The suburb of Alajo is about as far from the posh hotels of Paris as you could get. But the bureaucrats and politicians here in France are negotiating a climate treaty to “help the world’s poorest”, including billions of dollars of guarantees of “climate aid” to developing nations.
I have argued in this blog that this kind of aid is not what is wanted. I have pointed to a massive global survey of 8 million people showing that people in the world’s poorest countries rank climate policy last after other policy priorities.
But to better understand why this is – and to give voice to those that climate activists claim to speak for – Copenhagen Consensus interviewed people around the world. One of those people was 46-year old Esther Gyan, widow and mother of eight, who lives in Alajo, a suburb of Ghana’s capital city, Greater Accra.
Alajo is a densely populated, poor suburb. Building walls are made of mud, untreated timber and zinc roofing sheets. There is poor drainage, which creates flooding.
“It is not easy out here for me and my children, as you can see for yourself,” Esther told our interviewer.
“I am a very unhappy person living from hand to mouth. The quality of life I dreamt for my children is far from the reality. If I am not able to take care of them, how will they become responsible citizens in the community? I just pray they do not go astray. No wonder there is so much robbery in the community these days. How do they expect poor ones like us to survive?”
Esther’s husband did not leave her an inheritance. She supports the family by selling treats made of sugar and ice. On a good day, she makes 20 Ghanaian cedis ($5). Esther cannot get a bank loan because she has no collateral, so she is stuck without options.
The United Nations survey of 8 million people on policy priorities includes 68,000 responses from people living in Ghana. Education is their top priority ranking – just as it is for Esther.
Five of her children live with her; four are still in primary school but Esther cannot afford to send the fifth to high school. “Even the ones who go to school sometimes refuse to go because they are ashamed of their old school uniform. Their classmates make fun of them and they sometimes come home crying. Unfortunately, I do not have money to sew new ones for them.”
Food security is the second-highest priority for Ghanaians. Esther manages to cook decent meals with the money she makes, but cannot afford fruit and vegetables. Sometimes the main meal is Banku – a fermented corn or cassava dough, without any fish or meat.
The Copenhagen Consensus interviewer asked Esther if she felt that people in rich countries understood the problems facing her. “Of course, I am sure they know,” she said. “They just don’t care; all we hear is big [words] here and there.”
Esther would probably be surprised to learn that activists in Paris claim to be speaking for the world’s poor when they say that a carbon treaty is the globe’s top priority. Climate is actually the lowest policy priority of Ghanaians – it comes in as number 16 of 16 topics.
So Esther is representative of Ghana – and of respondents from all of the world’s poorest countries – when she says of climate change, “Honestly, I have more pressing issues to think about. I don’t think climate change is one of them.”
The money being spent on climate change, Esther says, should be spent on health and education. “I would not have to worry so much about my children’s health and education if that was done in the first place.”
Back here in Paris, negotiators are poised to sign up to carbon cuts that will cost the global economy at least $1tr a year. Given the transformation this sum could make in the lives of billions of the world’s poorest, most malnourished, and worried about basic education –like Esther’s kids – this is just immoral.
Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He researches the smartest ways to help the world, for which he was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. His numerous books include The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030.