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Key concerns on the approach to COP27: Expert viewpoint from Michai Robertson

CASA spoke to Michai Robertson, Lead Negotiator on Climate Finance to the Alliance of Small Island States, about the key concerns of small island developing States as they approach COP27.

Small island developing States (SIDS) are coming to the UN climate negotiations in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt with the resolve to not only defend their existence as states, but with the ambition to thrive as peoples, communities and countries in a climate-altered world.

In a wide-ranging interview for CASA about AOSIS priorities at COP27, Michai Robertson reflected that “climate change permeates throughout every facet of our life in small island states [and] we are entitled to have a minimum chance of not only surviving, but thriving.”

Human-induced climate change is a problem for which the 39 states in AOSIS contribute a miniscule amount. However, from storms, to droughts, to ocean acidification and sea level rise, they are disproportionately affected by its impacts. 

At COP27, AOSIS is calling for the establishment of a response fund under the United Nations climate convention to support communities and countries to rebuild and rehabilitate from climate-related losses and damages after they’ve occurred. This is not only economic but can also include, among other things, supporting the memorialisation of loss of cultural and natural heritage, as well as displacement of people. The group also wants to see vast improvements in the quality and quantity of finance flowing to island states and other heavily climate-affected regions.   

Loss and damage finance in the frame

AOSIS’ meaning of ‘loss and damage response finance’ is clearly framed: Mr Robertson spells out what it means, and what it does not.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has long talked about three pillars to loss and damage: averting it, minimising it, and addressing it.

Minimising losses and damages are the work of ‘adaptation’, and especially suited to adaptation funding, Mr Robertson says. 

Small island states have a long history of collaborating with other countries within the UNFCCC to set up multilateral climate funds under its regime such as the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund. Both of these Funds support initiatives to adapt to, and reduce the impacts of climate change. 

However, once an extreme climate event has already occurred (like a storm or drought) or more insidious slow-onset impacts from climate change have occurred (such as ocean acidification or saltwater intrusion into aquifers and farmlands), there is no UNFCCC-mandated fund to support the response to damages or loss in a fit-for-purpose manner nor, critically, to help countries rebuild from climate related disasters in more resilient ways.

The call for attention to climate-related loss and damage, and financing to address it, is a 30- year campaign by small island states. AOSIS’ efforts are now bolstered by the G77+China Group, which joined forces with small islands to call for a dedicated loss and damage fund at COP26 in Glasgow. The G77 Group+China represents 134 countries in total. Although last year’s initiative did not bear fruit immediately, the G77+China has now asked for loss and damage response finance to be clearly on the COP27 agenda.

In response to these persistent calls, the Egyptian COP27 Presidency has now appointed two ministers, Jennifer Morgan of Germany and Maisa Rojas of Chile, to find a way to include loss and damage financing meaningfully on the COP27 agenda.

What should loss and damage response finance look like? An AOSIS perspective

Once the door is open for this formal discussion, countries should discuss two key elements, Mr Robertson suggests:

  1. Institutional arrangements for loss and damage response finance: setting up a new, fit-for-purpose multilateral fund under UNFCCC, and agreeing on a robust process for its establishment. The process could learn from prior lessons in setting up the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund, both of which were mandated by the Conference of Parties – he says.
  2. Quality and quantity of loss and damage response finance: being clear that the “hole” in international financing is in addressing loss and damage that has already happened – not in averting and minimising damages, which is covered by mitigation and adaptation finance. Further, Parties must agree how much of this ex-post funding is needed alongside adaptation finance, which is also severely underfunded. It will be critical, Mr Robertson argues, that finance for response after climate-related disasters should not come at the expense of adaptation funding for developing countries, including small island developing States. Loss and damage financing should be new, additional, adequate and predictable  – and AOSIS is working to quantify what that dollar figure might be especially in relation worsing temperature scenario, in the context of the post-2020 collective quantified finance goal. It will be vital, too, that the funding is concessional and grant-based and does not burden small island states with more unmanageable debt.

The outcome that SIDS need to see “adequate, predictable money going through those channels” so that it’s at a “sustainable level that’s manageable for SIDS” Mr Robertson says.

Steady work ahead to get it right 

Acknowledging that a loss and damage response fund will not be created and capitalised overnight, he adds: “It takes time. [AOSIS has] been involved in the creation of multiple funds, like AF and GCF, and we hope the work we do with G77 and developed country partners will get this job done. There is a lot of onus on us to flesh it out, but we are willing to work overtime and get it done and prove our case beyond any doubt.”

Small islands’ experience on the frontlines of climate change, and their resolve to prime loss and damage response financing for disbursement, can be described like plumbing a house with water, he concludes:

 “it is better for us to have the pipe laid and receive the water after, rather than have the water dispersing itself across the ground instead of getting to the house. The house is SIDS.

We have seen the writing on the wall for years and the impacts on SIDS are already bad. And we need to catch up and ensure everything is in place in case things continue to get really much worse.” 

Interview by CASA’s Mairi Dupar and Pat Hinton. Image (top), Sharm El-Sheikh, credit Youssef Ahmed

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