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We need to learn from the needs of the poorest

  • Published at 07:21 pm March 27th, 2015

2015 is an important year for sustainable development, with expectations that a new set of sustainable development goals will be agreed at the United Nations in September, and that governments will reach a new climate agreement in Paris in December.

The agreements could bring new sources of financial support for countries such as Bangladesh. While the prospect of new funding is welcome, there are real risks that it will not reach the hands of those who would benefit the most.

That is because, all-too-often, decisions about how to raise and spend funds ignore the needs of the poorest men and women in society. Yet it is the poorest who bear the heaviest costs. Adapting to changes in the climate carries costs, and these fall disproportionately on households who have the least.

Take the example of the villagers in Satkhira district who are increasingly struggling to cultivate crops because of the encroaching saltwater. Moving to a new area -- whether to Dhaka or elsewhere -- is hugely expensive and creates a myriad of risks. But the affected villagers have little access to support.

What is needed is a “bottom-up” perspective that recognises the situation of the poorest individuals and relate to their specific needs -- instead of the current funding model which is designed primarily with the needs of donors and international institutions in mind.

By spending more time and effort understanding the costs that the poorest face as a result of climate change, for example, the appropriate national and international funding mechanisms can be better designed to support and empower them. 

Individuals also need to be empowered to engage in debates about local priorities and the use of climate finance, for example through participatory planning, delivery, and monitoring.

We believe that such an approach will lead to more attention on the role of local government -- which has a wide range of responsibilities that shape people’s well-being and resilience, providing local level infrastructure such as roads, and managing local natural resources. This means local government plays an important role in supporting poor households to adapt to climate change. 

We also think it will lead to greater emphasis on ways in which existing forms of support can be adapted to provide greater support to the most vulnerable households -- with an emphasis on climate-resilient activities and a recognition of the need to avoid providing support for activities that are likely to be at risk from future climate change.

While it is important to ensure a robust and transparent international framework for the new post-2015 finance agenda, putting the recipients in the centre of the picture will align international agendas with local needs, and help developing country governments support the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in particular. 


Paul Steele is Chief Economist at the International Institute of Environment and Development and Aaron Atteridge is a Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute.