It’s no secret that people in the Global South are those most vulnerable to global warming. They face more day-to-day exposure to its impacts, and their governments generally lack the economic and technological capacity to deal with dramatic changes in climate patterns. Rising sea levels are just the tip of the melting iceberg.

Climate change is causing more frequent and prolonged droughts, more severe storms, and the rapid spread of tropical diseases, threatening the homes, farms, and livelihoods of the world’s poorest citizens. Oxfam has estimated that somewhere around 375 million people will be affected by humanitarian disasters related to climate change by 2015—a 50% rise over past years—and the UN Development Program has projected that adaptation efforts to deal with this crisis will require investments of $86 billion per year. Without pairing adaptation strategies with mitigation efforts, we cannot hope to improve global living standards, combat poverty and disease, or halt conflicts over resources.

As a lifelong environmentalist, I’m overjoyed to see Congress taking historic (albeit small) steps to grow green industry and lower greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. As a global citizen and social justice advocate, however, I’m disappointed to see so little attention devoted to dealing with climate change where it’s causing hardship already: the developing world.

EAC rally 6/26The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) bill squeaked through the House late last month and will move to the Senate sometime in the coming months. The current bill establishes an International Climate Change Adaptation Program within the US Agency for International Development and offers up an initial 1% of emission allowances to international adaptation initiatives, rising to 4% by 2027. While these allowances will help developing countries prepare for and address the consequences of global warming—some of the first federal dollars dedicated to this cause—this is not a fair pledge from the world’s largest contributor to global warming. The developing world needs more.

“Adaptation” is about meeting the costs of climate change today, not waiting around for higher emission standards to kick in and atmospheric CO2 levels to stabilize. It’s also about placing responsibility for climate change where it’s deserved. As developed nations have spent the last 150 years pouring carbon into the atmosphere and continue to lead the pack in greenhouse gas emissions, it’s more accurate to label adaptation aid “repayment” than “charity.”

Developing nations are already independently researching innovative and community-specific ways to combat the effects of global warming. Investments, grants, and shared technology from the developed world can help empower these initiatives to combat climate change-related water scarcities, agricultural failures, flooding, disease outbreaks, and large scale human migration, while ensuring that adaptation efforts are sustainable in the long term. The World Bank and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have introduced pilot programs and funds to support adaptation initiatives. The UNFCCC is working to establish an official, multilateral Adaptation Fund, but the US has blocked significant action.

The Obama administration and a Democratic Congress may offer an opportunity for the US to reverse its stance and take a strong lead in international adaptation efforts. But they won’t do it on their own.

Adaptation aid bannerClimate change adaptation initiatives have fallen under the radar of environmentalists and social justice activists alike for far to long.  Luckily, youth-led advocacy organizations like Energy Action Coalition get it and are already demanding robust commitments to adaptation aid in ACES (see banner). Now it’s time to for you to get involved!

Call your Senators and tell them what young Americans want and what the developing world needs from ACES. Human and economic security are key to development and political stability around the world. Granting adaptation aid is not just the right thing to do, it’s integral to global prosperity and US national security.

Check out the organizations below to read more about international adaptation aid and join the fight to make it a legislative priority.

Oxfam initiatives

Center for American Progress initiatives

ActionAid initiatives

Global Environmental Facility (the biggest funder of adaptation initiatives at present)