The UN’s climate change conference in Bonn, Germany — a dress rehearsal for the COP27 climate powwow happening in Egypt in November — has been a war of words in terms of who pays for climate disasters.
Focused on loss and damage, adaptation, climate finance and plans to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the two-week conference that began this week refocuses one particular theme left unresolved at the Glasgow climate summit: How to make rich, historical high emitting nations foot the bill for the climate-related loss and damage being inflicted on poor, vulnerable communities.
The fact that the annual per capita carbon footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 was around 0.1 tons, as opposed to Australia, Canada and the US where it is up to 17 tons, has amplified calls for climate justice.
Horn of Africa nations Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan are together responsible for only 0.1% of global emissions, according to a report by the Kenya-headquartered charity, Oxfam International, that was released this week. Yet climate impacts in the region, including a long and crippling drought, have been catastrophic for millions of inhabitants.
Climate vulnerable nations suffering from extreme weather say adaptation is only part of the problem and are demanding money for the damage already caused.
Meanwhile, the US — the highest historical greenhouse gas emitter — refuses to admit liability, or commitment to a loss and damage finance mechanism.
That is why an emerging economy like India, with relatively low two tons of per capita emissions, said it would not update its climate targets at the Glasgow climate summit unless it is promised $1 trillion for loss and damages by 2030.
But will the planet burn as countries wait for payouts before making emission cuts?
Here are 4 nations who are making their compensation case in Bonn before the business of implementation begins in Africa in November this year.
India is a top ten historical emitter of CO2, even if its per capita emissions are around eight times fewer than richer nations like the US and Australia.
The country with the world’s second highest population has been vocal about the need for developed nations to compensate it for worsening climate impacts — including more frequent, severe and earlier heatwaves, water scarcity and rising seas levels.
At the last climate summit in Glasgow, India had stressed it would only update its climate targets once rich nations paid up $1 trillion.
Prime minister Narendra Modi did finally pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, and to reduce CO2 emissions and generate 50% of energy with renewables by decade’s end.
But in a country that generates 70% of its power with coal, its current climate targets and policies are still rated “insufficient” by climate think tank, Climate Action Tracker (CAT).
India refuses to phase out coal power, saying it will only commit to a “phase down” as renewables come on board. The country lobbied for this language in an effort to water down the Glasgow Climate Pact at the last minute, leaving some activists in tears.
As India is an emerging economy it cannot “compromise on development,” said Indian environment and climate change minister, Bhupender Yadav, in the lead-up to the Bonn conference.
He insists that developed nations must commit climate finances for India to adapt to climate change, even if the South Asian powerhouse is likely to remain the world’s third highest annual carbon emitter.
Drought-stricken Somalia is arguably the most impacted in the world by climate change as thousands of camps house people displaced by extreme flooding and drought.
After the worst locust plague in 25 years destroyed crops and livelihoods in 2021, already poor and displaced people have become increasingly vulnerable amid an ongoing civil war. Few have the resources to eat, let alone adapt to climate change, as the worst drought in a decade increases malnutrition and threatens a famine.
A report by UK-based policy institute, Chatham House, says immediate funding is needed for climate adaptation in a country on the front line of climate change.
The report details how international donors helped locals repair a small dam in a displacement camp in central Somalia. Opening a canal to release river water secured drinking water but also helped small businesses to trade again.
But such local adaptation investments are “only a fraction of what is needed to avert the worst climate disasters,” wrote the Chatham House authors.
Based on the principle of climate justice, they add that “equity demands developed countries increase commitments to, and the accessibility of, climate finance for vulnerable communities.”
Climate-induced drought in Somalia and across East Asia has created the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the last 40 years
The Central American country consistently suffers extreme weather events including drought and storms and ranks ninth in the world for level of risk to climate change impacts, according to the World Bank.These impacts are worsened by increasing deforestation and slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture that degrades land and over-exploits scarce water resources.
As the climate crisis worsens, many men migrate and seek work in other countries like the US, meaning Guatemalan women have become central to addressing loss and damage.
As described in the Oxfam International report, “Footing the Bill,” Heidy Ramirez, who lost her home and crops after her village was destroyed by storms in 2020, is struggling to obtain resources for the climate emergency committee she established.
“We need waistcoats, life jackets, lamps, radios, backpacks, boats,” she said of getting prepared for the next climate disaster. “At the moment we don’t have anything.”
Like India, South Africa is a large emerging economy that is heavily reliant on fossil fuels while also struggling to combat climate change — it is also Africa’s biggest CO2 emitter.
Some 400 people were killed in April in the east of the country when extreme rainfall caused devastating flooding and landslides. One study identified climate as the likely culprit. Damages are already in the billions.
With 90% of climate funding committed to mitigation, developing countries like South Africa want more money to help adapt to the climate crisis, but also to break an addiction to coal that powers nearly all of the energy grid.
Indeed, the US and several European nations, including Germany, pledged $8.5 billion (€7.3 billion) to help South Africa phase out coal, expand renewable energy sources and provide green jobs.
After the deal was done at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called it a “watershed moment” for South Africa and the world.
“It is proof that we can take ambitious climate action while increasing our energy security, creating jobs and harnessing new opportunities for investment, with support from developed countries,” said Ramaphosa.
If South Africa can negotiate more finance in Bonn, and increase its climate ambition at COP27, it could be a model of a just transition.
Edited by: Sarah Steffen
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