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Why politicians are not motivated to prepare for future climate catastrophes
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Why politicians are not motivated to prepare for future climate catastrophes

Four people looking at a German home with severe flood damage.


The most important political debate of our time is about the climate change impact and how to respond. There are two forms this response can take – reacting to environmental disasters by providing financial and technical assistance to affected areas, or adapting to the effects of global heating by preparing for future disasters.

Adaptation efforts – building flood protections, early warning systems and investing in resilient infrastructure – are increasingly recognised as important tools in limiting the consequences of climate change. This was a key focus of the UK’s COP26 presidency goals at the UN climate summit, which highlighted closing the “adaptation gap” and building resilience to climate change globally.

Despite this, disaster relief is more lucrative than disaster preparedness. This means that politicians are less likely to invest in large-scale climate change adaptation.

Research has shown that the public is quite tolerant. more supportivePolicies that respond to adverse climate events are more effective than policies that prevent them from happening (like flood defenses). It is easier and more visible for voters to respond to a disaster than to invest in disaster preparedness.

These political incentives are clearly displayed in the US presidential election. Research examiningIn elections from 1988 to 2004, it was found that incumbent politicians received more votes when they prioritized disaster relief spending while in office than equivalent spending on disaster preparedness.

Research published this yearIt was found that public education about the economic benefits associated with disaster preparedness is key to breaking the cycle. While disaster-affected voters may not be more willing to invest in preparedness for the future, sharing information about the long term benefits of such an investment can increase support.

The global stage

International action on climate adaptation has also had a turbulent history. It has been for many years. considered a tabooIt was feared that it would distract efforts to combat climate change. Only recently has adaptation begun to receive significant attention. attention pledgesFrom developed countries.

These countries have the economic and technical resourcesto finance the necessary adaptation in developing countries. However, this investment has been constrained by the problem of defining what exactly constitutes adaptation..

Four people looking at a German home with severe flood damage.
Homes destroyed by flooding in Germany’s Ahr valley region in July 2021.
Friedemann Vogel / EPA-EFE

International bodies often lack clarity in determining whether projects offer protection against climate disasters or are primarily focused on economic development.

The UN’s Green Climate Fund recently chose not to submit for approvalThis is why we have chosen to focus on building resilience to hydro-meterological dangers in Timor-Leste.

Global investments in adaptation are not as immediate as disaster aid. This is compounded by the fact that those most responsible for global adaptation funding -– the advanced economies -– are less affected by the immediate consequences of climate change.

Climate and corruption

The current approach for adaptation projects also brings attention to corruption in the developing world. Often referred to as the “C-word”, discussion of corruption has been avoided by policymakers and non-governmental organisations in order to avoid weakening political support for assistance.

A 2010 studyAccording to the UK government, 57% of British citizens thought it futile to give aid to countries that are poorer due to corruption in the government. Public distrust in projects with unclear immediate outcomes is likely to make financing climate adaptation more difficult than the highly visible response to natural disasters.

Governments of wealthier countries should be clearer about the humanitarian and economic benefits of investing in adaptation for countries in need. This will increase support for these investments. This however has its limitations. Citizens living in developed countries may not be able or willing to invest. be wary of effortsTo increase growth abroad at the expense domestic.

Internationally, it has been proven that interpersonal connections and experience are important. increase humanitarian aid flows..

Unfortunately, climate-related disasters like flooding wildfiresThe key to assisting in cross-border adaptation efforts may be found in economically developed countries.


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