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SAIS Perspectives 2021-22 Bologna Launch Event - Disparity in Development

November 18, 2021

Speakers: Jyotsna Puri, Associate Vice President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Rome, Italy Onno Ruhl, General Manager, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, Geneva, Switzerland
Moderator: Michael G. Plummer, Director and ENI Professor of International Economics, Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe, Bologna, Italy

To commemorate their 2021-2022 publication theme launch at the SAIS Bologna campus, SAIS Perspectives collaborated with BIPR in hosting a panel discussion on their chosen theme, "Disparity in Development." The Perspectives team, led this year by Editor-in-Chief Adam Guarneri, invited Jyotsna (Jo) Puri and Onno Ruhl to their panel and for Director Michael Plummer to be moderator. After brief introductory remarks from Mr. Guarneri and by moderator Director Plummer Dr. Puri and Mr. Ruhl shared their thoughts on the inequalities in attention, response, and funding to various development issues and initiatives around the world. After brief introductions, each speaker responded to questions submitted by SAIS students prior to the panel discussion.

Declaring that vulnerable communities experience vast inequities in the distributional effects of climate change, Dr. Jo Puri argues that the international development community must do more to intervene on behalf of those who have been most affected and threatened by climate change and environmental degradation. In particular, Puri focuses on the disparity of funding between climate mitigation initiatives—investments aiming to prevent further climate change, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions—and climate adaptation initiatives, those which target communities who are currently experiencing and/or are likely to experience the various negative effects of climate change. As Puri explains, a total of $580 billion was invested in climate funding in 2017-2018, and for every $18 of climate finance invested in mitigation efforts, only $1 has been invested in adaptation efforts to date. According to Puri, this gap in climate finance should not be considered a "market failure" but instead as a "policy failure," as governments can appropriately incentivize investments in climate adaptation projects. With better climate adaptation initiatives, the world can become more resilient overall to climate change, respond to the needs of those most often disregarded by development policy and finance, and better prepare for the challenges of its future.

Building upon Dr. Puri's discussion of funding disparities in climate finance, Onno Ruhl articulates the urgency of climate adaptation interventions for vulnerable communities around the world. Explaining his work at the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, the branch of the Aga Khan Development Network which focuses on climate adaptation and human habitat protection initiatives in South and Central Asia, Ruhl relates how the disparity in climate adaptation funding can affect Europe's future. In one example, Ruhl describes how residents of small villages in the mountainous Northern regions of Pakistan often have nowhere to go but the slums of Karachi or to other impoverished urban areas if their communities are destroyed by climate disasters. Continuing his example, Ruhl declares that in Karachi, a coastal city threatened by sea level rise, a mass migration of regional dwellers would only exacerbate crowding issues. Furthermore, the repetition of community destruction and urban resettlement over time would be likely to trigger climate migration crises, with, as Ruhl explains, as many as 200 million individuals affected around the world in coming years. Thus, as Ruhl illustrates, disparities in awareness and funding throughout development programs are likely to have long-term consequences on the lives of both those immediately affected and apathetic bystanders. By redirecting their focus and correcting such inequalities, policymakers can shape a more just and equitable future for the world and its inhabitants.

SAIS Perspectives also announced the winners of its 2021 Photo Contest at the panel event. SAIS alumnus Chris Joondeph received the first place title and a cash prize of $150 for his entry entitled "Cannonball Comoros." SAIS student Simone Weichenrieder received the second-place prize for her entry entitled "Rituals." The winning photographs will be printed and displayed on the SAIS EU campus in coming weeks.

The SAIS Community is encouraged to submit to the SAIS Perspectives Publication their work, for the rolling-basis of the 2021-22 academic year. For more information on Perspectives, and to view the winning entries of the 2021 Photo Contest, visit