As humanity continues to wrestle with the perils of climate change and other ecological concerns, donor countries have started to prioritize the environment when dispensing Official Development Assistance (ODA).
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), one of the world’s key contributors of ODA, does not currently include environmental sustainability among its three programming priorities: increasing food security; securing the future of children and youth; and stimulating sustainable economic growth. However, since all three of these priorities depend on the environmental health of a developing country, sustainability is therefore a crosscutting theme in many CIDA activities.
Of the approximately $125 billion (2009) in ODA provided to developing, there is no exact measure of how much is spent on improving the physical environment at local, regional or international levels. That figure would depend on the methodology used to measure — some would argue that just about any investment in poverty alleviation will have a positive environmental impact, since much environmental damage in poor countries results from people making desperate, impoverished decisions.
There are good reasons for any donor country to include environmental sustainability among its ODA priorities. Abject poverty has driven people around the world to abuse forests, waterways, soil and the atmosphere simply to survive, with no means available to ameliorate the environmental damage. This kind of ecological abuse is unsustainable — particularly in parts of the world where population growth will accelerate environmental deterioration.
No matter what steps are taken at this point, deserts in places like northern Africa and the Pacific islands will likely expand as weather patterns change and coastlines will be altered as melting glaciers swell oceans. Projections of rises in sea levels range from 20 to 90 centimetres or more over the next century, seriously damaging huge cities such as Mumbai, India, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and imperilling as many as 15 Pacific island nations.
In countering environmental degradation, concerned Canadians will want to keep abreast of Canada’s ODA and track what CIDA and other Canadian institutions are doing to help developing countries solve current environmental problems and prepare for future challenges.