HUMANITY’S unrelenting onslaught against nature has turned catastrophic. Nature is striking back with floods, heatwaves, cyclones and droughts. Environmental disasters, spurred by human-induced climate change, are battering economies, and pushing millions of people into poverty. Poor countries are on the front lines of a war they did not start.
Historically, the industrialised Global North was the major contributor to global warming through its unfettered carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Even today, 80 per cent of global greenhouse gases come from the 20 largest economies. In contrast, the world’s 46 least developed countries, home to 14pc of the global population, account for just 1pc of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. Africa, with 16pc of the global population, produces 3.8pc of annual carbon emissions.
Against the backdrop of growing carbon emissions, the world is at risk of sliding deeper into the morass of a planetary crisis. Poor nations are suffering the most because they are least prepared to absorb the impact of climate change and least equipped to safeguard against environmental disasters.
The long-term economic costs of the slow onset effects of climate change go far beyond the immediate losses incurred due to extreme weather events. Degradation of lands and ecosystems reduce agricultural yields. Changing weather patterns result in crop failures leading to food insecurity. Zoonotic diseases are linked to loss of biodiversity.
Immediate financial relief for climate disasters is needed.
The intensity and frequency of environmental disasters and their devasting impact on developing countries has brought the issue of climate justice into renewed focus. Debate has intensified about financial support to the developing countries affected by climate change-induced natural disasters. The demand is not new.
Developing countries have sought a balanced appropriation of climate finance between mitigation and adaptation. To develop resilience to climate change, they call for ‘new and additional financial resources’ from the industrialised rich nations by invoking the principle of historical responsibility. This demand was reiterated in September by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment and the Alliance of Small Island States, both of which represent large groups of vulnerable countries.
UNEP estimates puts the adaption costs in the range of $140 billion to $300bn per year by 2030 and $280bn to $500bn by 2050 for developing countries. The 2009 pledge by rich countries to mobilise by 2020 $100bn annually is off the target and behind the timeline by three years.
To fill the gap between public adaptation finance flows and adaptation costs of developing countries, the Glasgow Climate Pact adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) last year, encouraged developed countries to “at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation”. But the question of compensation is separate from finances for adaptation. An arrangement for loss and damage is yet to be discussed and agreed by the Climate Convention.
It will require political commitment at the highest levels to implement existing agreements on enhancing funds for adaptation and secure a new funding mechanism for loss and damage.
Meanwhile, countries devastated by floods, droughts and hurricanes need urgent support. UN Secretary General António Guterres has repeatedly pleaded for immediate financial relief for climate disasters including debt swaps with IFIs and other donors as it was a “matter of justice and not generosity”. This is a win-win formula for enabling poor and middle-income countries to invest in sustainable and resilient infrastructure and transition to green their economies.
During his visit to Pakistan amidst the floods, the UN head remarked that “wealthier countries are morally responsible for helping developing countries like Pakistan to recover from disasters like this, and to adapt to build resilience to climate impacts that unfortunately will be repeated in the future”.
The rising trajectory of environmental disasters spells doom for poor countries and communities. Unless tackled timely through intergenerational climate action, it will blunt efforts to alleviate poverty and achieve sustainable development.
The COP27 meeting in Egypt next month will be an opportunity for the international community to exhibit solidarity with the poor and prepare a level playing field for urgent climate action which also addresses the different layers of injustice and inequality linked to the climate crisis.
For Pakistan, which currently holds the presidency of the group of developing countries, COP27 will be a double test of its diplomacy to make a convincing case for enhancing climate finance, including loss and damage, and to positively contribute to a successful outcome of the meeting in Sharm el Sheikh.
The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2022