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How Should Wealthier Nations Help Poorer Ones Combat Climate Change?

Assisting poor countries now and in the future in adapting to climate change must be a top priority.

This post first appeared on National Journal.

The world's poorest countries will face the most devastating effects of climate change, despite contributing the least to the problem. While we must immediately reduce the emissions that cause global warming and avoid impacts, it is also clear that assisting poor countries now and in the future in adapting to climate change is an equal priority. Little support internationally has been given thus far to the poorest in the world, which is one reason why those countries now in Copenhagen lack trust to seal a deal.

Beyond the moral and ethical priority to ensure that these countries can adapt to the changes, however, the U.S. security community has said very clearly that these conditions can create chaos and lead to conflict. Competition for scarcer resources and increased migration — two possible outcomes of climate change — can breed instability in volatile regions. Serious commitment to adaptation from the developed world can lessen these threats. As General Chuck Wald said in recent Senate testimony: “In the military, you learn that force protection isn’t just about protecting weak spots; it’s about reducing vulnerabilities well before you get into harm’s way,” an apt analogy for adaptation.

Should we act now? Many preeminent economists estimate that the cost of inaction on climate is around five times the cost of taking action today to build the clean energy economy. Those costs are primarily in rebuilding after natural disasters, coping with security threats and trying to secure the food supply. Another group of U.S. economists have criticized studies that look only at the costs of action without considering the substantial benefits to society and particularly to the vulnerable. For example, large numbers of Americans suffer from asthma and other pulmonary diseases that are worsened by pollution – reducing emissions therefore will have a large societal benefit. Furthermore, investments in the clean energy economy will create productive new assets, industries and jobs.

American ingenuity has contributed to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, and climate change technology should be no exception. But helping poor countries is not the only reason the United States should make clean technology a priority.

Investing in clean technology allows the United States to get in the game. Countries around the world understand that a low-carbon economy is the only way forward, and a vast new marketplace is growing. In China, they are quintupling their wind capacity goal for 2020 after consistently outpacing their previous goals. The world clean technology market is exploding, and U.S. businesses want to compete. Here at COP-15, technology will be a critical part of an agreement, providing that much more certainty about the demand for clean energy technology. American companies, such as those in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership are here to ensure they are poised to catch that wave.

Acting now to develop and deploy clean technologies is not just a win for the climate, it’s a win for our country.

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