Marijke van Duin

Climate Finance Out Of The Box

25 July 2018

The Need To Share

Climate Finance Out Of The Box

This year, substantial decisions must be made in the international climate arena. The ‘gamerules’ for the Paris climate agreement will have to be determined, the so-called Paris Rulebook. The 24th UN climate conference in December in Katowice, Poland, will therefore be a very important summit.

In the 2015 Paris Agreement it was agreed to keep global warming as far as possible below 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees. To achieve this, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be drastically reduced. The gigantic measures involved are partly included in the NDCs: Nationally Determined Contributions, or national climate policy plans. All these plans must be adjusted every five years, in the sense of becoming more ambitious. How this should be done, which rules to use, will be set in the Paris Rulebook. Negotiations on the Rulebook have been going on since 2016 and are difficult. All countries will have to comply the same rules. But some countries are reluctant to make public their national climate policies – transparency is not self-evident everywhere.

As mentioned, the necessary measures are partly included in the NDCs: already now it is clear that these plans are far from sufficient to reach the Paris targets. The UN’s environmental agency, UNEP, publishes an annual report that calculates the extent of the ‘gap’ between wish and reality. The latest report, presented last November at the 23rd UN climate conference in Bonn, shows that even a rapid and complete reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions to zero will not be enough. We will have to actively extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in order to limit global warming adequately.

Another important report comes out next autumn: the special IPCC report on the 1.5 degree Celsius limit. The draft text is already known. It warns that the world will face a lot of suffering if that limit is exceeded.

Back to the Paris Rulebook. At stake are not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also climate finance. Climate change is happening much faster than even scientists expected, and especially poor countries*) are victim. They are suffering the ill effects in many ways, hence they demand financial compensation from the rich countries. But this meets with fierce resistance from the latter. The debate on this hot topic is being taken to the cutting edge and could lead to a breaking point in the negotiations. It is hoped that that will not happen.

How are countries affected?

1. Loss and damage. Due to natural disasters related to climate change, entire communities are being wiped out, economies disrupted and many people displaced. An example is hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. Many islanders in the Pacific have already left their homes; some will lose their traditions and culture. Affected poor countries require compensation and (financial) assistance with reconstruction.

2. Adaptation (adjustment). Because the climate changes so quickly, the need for adaptation is great. What can you do if previously good agricultural land becomes increasingly drier? How to survive when it gets hotter and hotter in your city? A lot of money is needed for the inevitable adaptation projects. Money that poor countries do not have.

3. Development. Many developing countries are still relying on coal, oil and gas for their further economic development. That path is cut off faster than anticipated: the use of fossil fuels must be phased out worldwide at short notice to keep the Paris targets more or less within reach. The rich countries have money for clean technology, the poor in general do not.

If the poor countries are not, or insufficiently, supported technologically and financially, they remain trapped in poverty. Should they continue to use fossil fuels anyway, and even increasingly, the efforts of the rich countries to reduce their emissions become rather pointless. Here is the big challenge the world faces: we need to address everything at once, or we will find ourselves engaged in a hopeless fight.

To what extent do the poor countries have the right to demand financial assistance? A short answer: the rich countries have caused the climate problem and continue to cause it for the time being. But that realization is by no means popular in these countries: any form of historical debt is categorically rejected by politics. So you read very little about it in these countries’ media.

In my opinion, it is no longer sensible to ignore this gigantic ‘climate’ friction in the world. We need not just talk about our domestic sustainability transition, however important it may be. We need to talk about the full picture: the populations of rich countries are entitled to it. It is simple: either we pay, both for our own sustainability transition, ánd for the compensation, support and responsible economic development of the poor countries. Or we don’t pay for the latter, in which case we will be complicit in chaos, great misery, millions of displaced persons, loss of species and destruction of nature.

Fortunately, paying can be done in different ways. One of those ways is sharing. This is of course totally alien to the Western economic model, which is based on the refusal to share. But in many other cultures sharing is the most common thing in the world. Let’s learn from that! By sharing clean products and technology, education and services, instead of marketing them according to business as usual, the sustainability transition will happen much faster all over the world.

Numerous forms of sharing are imaginable, varying from just giving to offering (much) lower prices: creative, innovative and efficient. Economic thinking and -policies will have to change drastically, but the alternative is the misery described above, plus most probably a worldwide, endless series of lawsuits. At the beginning of this year, New York City took a step in that direction by suing five major oil companies. If the UN climate negotiations do not lead to a fairly fair result, it is foreseeable that countries and companies will sue each other non-stop. Not to mention the growing danger of armed conflict.

In all those years in which I followed the climate circus I noticed one thing in particular: it turns out to be very difficult not to think in terms of ‘we’ and ‘they’. Apparently we are collectively so brainwashed by the Western competition model that the notions ‘common good’ and ‘common interest’ seem to have little meaning anymore. But when it comes to climate, there is no such thing as ‘self-interest’ versus ‘other people’s interests’. Everyone’s interest is also your and my own interest, because we have only one earth. It is high time we become truly and collectively aware of this reality.

Since recently there is an interesting model to aim for: the donut economy introduced by British economist Kate Raworth. A great model in which the earth’s natural limits are combined with worldwide sustainable prosperity. But again, for this to accomplish we need to learn to share. Before it is too late.

*) For the sake of readability this article speaks of ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ countries. In reality, the situation is more complex.

Marijke van Duin, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Marijke van Duin has been an observer at the UN climate negotiations for the World Council of Churches since 2000.