“Our tropical cyclone seasons are getting more and more intense – damaging infrastructure, forcing people to relocate and rebuild, and causing significant mental health stress on families. This is the secret crisis that is slowly eating away at the soul and the livelihoods of countries. We talk of island states, but this is far-reaching.”Chair of AOSIS, Ambassador Webson
The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly frequent and more severe. The recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented the challenge in the clearest terms yet: the world is nowhere near to achieving the Paris Agreement target to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C.
The latest IPCC report, released in early April, stated that unless we reduce emissions very fast, we’ll exceed the limits to stay within 1.5C within the next ten years or so. It’s now or never, according to the IPCC scientists.
This perfect storm of escalating climate impacts and a lack of action on reducing emissions is an urgent issue for all countries – but nowhere is it more pressing than for the least-developed countries, where extreme weather events cause devastation.
Despite these countries contributing least to the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions – they are often the most ambitious, both in terms of both their plans to cut emissions and to adapt to climate change, including via their national climate plans, the NDCs.
One of the main sticking points contributing to the slow progress in the climate negotiations concerns levels of responsibility for climate action. There are major outstanding issues around finance to address climate-related ‘loss and damage’, inadequate levels of ambition from major emitters, delays in climate finance from rich countries, and lack of adaptation finance.
Countries need to solve these issues as soon as possible to Keep 1.5C Alive. Not doing so could severely undermine trust in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. While this process may not be perfect, it’s generally acknowledged as the best mechanism the world has to tackle climate change. Maintaining and building trust in the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement is critical, if the world is to limit global temperature rise to dangerous levels.
The Climate Ambition Support Alliance team spoke with Ambassador Webson, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS), and Madeleine Diouf Sarr, Chair of the Least Developed Country group to get their thoughts on the recent IPCC reports, their priorities this year, and what a good COP27 in November 2022 looks like.
Approaching the limits of adaptation
The 46 least-developed countries are those deemed by the United Nations as the most disadvantaged in their development process, for structural, historical and geographical reasons. They are home to around 880 million people, or 12% of the world’s population. Climate-related disasters are taking a heavy toll in these countries. In 2007 Cyclone Sidr killed 15,000 people in Bangladesh. In 2016, Cyclone Winston left tens of thousands homeless in Fiji, wiping off a fifth of the nation’s GDP. 2019 saw Cyclone Idai tear through Southern Africa, killing over 1,000 people and leaving 2.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. And in 2020, excessive rainfall From Hurricane Eta caused catastrophic landslides in Central America, killing over 100 people.
“Vulnerable countries like small island states are already experiencing storms that wipe out an entire year’s GDP – even at 1.1C warming. 1.5C will be no walk in the park for us, but beyond that, climate change becomes an existential threat.” – Ambassador Webson
The IPCC report stresses the need for ‘transformational adaptation’ – adaptation that goes beyond traditional ‘incremental’ adaptation (i.e. operating within a system’s limits) and looks at altering the entire system. This definition may appear vague, but the Chair of the LDC Group explained that it’s useful and meaningful, as it places the needs of the most vulnerable first:
“We have unprecedented droughts and hundreds of thousands of people each year with no viable food supply… Sea level rise has caused a loss of beaches and coastal infrastructure. Many of our big cities are close to the sea. We need to have transformational adaptation. Transformational adaptation is about realising that significant changes are needed to deal with the climate crisis. We won’t be able to prevent what is to come with incremental measures – longer-term thinking is needed. The needs of local and vulnerable communities must be at the heart of this planning and implementation.” – Madeleine Diouf Sarr
The imperative of climate finance
In the 2015 Paris Agreement, developed countries agreed to provide $100 billion in annual climate finance to developing countries by 2020. However, this goal has still not been met. Current trends predict that the figure will only be achieved in 2023 – three years later than pledged. According to research by the Overseas Development Institute, just three out of 23 rich countries gave their “fair share” of the $100 billion target in 2017-18.
The most climate-vulnerable countries need this finance urgently – both for reducing emissions and for adapting to the impacts of climate change. The longer the finance gap exists, the more expensive the total cost of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Given that the most climate-vulnerable countries experience the most harmful effects of climate change by definition, and contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions, finance for adaptation is especially high on the agenda for the least developed countries. For the Chair of AOSIS, it’s a question of scale and accessibility:
“The scale of finance is not sufficient for mitigation or adaptation. This is a massive gap and must be bridged quickly with both traditional and innovative financing mechanisms. On access, there needs to be more targeted allocation of finance for small islands. When a hurricane hits, we need to be able to start rebuilding within days, not months – and as we see in some cases, not years. People’s lives are at stake.”Ambassador Webson
Adaptation finance only makes up around one-fifth of all climate finance from developed countries – already between five to ten times below the current costs of adapting to climate change. At COP26, developed countries pledged to double adaptation finance by 2025, which would take the annual figure to around US $40 billion. This was signalled as a sign of progress by the least developed countries:
“The needs of our countries and communities to adapt to the growing impacts of climate change outstrips even this commitment, but it is progress.” – Least developed countries Group react to COP26
However, large amounts of climate finance is provided in the form of loans that need to be paid back, which risk plunging developing countries into further debt.
