The Inequality of Climate Action 

  By Trevor Holmes, Secretary General, Irish Red Cross 

As the world gradually comes to terms with the impacts of one global crisis, we might take some hope from how we collectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, working together as global community to find a solution to the virus. 

However, while we have all been preoccupied with Covid-19, another crisis has moved down the agenda and it’s one that needs to be addressed with a similar global perspective and priority. Like the pandemic, it too poses serious questions about our values of equity and equality.

We have long known that climate change doesn’t impact everyone equally. While homes and businesses in Ireland have been ravaged by floods, for the most part we have been lucky to avoid the type of climate disasters faced in other areas of the world. It is just a matter of time before disasters experienced elsewhere around the globe will visit our shores too, but thankfully for the moment Ireland is considered low risk for the kind of hurricane winds and searing heatwaves experienced elsewhere.

Infographics for WDR 2020


It is noteworthy that conversations about climate change have failed to understand that it’s not just the impact of climate change that’s unequal, but our attempts to find a solution to the problem, too. Shamefully, the countries who are most vulnerable to climate disasters are not the ones benefitting from climate adaptation measures. 

Imagine for one moment a community where on one side of a town exists a wealthy area beside a lake, whereas on the other side there is tightly packed low-income housing next to a forest. It hasn’t rained in months in this community, everything is tinder dry. 

Given that there is an increased fire risk during this period of drought, the authorities decide that they will take appropriate action to keep everyone safe. To much fan-fare they announce a decision to invest in a second fire station. However, it is going to be located in the wealthy area by the lake. While this is clearly an inadvisable decision, scenarios like this are playing out every single day around the planet in countries and communities most at risk from our changing climate. 

The research presented in the World Disasters Report 2020, released today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), shows that of the 20 countries assessed as most vulnerable to climate change, and climate and weather-related disasters, not one was ranked among the 20 highest per-person recipients of climate adaptation funding. 

Indeed, none of the countries with the five highest adaptation disbursements had “very high” or even “high” – vulnerability scores. Not one was classed as a “fragile” context. 

At the other end of the funding spectrum, less than 1 US dollar per person was made available for climate adaptation funding in five of the eight countries designated as “very high” vulnerability, nor in thirty-eight of the sixty countries deemed to be of “high” vulnerability.  

This is an affront and unacceptable, the equivalent of putting the new fire station right next to the lake, and not close to the wooden houses at the edge of the forest. 

Unfortunately, all around the world today, many people are being left at risk because the resources required for climate adaptation and risk reduction are not reaching down to the community level, where they are needed the most. 

Urgent investment is needed, now, if countries are to introduce the climate adaption measures that will protect communities and prevent future disaster. 

But how can we do this in the current economic reality? After all, solely reviewing the adaptation needs outlined in the nationally determined contributions of 50 developing countries, 50 billion US dollars is needed every year. 

The concern I wish to highlight is that this shortfall will continue to grow if governments and international donors concentrate solely on the ongoing pandemic and not seek to address both global crisis concurrently.  

Climate adaptation work simply cannot be forced to take a back seat while the world remains preoccupied with Covid-19. These two crises of our generation have to be tackled with a similar intensity simultaneously.  

We have the opportunity to do this. The massive stimulus packages that are being developed around the world in response to Covid-19 present a timely global opportunity to rebuild the world better than it was before. We must set out to build a greener and adaptive recovery, using relevant funds to invest in making communities safer and more resilient to future disasters.  

We can expect the pandemic to have a serious impact on future resources. But this underlines the importance of enhancing smart financing to reduce disaster risks and promote climate adaptation in all communities exposed to hazards. 

Climate change is an even more enduring and significant threat to humanity than the current Covid-19 pandemic. As global citizens we have to take action today to benefit all and particularly those most vulnerable. Today, some countries are currently more exposed to climate risks than others, but in time none will be spared and we will all eventually feel its impact. 

We must realise that all of us need to adapt. We can start by putting resources at the disposal of those who need it most today. By protecting them, we give everyone a better chance of extinguishing, or at least controlling, the conflagration and ensuring it doesn’t entirely consume us.