So the news from the COP15 talks this morning is rather inevitable. The USA and a few other countries have cobbled together some sort of deal, and developing countries (and even – weedily – the European Union) are complaining it’s deeply inadequate. There will be some effort to save face, to try to ‘keep on talking’. Interestingly it was even hard to get China to agree to the notion that other countries can check emissions levels – so will countries even stick to what little they have agreed? Polly Toynbee sums things up rather neatly and pessimistically.

IMG_0085The amount of money needed to get a deal to work is not that high – about $100bn a year. That’s not even the size of the EU budget. It’s less than 1% of the GDP of the world’s developed countries. It’s 1 cent in every dollar, 1 cent in every Euro, 1 penny in every pound. If the EU stopped subsidising farmers we would be half way there. The UK alone has injected $850 billion into its banking sector, about 1/3 of what would be needed for climate investments between now and 2020.

Yet set all of this in the context of a problem that has existed for much longer than we’ve known about climate change, namely development of the world’s poorest countries. I returned to Europe a couple of days ago having spent 8 days in Malawi, including 3 days working for the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of Malawi, and a long weekend spent at the shore of Lake Malawi at Senga Bay.

The scale of the problems Malawi faces are mind boggling. One of Africa’s smallest countries, 14 million people live in the small sliver of land to the east of Lake Malawi. 80% are under 16 and around 12% have HIV/AIDS (who fill 70% of its hospital beds). The population is largely rural, mostly tiny smallholdings of maize. Life expectancy is just over 43 years at birth. And the developed world has not managed to get its act together to coherently help…


Germany has just doubled its aid for 2010 to Malawi… to €62 million. OK, better than a kick in the teeth, but what can you actually do with that much? The ratio of kids to school teachers in Malawi is 1:200 or so, you could not even rectify that with €62 million, let alone deal with the abject lack of infrastructure.

IMG_0086And yet countries like the UK just don’t get it. The UK aims to reach the UN suggested target of 0.7% of GDP committed to foreign aid by 2014, and a handful of developed countries will reach that target. If the Tories win the election in the UK next year the situation will get worse – take Cameron’s comments about Copenhagen quoted in The Guardian:

The Tory leader said he would support the £1.6bn offered by Brown on behalf of Britain to help with adaptation among developing countries so long as it came from the aid budget.

Seriously, what the f**k is that? We’ll help the rest of the world with either regular development aid or the climate, but not both, and even then the cost is really low. NGOs, the Fair Trade Movement, the protesters in Copenhagen are doing their best. But we need bold political leadership too, leaders who make a compelling case that we’re all better off if injustices are reduced.

Go to Malawi, see it, feel it, and then look yourself in the mirror and say that bailing out RBS is a better use of the UK government’s cash.

For the farmers in the villages beside the road between Lilongwe and Salima, for the little kids in the bus that wave at passers-by, for the stoical babies strapped to their mothers’ backs facing an uncertain future… for those people we need a more just world, and that’s going to cost us. It’s not even as if extra consumption in the developed world even makes us more happy, as Richard Layard so compellingly shows.

I’ll personally be donating 20% of my income from the work I did in Malawi to malaria prevention projects there, and I’m also wondering whether I can commit to giving 20% of my annual income earned in 2010 to charity. If states and politicians cannot contemplate it, then I suppose I can make a personal start?

All pictures: Jon Worth, CC Licence, from my Flickr set from Malawi

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *