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Next month's climate change meeting in Copenhagen is even more important in the fight against poverty than the 2005 G8 meeting at Gleneagles.

That summit, held amidst the Make Poverty History campaign, agreed historic debt cancellation and aid pledges which have helped to build on the real progress made over recent decades in efforts to tackle extreme poverty. Despite a global increase in population, the proportion of people around the world living in extreme poverty has fallen from a third to a quarter.

Yet climate change threatens to reverse this progress. This year Northern India suffered its driest June in 83 years when the monsoon rains arrived a month later than usual. The Horn of Africa’s worst drought this decade has driven an estimated 23 million people towards severe hunger, and East African governments are now bracing their countries for mass flooding.

It is a sad irony that the people who have contributed by far the least to global carbon emissions are now the first to suffer the consequences of climate change.

Alongside this is the paradox that while developed countries have the greatest responsibility for the emissions we have seen over the past century, the greatest growth in emissions over coming decades will be in developing economies.

So we have a moral responsibility and a common interest in putting the needs of vulnerable countries at the heart of an agreement at Copenhagen.

This means rich nations need to make a firm commitment to significant cuts in emissions. At the same time we must agree a strong deal on climate finance, to help developing countries both adapt to the degree of climate change that is now inevitable, and shift their economies onto a low-carbon path – in order that they might avoid repeating the mistakes of history.

At the EU Council a fortnight ago, European leaders agreed that €100 billion will be needed globally by 2020 to tackle climate change, and that between €22-€50 billion of that sum will need to come from public finance. This is a significant step forwards, giving the ministers and negotiators at Copenhagen a yardstick by which they can forge a deal.

However agreements made so far have not addressed a crucial issue - a commitment to provide climate finance additional to agreed aid budgets.

Without such a commitment, there is a risk that governments will divert a large proportion of their aid budgets to fulfil their commitments on climate change, diverting money away from healthcare, education and humanitarian assistance.

We cannot allow a choice to exist between fighting poverty and tackling climate change. These issues are inextricably linked to the future of the developing world, and indeed to our common future.

Climate change threatens to expose between 75 and 200 million more people to water shortages by 2020. By 2035, glaciers in the Himalayas are likely to disappear, affecting the water supply of three-quarters of a billion people in Asia. We know that in an interdependent world, such problems transcend national borders – indeed, by 2050 an estimated 200 million climate migrants could be forced from their homes in one of the largest population displacements in history.

Diverting large proportions of existing aid budgets to combat climate risks would also have significant consequences. Oxfam predicts that, were €50 billion to be diverted in this way, there would be 75 million fewer children in school, 4.5 million more children would die than would otherwise have been the case and 8.6 million fewer people would have access to HIV and AIDS treatment.

As well as these terrible immediate effects, a significant drop in aid such as this would slow the growth and development of recipient countries. A recent World Bank study, funded by the Netherlands, the UK and Switzerland, underlines the fact that development is the best way to improve resilience to climate change. As income, health and education levels rise, so does the population’s capacity to cope with the drought, floods and natural disasters climate change will bring.

The costs of providing additional climate finance – around just 0.1% of industrialised countries’ GDP – pale in significance when compared to the costs of allowing runaway climate change to take its course. The 2006 Stern Report estimated that unchecked climate change would cost the world between 5% and 20% of global GDP.

The UK and Dutch governments stand united on this issue, and this week we are lobbying other development ministers at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Brussels to ensure that the EU’s official position at Copenhagen makes a clear commitment to provide climate financing over and above existing aid pledges of 0.7% of GDP. This additional funding must be based on integrated and realistic plans by developing countries.

By making such a pledge the EU can go a long way in reassuring developing countries that Copenhagen will not be ruled by self-interest and political horse-trading, but will be the platform for an agreement that will set us on the path to a more sustainable future.

Douglas Alexander is Secretary of State for International Development. Bert Koenders is Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation
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