Counting the cost of the climate finance gap

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Recent research has laid bare the gulf between the commitments that wealthy countries have made to tackling the climate crisis, and the reality of what has been delivered. The ramifications of continued underfunding will be dire for climate-vulnerable communities. It’s now a climate justice issue, explains Plan International’s Critina Perez.

Here in El Salvador, we see the consequences of the climate finance funding gap every day. Even as we face multiple threats to lives and livelihoods, flooding remains one of the worst. Some communities are affected by floods up to four or five times a year. In the summer of 2020 the flooding caused by Hurricanes Amanda and Cristobal affected the lives of around 150,000 people in the country.

For communities in El Salvador, the climate crisis has devastating consequences – yet the country is responsible for a tiny fraction of the fossil fuel emissions that are contributing to climate change, and despite this has even committed to further reductions.

A recent report by ODI and Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance reveals that this is a matter of climate justice. The countries with the highest ability to pay, and who are historically most responsible for emissions, are not meeting their climate finance obligations. Until they do, countries like mine will continue to pay the price.

Graphic highlighting the shortfall in climate finance of the USA, Australia and Canada
Source: ODI

Falling short of fairness

As part of the Copenhagen Accord, produced in 2009 at COP15, developed countries committed to:

“a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance (UNFCCC, 2009).”

At subsequent COPs – Paris in 2015 and Katowice in 2018 – parties agreed to maintain the $100 billion a year target until 2025. Unfortunately, this target has been consistently missed, and is not expected to be met until 2023 at the earliest.

Accountability matters

While the loose wording of the $100 billion a year target was considered a necessary political compromise, it created challenges for accountability and equity. Divergent perspectives on what counts towards the goal have also subsequently fuelled disagreement. The report’s researchers based their calculations on three markers: gross national income (GNI), cumulative territorial emissions since 1990 and population size.

Using this method we can see only seven countries (Sweden, France, Norway, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark) provided and mobilised their fair share in 2020 and pledged the full amount up to 2025. Australia, Canada and the USA continue to fall massively short on international climate financem, with the USA only paying 5% of what it should. The UK is also behind, albeit to a lesser extent, and there is also a clear case for countries like Israel, Qatar and Singapore to start contributing based on their income and cumulative emissions.

Plan is working with communities in El Salvador to raise awareness of the dangers flood events pose, and what can be done to stay safe.

It’s about more than money

What must also be considered is the quality, and not just the quantity, of climate finance. Communities must be given the resources they need to adapt to climate-related hazards, and become more resilient to recurring crises.

It is also vitally important that the support reaches the local level. This is something all of us at the Alliance are passionate about, as we see the benefits of such an approach in our work across the world. Together with local partner organizations in El Salvador, Plan has founded community response committees and trained them in first aid and evacuation techniques.

We are also improving flood forecasting capacity, and ensuring that the correct information about flood risks reaches decision-makers at the national level, including the Ministry of Environment and the Directorate of Civil Protection. For real progress to be achieved, the voices of those most affected – of women, children, local leaders – must be heard.

By partnering with communities and influencing local authorities, we can achieve so much. However, more resources are urgently needed. Time is running out, and the wealthiest nations must redouble their efforts to ensure that they are contributing their fair share.

For more information, read ‘A fair share of climate finance? An appraisal of past performance, future pledges and prospective contributors’.

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