A modest proposal for climate change and immigration

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Finding resources in a post-global warming Africa will be even more difficult

There is a general consensus that, however severe the eventual impact will be, it is much of the developing world that stands to lose the most from climate change. Increasing temperatures result in more unpredictable and volatile weather as well as greater levels of desertification and disease. Many believe that Africans will be the worst sufferers, despite the fact that they contribute the least to global emissions.

I am currently not optimistic about suggestions that we should pay developing countries to adapt to their worsened environments or to transition their economies into ones that are less carbon-intensive (read: slower-growing). When it comes to adaptation funds, given the extremely low level of government capacity in some of these countries and the general lack of aid effectiveness,what are the chances that these transfers will actually be used for their intended purpose? It’s far more likely that the funds will just act as a payout: reparations for making the lives of the poor worse off. Chris Berg makes a compelling case against cash-for-climate in this article:

Climate aid is just another illustration of what the economist William Easterly calls development paternalism: a belief well-paid international experts, equipped with enough power and resources, should take the third world’s destiny under their benevolent wings.

When I started a post in Malawi several years ago, I spent my first day on a long drive from the south of the country to the capital, Lilongwe. I had arrived in the middle of Malawi’s dry season, when the terrain is orange, dusty and sparsely vegetated. This was my first developing country experience and, overwhelmed by this barren landscape, my immediate thoughts were: this place is a hell-hole that will never be developed, what we need to do is fly in helicopters and move everyone to a place they can live a decent life.

It wasn’t long before I was laughing at my brash, knee-jerk reaction but that isn’t to say that the policy prescription was completely crazy. Many sub-Saharan countries like Malawi are facing both internal and external climate pressures: depleted soil, extreme deforestation, volatile rainfall, and now the looming threat of rising temperatures. In some of the worst-hit, least hospitable locations, is it really reasonable that people must be stuck in such environments, just because they were unlucky enough to be born there?

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