If you were a finance minister in a developing country, would you use the scarce resources at your disposal to invest in green energy, or to feed hungry communities, send children to school, and build health care facilities?

Harjeet Singh poses this theoretical question during the latest episode of Climate Citizen, a new, four-part podcast series developed in collaboration between Global Citizen and The Climate Pod that covers topics like climate justice, biodiversity, and mitigating the crisis. 

Singh, senior adviser on climate impacts with Climate Action Network International and a strategic adviser on global partnerships with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, uses the scenario to illustrate the bind that developing countries are in — a bind created and maintained by developed countries that caused the climate crisis. 

“We are already facing a huge amount of [climate] impact in the form of devastating floods, drought, storms, and now sea level rise, glacial melt, and ocean acidification,” Singh said. “What does that mean? Developing countries are facing the pressure to green their economies without getting public finance. At the same time, they’re being battered by these climate disasters and they’re spending their own money to recover from impacts and provide humanitarian aid, which essentially means that climate action is going to be delayed further. 

“So on the one hand, it’s 30 years of inaction by developed countries, causing havoc in societies due to these disasters,” he said. “And developing countries are paying the price of that inaction.”

Singh joined The Climate Pod’s hosts, brothers Brock and Ty Benefiel, to discuss the failures and opportunities of climate financing worldwide. 

In the context of the Paris climate agreement, climate finance essentially means the money that wealthy, developed countries need to provide to developing countries. This arrangement stems from an agreement made in 2009, when countries acknowledged that those least responsible for the climate crisis face the harshest impacts and have the least means to transition away from fossil fuels and adapt to changing environmental norms. 

The amount that countries came up with — $100 billion annually — was “pulled out of thin air,” Singh said. 

“There was no solid analysis of how much money is actually needed by developing countries to not only make the transition toward greener economies but also protect their people from climate impacts,” he said. “When we now do the real analysis of the numbers, it goes into trillions and not billions.”

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that developing countries will need up to $500 billion annually to adapt to the impact of climate change — and that’s just adaptation. 

Even though developed countries promised to mobilize $100 billion annually by 2020, they’re still around $20 billion short, Singh said. This is at a time when the impacts of climate change are escalating. 

And to make matters worse, current financing comes with strings attached. 

“Seventy-one percent of that finance is not public finance but loans and guarantees, so that is absolutely unfair and unjust,” Singh said. 

“If money that is being provided to developing countries is not public finance but loans and guarantees, it means developing countries have to return that money with interest,” he said. “So in a way, rich countries are making money out of poor people and poor countries. That is the reality.” 

The conversation is deeply informed and full of illuminating insights. Singh has a gift for wading through policy speak to locate the essential nuggets of information and then frame things in a new, more accurate way. 

The “Most Visceral Form” of Climate Change

Later in the episode, the Benefiels were joined by Mwandwe Chileshe, Global Citizen’s campaign manager of food security, nutrition, and agriculture, who discusses “how the most visceral form that people are experiencing climate change is around starvation.”

Chileshe noted how 1 in 3 people do not get adequate food and nutrition around the world, and nearly 45 million people are on the brink of starvation. 

These are crises that are interlocked with the climate crisis. 

“You can’t tell the story of food security without the people who produce it, who are smallholder farmers, people living in rural communities, and they’re the people who are vastly affected by a changing environment,” Chileshe said. “They rely on natural resources.”

The flipside, she noted, is that agriculture and how we eat also drive greenhouse gas emissions.

“So my campaigning kind of evolved with what I was doing, because you can't tell one story without the other,” she said. “If we continue to go down the path that we have around the diets that we consume globally, the impact it has on climate and the environment is quite massive.”

Chileshe shared her journey to activism and advocacy by discussing how her life was influenced by the very issues she campaigns on. 

She grew up in Kabwe, Zambia, which is known as “the world’s most polluted town” because of the waste from nearby lead mines. She saw the impact of poverty throughout her community, the way it “not only takes you away from accessing things, but it sort of strips human dignity away.” 

Her mom became a local politician and her dad worked as a smallholder farmer. 

“My sisters and I became the first generation of girls in our immediate family to go to university,” she said. At school, she focused on global development, but her education was interrupted by health problems. 

“I spent so much time in the hospital. Even though I had some resources to be in the hospital, I couldn't access specialized health care,” she said. 

She saw how a lack of nutritious food could severely harm a person’s health and she dove into advocacy work for food security. After years as a youth advocate, she joined Global Citizen and now champions the right of every person to get the food they need and the right of farmers to earn a livelihood. 

On the Global Citizen platform, you can take actions spearheaded by Chileshe to ensure world leaders invest in nutrition, smallholder farmers, and climate adaptation. 

Listen to the rest of the episode to hear her thoughts on climate, food security, and more. 

You can download and listen to the four-part Climate Citizen series on The Climate Pod's website, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and wherever you get your favorite podcasts. New episodes will drop every Wednesday! 

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