Politics of Poverty

Spending binge: Congress votes to raise the cost of future disasters

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Amidst debt-ceiling wrangling, House members move to defund key global security programs

This blog post was authored jointly by Heather Coleman and David Waskow, climate change program manager.

With the United States in full support, the UN Security Council voted last week to tackle the impacts of a changing climate on global security (think Somalia, for example, if you haven’t already).  But just a day later, Republicans ignored security and voted to bar any funding for the Global Climate Change Initiative, which helps build the resilience of communities in unstable countries facing climate change impacts.

Fortunately, that vote has no real effect — but today’s vote by the Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee in the House will. That vote would eliminate funds in the FY 2012 budget for the Climate Investment Funds, a multilateral fund that includes a program to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

Families arrive in Dadaab camp every day in Somalia.  Photo by Oxfam East Africa.
Families arrive in Dadaab camp everyday in Somalia. Photo by Oxfam East Africa.

Apparently, House Republicans don’t see what security experts do — our national security demands are going to shift just as surely as the climate. It’s not just the UN Security Council that sees it that way. Last month, Oxfam joined with the security think tank CNA to release a report showing that investing in climate resilience and reducing vulnerability abroad – “an ounce of prevention” – will pay off in the long-run in terms of economic and political security. And not taking action will result in ever greater stress on our humanitarian and military capacity.

That report just adds to the chorus of analysis, including high-level military sources, calling for US engagement and action on climate change to prevent greater instability in already fragile states.

Meanwhile, back at the House, many of the members of Congress who are ignoring this reality represent districts recently hit by some of the worst disasters in our nation’s history.  Indeed, the Foreign Affairs committee member who led the amendment charge in that committee, Representative Connie Mack, represents Florida – one of the states that will be hardest hit by rising global temperatures.

If that’s not enough of a concern for Congressman Mack, maybe this will be: Some 12 million people in the Horn of Africa are facing famine due to increasingly frequent droughts in recent years. As a result, Valerie Amos, the United Nations humanitarian relief coordinator, warned that the world “must take the impact of climate change more seriously”. To ask the obvious but still painfully relevant question: how many major humanitarian disasters we’ll have to endure before US policy makers stop playing petty politics with people’s lives?

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