,000 people were estimated to have been killed by the gigantic waves, which prompted an unprecedented US$1,000 per head of aid. "Deaths make people put pressure on their governments, forcing them to take action, to plan or to fund responses."
According to 'Adapting to climate change: What's needed in poor countries, and who should pay', a recent briefing paper by British development agency Oxfam, "Based on new approaches to scaling up costs, we estimate the cost will be at least $50 billion each year, and far higher if greenhouse-gas emissions are not cut rapidly." This is well above the World Bank's estimate of $10-40 billion annually.
Little money has come into the coffers of poor countries already feeling the impact of climate change. In Malawi, erratic rains have forced farmers to sell their cattle and plant faster-maturing crops. Oxfam noted that villagers in Bangladesh have created floating vegetable gardens to protect their livelihoods; in Vietnam communities have planted dense mangroves along the coast to diffuse tropical storm waves.
Funding only the most urgent and immediate adaptation priorities of LDCs is likely to cost $1 billion to $2 billion, said the Oxfam paper. "Among donors, the mood is anything but urgent: they have so far delivered $48 million to the international fund set up for LDCs - less than five percent of what's needed: enough for Haiti, Samoa and Kiribati, but no more."
The development agency has called for an initiative equivalent to the Stern Review, focused on examining the relationship of development to adaptation, providing examples of best practice in project design and finance, and producing stronger estimates of the costs and benefits of adaptation.
"This would give developing countries a firmer basis for integrating adaptation into development plans and budgets, and would give high-income, high-emissions countries a clearer estimate of the finance that they are capable of, and responsible for, providing."