This problem is especially pernicious for Small Island Developing States, whose economic status makes it more difficult for them to access concessional finance. The compounding burden of climate change impacts and Covid-19 related financial pressure has plunged them deeper into debt and made it even more difficult for them to rebuild resilient communities.
Ambassador Webson warned that “climate change and Covid-19 combined to create a debt crisis for small islands, and developing states are suffering. Our capacity to borrow is shot. We need to see increased grant funding and concessional loans.”
With a growing gap in adaptation finance and the mounting and unavoidable economic and social costs of the climate crisis, the international climate community’s attention is focused on who should pay for it.
“On achieving the $100 billion in climate finance – it’s a matter of confidence, a matter of trust.”Madeleine Diouf Sarr
These now widely evident, and growing costs of climate change impacts (which adaptation measures have not avoided) are known as ‘loss and damage’. It’s a key sticking point causing friction on climate action.
Where next for loss and damage?
At COP26, climate-vulnerable countries led the push for a ‘Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility’ – a finance mechanism for the least developed countries to access loss and damage finance. This came out of the previous year’s climate conference, COP25, which established the Santiago Network on loss and damage – set up to connect ‘vulnerable developing countries with providers of technical assistance, knowledge, resources they need to address climate risks comprehensively in the context of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage.’
COP25 set out the goal of the Santiago Network, but not the nuts and bolts of how it would work. At COP26, there was an agreement for the Network to receive finance for technical assistance on loss and damage as well as continuing its role as a knowledge hub. However, this fell far short of climate-vulnerable countries’ demands for a Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility, which would actually provide finance for actions that address loss and damage in vulnerable developing countries.
Still, a ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ was established to find new ways of scaling up loss and damage finance. There has already been some strong thinking for how this could progress, starting with moving away from treating loss and damage finance in terms of ‘liability’ and instead frame it in terms of solidarity.
“It was very helpful to get it [loss and damage] on the table in Scotland. Developed countries need to acknowledge that loss and damage is real and requires support that is separate to what is offered and provided to adaptation and mitigation. This is not an issue that will go away. As warming increases, loss and damage will get worse.” – Ambassador Webson
COP26 also saw the first country commit finance solely dedicated to loss and damage, with the Scottish Government committing £2 million contribution to loss and damage, and five major philanthropies promising to kick start a Loss and Damage Facility with $3 million of funding, if countries could agree to a finance facility. While the facility never came off, these stirrings show that loss and damage is well and truly on the diplomatic agenda.
The road to COP27
For the Chairs of the LDC Group and AOSIS, this year’s climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh needs to deliver on four areas: meeting the $100 billion in climate finance, putting in place concrete plans for doubling adaptation finance, increasing support for loss and damage, and setting emissions reductions in line with 1.5C.
“The IPCC reports give us some clear guidance: we need to increase action on the ground as far as adaptation is concerned. We need to see the decision taken to double adaptation finance in Glasgow as concrete, starting now. We also need to be sure that we are working to limit global warming to 1.5C – we are looking for rich countries to show that they are increasing ambition on mitigation. Rich countries must work positively with us to set up finance facilities for loss and damage. We need global solidarity on this – rich countries can’t leave us behind.” – Madeleine Diouf Sarr
When it comes to ways of getting commitments on these four areas, Ambassador Webson pointed towards the need for new thinking that cuts through:
“These issues of scale and balance must be bridged with both traditional and innovative financial instruments, including those that create fiscal space such as the ‘debt for climate’ swap and the issuance of bonds. We are also looking forward to progressing the discussion on decarbonising finance flows.”Ambassador Webson
The IPCC reports are the latest in a series of stark warnings from the global scientific community, showing what’s at stake if the world fails to cut emissions rapidly and embrace transformational adaptation to the effects of climate change. Climate-vulnerable countries already see climate change devastating livelihoods and driving down GDP. For the leaders of the most climate vulnerable countries, success at COP27 isn’t a nice to have, it’s an existential imperative.
“This is a disaster – a disaster brought on by climate change. And I don’t know how much more we need to emphasise that.” – Ambassador Webson
Article by Charlie Zajicek, for CASA