Will spending on global warming deter health care foreign aid?

Bill Gates delivered his 2010 annual letter for the Bill & Melina Gates Foundation and pointed out a potential health care aid conundrum ahead: Spending on reducing global warming could crimp the foreign aid that would be available to prevent disease.

Bill Gates delivered his 2010 annual letter for the  Bill & Melina Gates Foundation and pointed out a potential health care aid conundrum ahead: Spending on reducing global warming could crimp the foreign aid that would be available to prevent disease.

There are a lot of notable points in Gates' letter, but the most interesting item comes in his discussion of rich countries aid generosity. Given ballooning deficits of wealthy countries, Gates is right to be worried about foreign aid for preventable diseases. After all, there's only so much money to go around---even if you are just printing it.

The big question: What impact will spending on global warming have on other categories of foreign aid?

Gates writes:

Deficits are not the only reason that aid budgets might change. Governments will also be increasing the money they spend to help reduce global warming. The final communiqué of the Copenhagen Summit, held last December, talks about mobilizing $10 billion per year in the next three years and $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries, which is over three quarters of all foreign aid now given by the richest countries.

I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health. If just 1 percent of the $100 billion goal came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases. In the long run, not spending on health is a bad deal for the environment because improvements in health, including voluntary family planning, lead people to have smaller families, which in turn reduces the strain on the environment.

Gates has a valid point. The entire foreign aid tab from rich countries in 2008 was $121 billion. However, deficits have ballooned as a percentage of GDP. According to the IMF, the U.S. government deficit as a percentage of GDP was a whopping 12.5 percent.

Also: Gates the philanthropist on lessons learned

Simply put, it's likely that foreign aid will be cut. Will health care programs suffer?

Perhaps. The next question is whether rich nations will really follow-through on their spending to reduce global warming. Gates' argument that spending on global warming will crimp health aid is accurate only if rich nations follow-through.

Assuming rich nations deliver the dollars or Euros to reduce global warming, there will be some tough decisions ahead. What's the ROI of curing preventable disease vs. reducing global warming?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com