UN talks tangle over cash to ease climate pain for poor

Developing countries may not get the cash they need to deal with worsening droughts, floods, storms and sea-level rise.

Kids play on their bilibili or traditional raft made from lashed together bamboo, just outside of Lami, west of Suva in Fiji
Kids play on a raft outside of Lami, west of Suva in Fiji. The island nation is being threatened by rising sea levels as a result of climate change. Image: Nick Hobgood, CC BY-NC 2.0

The Marrakesh climate talks may not deliver the substantial boost in international funding poorer countries need to cope with worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas brought by climate change, negotiators and development agencies fear.

Negotiators sparred on Thursday over the future of the Adaptation Fund to help vulnerable communities cope with climate change, which was set up under the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty preceding the new Paris Agreement.

There was also disagreement over how strong a commitment rich countries were prepared to make on funding for developing nations to adapt to a warmer planet in the coming years.

Bomo Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister, said governments would continue searching for solutions to those issues at the UN negotiations, which are due to end on Friday.

“The adaptation matter is very important for developing countries,” she told journalists.

Some developed nations do not want to take an immediate decision to secure the Adaptation Fund’s future under the Paris Agreement, which took effect on November 4.

They point to a proliferation of climate funds, and the legal questions that would have to be addressed to transfer where the fund sits, given the Kyoto Protocol runs until 2020.

The United States has not contributed to the Adaptation Fund up to now because it did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

This adaptation finance gap was unfinished business back in Paris, and the Marrakesh talks seem to be just kicking it down the road once more.

Jan Kowalzig, Oxfam Germany

A levy on the protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which backs clean energy projects in the developing world by selling the carbon credits they generate, provided some cash for the Adaptation Fund, but that dried up as carbon prices fell.

There was some good news in Marrakesh Thursday as the fund topped an US$80 million goal to raise funds from donors, with contributions from Germany, Sweden, Italy and two Belgian regions.

Development experts at the talks welcomed the new pledges.

But they say tens of billions of dollars are already needed for adaptation each year - and that figure could rise to between US$140 billion and US$300 billion annually in 2030, according to the UN Environment Programme.

“This adaptation finance gap was unfinished business back in Paris, and the Marrakesh talks seem to be just kicking it down the road once more,” said Jan Kowalzig of Oxfam Germany.

Developing countries have made consistent and impassioned pleas in Marrakesh for more financing to help them adjust to intensifying climate shifts - but so far those pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears, experts said.

On Wednesday, Frank Bainimarama, prime minister of the Pacific island nation of Fiji, spoke of the “terrifying new era we face because of climate change”, after a powerful cyclone this year wiped out one-fifth of his country’s GDP.

Fiji needs access to finance so it can adapt to climate change effects, through measures such as strengthening homes and infrastructure, burying power lines and relocating people, he said.

He criticised the current level of international funding for poorer nations to adapt to climate pressures as “woefully inadequate”.

Funding imbalance

According to a recent “roadmap” from wealthy nations outlining how they will mobilise the annual US$100 billion in overall climate funding they have promised by 2020, the amount allocated specifically for adaptation in 2013 and 2014 was almost US$10 billion per year, or around 16 per cent of the total.

The latest UN estimate puts the share of climate finance going to adaptation somewhat higher, at 25 per cent.

The donors’ roadmap projects the amount of international funding for adaptation will at least double in volume by 2020.

But that would still fall well short of the “balance” in funding between adaptation measures and emissions-cutting steps recommended in the climate accord crafted in Paris last year.

“Doubling is not enough,” said Lutz Weischer of the think tank Germanwatch. “We need to scale it up much more aggressively.”

Developing countries want a quadrupling of adaptation funding from current levels, and had hoped rich states would respond to that call at the Marrakesh talks, which end on Friday. But climate finance experts say that seems unlikely.

Zambian president Edgar Lungu said on Wednesday the least developed countries were being left “with far too little support, and adaptation needs continue to be neglected rather than prioritised”. The difficulty such countries have in attracting private sector investment for adaptation makes matter worse, he added.

Fiji is doing what it can to tackle climate change with its own resources, its prime minister said, improving building codes and better equipping communities to withstand shocks. But it needs more money in the form of grants, he added.

“It is high time to rearrange global spending priorities in the direction of those nations that are most at risk,” he said.

Liz Gallagher, a senior associate with sustainable development thinktank E3G, said adaptation finance was “the elephant in the room” in Marrakesh, and predicted discussions on the issue would remain heated until the end of the meeting.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change, told journalists on Thursday that developed countries should honour their commitments on climate finance.

“If we have mutual trust… we will be able to solve this problem,” he said. “If we cannot solve it at this (meeting), we can find solutions in the next few sessions.”

This story is published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org.

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