ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Thursday October 29, 2015 – Money matters. It will matter a great deal when representatives of about 200 countries meet in Paris from 1 to 11 December to try, yet again, to settle a universally acceptable deal on climate change.
The issues will boil down to how much money it will take to meet the challenges of climate change and who will pay. There is already a commitment to the “goal” of mobilising US$100 billion per year by 2020. But the operative word is “goal”. There is, as yet, no solid commitment to actually delivering US$100 billion which has been described as “peanuts” by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Ms Figueres is also reported as saying, “There is no credible road map to the $100 billion.”
Of even greater significance is that there is no internationally agreed definition of what is climate finance. The Copenhagen Accord promised “additional” funds, but it is well known that many rich countries are shifting around other aid to include them as climate change assistance. The effect of this is that developed countries might notionally reach a figure of US$100 million by 2030, but they would have done so by creative accounting with a deleterious effect on other aid programmes.
Rajiv Shah, who once headed the United States Agency for International Development, makes the valid point that “While there is a lot of overlap between the climate and development, it is not the same thing.” He adds the cogent observation that “if we start cutting vaccines for poor countries to meet climate obligations, we will be doing a disservice to the world.”
But, even on existing commitments, efforts are in play to cut them back. In the United States of America, for instance, while last year President Barack Obama promised US$3 billion to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, Republicans in Congress are striving to block it. For example, the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, in June, debated a bill that eliminated funding for the Green Climate Fund, the Strategic Climate Fund, and the Clean Technology Fund. Undoubtedly, behind these efforts are fossil fuel producers who have long made huge profits on the back of pollution and dangerous carbon emissions. The last thing they want is increased investment in clean energy solutions such as solar, wind and geothermal power. Of course, to the extent that developed countries do not put up the finance to help developing countries to switch from a heavy reliance on fossil fuels to clean energy, the fossil fuel producers continue to dominate their energy sectors.
Rich countries favour vague wording on commitments to deliver finance, causing distrust by developing states. A report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development on October 7 claimed that climate finance totalled US$62 billion in 2014, but developing countries, particularly the Group of 77 and China (now actually 137 countries) questioned the veracity of the report, making the point that, not the first time, the organisation had produced an arbitrary report with no consultation with developing nations.
Indeed, in the entire climate change debate, developing nations including those in the Alliance of Small Island States say their views are often ignored. Yet, these are the countries that are most at risk from climate change.
Like nations much larger and richer than they are, small island states are required to make commitment to adaptation and mitigation targets. But the cost of reaching these targets is huge particularly for countries whose debt levels are already high and which are denied access to concessional financing because of IMF and World Bank criteria that lists them as middle income. Small states, especially those in the Caribbean, have repeatedly questioned the basis for denying them access to concessional funds, stressing that without such funding they are condemned to either to high commercial debt or a steady decline in their economies. In the context of climate change financing, even if the promised US$100 billion is achieved by 2030, the question arises about what restrictions will be placed on access to it.
These are real concerns. Small states cannot finance the cost of mitigation and adaptation from their own limited resources. Many of them have had to make commitments for major projects by 2025 and 2030 but with the clear caveat that the international community must provide the financing and not, as France wants to do, on a loan basis.
Take, for example, Antigua and Barbuda which has indicated that it would like to: increase seawater desalination capacity by 50% above 2015 levels; improve all buildings by 2030 to ensure they are prepared for extreme climate events, including drought, flooding and hurricanes; ensuring that by 2030, 100% of electricity demand in the water sector and other essential services (including health, food storage and emergency services) will be met through off‐grid renewable sources. The costs associated with this small part of what Antigua and Barbuda is required to achieve are beyond the country’s means. The same observation is true for other small states in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Africa and the Indian Ocean. For them, this additional burden of costs should be morally unjustifiable to the rich countries since these small states contribute the least to pollution but are its worst victims.
When the representatives of over 200 countries meet in Paris in December, the success of the Conference will be measured by whether or not machinery is firmly established for delivering the money needed for adaptation and mitigation – and for delivery without burdensome conditionalities.
It’s now all down to money. Small states will have to be united and firm in Paris if the conference is to be a success for them. Before that they have a chance at the Commonwealth Summit in Malta immediately before Paris to concretize their position and solicit the support of influential governments, such as the new Canadian administration of Justin Trudeau who has made it clear that he treats the threats of climate change seriously.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sir Ronald Sanders. Sir Ronald Sanders is an Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University and Massey College, Toronto University. He is also a candidate for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General.