Wealthy Nations on Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Gap

Wealthy Nations on Climate Adaptation & Mitigation Gap

Back in 2009, the world's wealthiest countries promised to give poorer nations financial climate assistance to address climate change impacts and reduce emissions -- aiming for at least $100 billion a year jointly by 2020. The bargain was simple: these countries hadn’t created the crisis (to date), but were saddled with its impacts. Conversely, with rising emissions to meet increasing energy demands -- they could wind up making the crisis unbearable for all, including industrialized countries finally ratcheting down their own emissions.

Twelve years later, the promise to provide assistance to emerging economies remains unfulfilled: in 2019, the actual sum allocated was less than $80 billion. And, as Inside Climate News reports, there are plenty of other ways that wealthy nations haven’t been held accountable for their climate finance promises. There isn't an international definition for what a "climate action” project is, and there isn’t an assessment to determine whether or not projects are effective. Loans -- which need to be repaid -- made up an estimated 71% of all international climate finance, according to a 2019 study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development.

Why This Matters

First, because of fundamental fairness. Wealthy countries put the bulk of carbon, responsible for warming and warping planetary weather patterns, into the atmosphere. So they should share the responsibility of helping developing countries adapt to a changing world they didn’t create. However, with dollar amount targets unmet and a lack of clarity around what constitutes a contribution, countries who are already seeing climate change impacts are left feeling frustrated.

As Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Programme, told NPR earlier this month, "We are constantly being asked as developing nations to make higher commitments, and yet we see only limited progress in developed countries."

Second, leverage. If wealthy countries don't pony up, they have even less leverage to persuade developing economies to reduce emissions and eschew dirty forms of energy like coal and oil. If the developing world -- which is growing rapidly -- doesn't decarbonize, it will erase the progress being made by the developed world as it transitions away from the most polluting forms of energy.

Third, credibility. Most of the countries that still have not delivered on their adaptation and mitigation promises are democracies. And many have seen their domestic politics and budgets roiled during the 11-year period by everything from the Great Recession to rising neo-populism and isolationism. In other words, struggles at home make it harder to deliver overseas. The developing world takes notice, and hedges its bets between working with the West, or working with China, Russia, and authoritarian systems which can deliver commercial opportunities that don't come with a mandate to decarbonize.

Calls For A Third "Loss and Damage" Category

Right now, climate financing is generally divided between two buckets: adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation money goes toward projects that help a place prepare for the climate impacts already underway, like preparing a coastal city for sea level rise. Mitigation projects change systems to reduce future emissions, like swapping out a coal-fired power plant for a microgrid powered by solar energy. The global promise was a 50/50 split between the two types of funding, but in reality it's closer to 25/75, with the majority of money going into mitigation. That means that some places already experiencing devastating weather events amplified by climate change feel unable to adequately prepare for the next disaster.

It’s possible that these two categories are insufficient. Delegates from some countries have been raising the point that it’s too late for adaptation. They want a third category, "loss and damage," that would allow people to relocate once their homes are no longer inhabitable. For the most part, wealthy countries rejected the idea, although Scotland became the first country to donate to the new bucket.

"We firmly believe," Lia Nicholson, lead negotiator for Antigua and Barbuda said at the end of this year's COP, "that the new loss and damage finance facility will be adopted at the next COP."

Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung: Loss and damage - and who is paying for it?, December 16, 2016.