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Front-Line Nations Issue Urgent Call for Support as International Climate Finance Falls Short

Typhoon Haiyan/ DFID - UK Department for International Development/Wikimedia Commons

Vulnerable nations on the front lines of the climate crisis are flagging the urgent need for support in the face of wild weather and rising seas, just as a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) quietly acknowledges that 74% of the climate finance flowing to developing countries in 2018 took the form of loans, not grants.

In a recent post for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, ActionAid global climate lead Harjeet Singh points [1] to the superstorms hitting the Philippines and Vietnam, nearly 30 years after small island states first began talking about the compensation they should be entitled to for unavoidable loss and damage [2] due to climate change. The two countries “are among the most prepared nations for tropical storm season, with effective early warning systems and life-saving evacuation plans,” he writes. “But even they are struggling to cope with the increasing intensity and frequency of climate disasters, and the devastating toll they take.”

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Just one storm, Typhoon Molave, has brought death and destruction to both countries and produced an estimated US$430 million in economic loses in Vietnam alone. “Yet the global community continues to come up short when it comes to supporting the countries on the front line of the climate crisis, particularly the rich nations most responsible for the emergency.”

After Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines seven years ago, triggering hunger strikes to draw attention to the crisis during the 2013 United Nations climate conference in Warsaw, delegates adopted an “international mechanism” to support countries facing extreme, slow-onset climate disasters [4]. But seven years later, “in the face of rising global temperatures, unprecedented wildfires, increasingly frequent and severe super storms, flooding, sea level rise, and drought, the [Warsaw International Mechanism] continues to hold technical meetings that amount to paper-pushing exercises,” Singh writes. “Rich countries have continued to bully the committee members representing developing nations by blocking progress on financial support. Meanwhile, climate survivors in the most vulnerable countries, those who have done the least to cause the climate crisis, are left to fend for themselves.”

Singh’s opinion piece links to a 2019 analysis by Action Aid [5] that looks at different funding mechanisms to cover the “soaring costs of loss and damage” and weighs them against human rights criteria.

While loss and damage is just one urgent but specialized piece of the bigger climate finance puzzle, the bigger picture isn’t much better. At the 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen, rich countries promised to hit a threshold of $100 billion per year in climate finance for the developing world by this year. The OECD’s latest figures show an 11% increase in 2018, but to a total of only $78.9 billion, The National reports [6], still far short of the target.

“Donors need to urgently step up their efforts to support developing countries to respond to the immediate effects of the pandemic and to integrate climate actions into each country’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to drive sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economic growth,” said OECD Secretary-General José Angel Gurría.

In contrast to persistent calls for international finance to emphasize climate change adaptation, on a par with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the OECD found that 70% of the financing in 2018 went to mitigation. Nearly 70% went to middle-income countries, compared to only 8% to the poorest. And of the $62.2 billion that came from government sources, 74% took the form of loans, a sharp increase from 52% in 2013.

At past UN climate conferences, the OECD has come under fire [7] for calculating climate finance in a way that sees no obvious problem with asking developing countries to repay loans to the world’s richest economies, when those lenders produced the lion’s share of the emissions that caused the climate crisis.