Push for climate-damage fund set to fall flat at UN talks

United Nations
United Nations

Aid experts and some poorer nations had hoped Madrid talks would back a new financing facility to repair harm from climate change – but it appears to be off the table

By Megan Rowling

MADRID (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From dying coral reefs to damaged wells and crops, island nations are experiencing severe harm from extreme weather and rising seas – but U.N. climate talks in Madrid are unlikely to deliver on demands for a new fund to help them.

Hussain Rasheed Hassan, environment minister of the low-lying Maldives, said that if the corals died around his Indian Ocean atoll country due to warming and acidifying seas, there would be nothing left to defend the land from voracious waves.

“Our people are paying a huge cost because some countries are dumping a huge amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the world’s oceans are getting warmer,” he said.

To keep out tidal waves and flooding, the Maldives will have to pay for sea walls and other protective measures, he said. For that, it will need to borrow money from banks, and pay interest.

Even though Hassan’s country has produced only a tiny fraction of the fossil fuel emissions driving climate change, “we have to beg some of these (big) emitters to provide money for us. Is that fair? Really, I don’t think so,” he told an event led by atoll states on the sidelines of the talks.

Other vulnerable countries, including African nations experiencing more intense droughts and floods, have pushed for concrete progress at the talks on providing fresh funding to help them deal with disasters and longer-term damage linked to global warming.

As the two-week negotiations began in early December, aid groups called for a financing facility to be set up in Madrid for that purpose.

But a text that is the basis for final negotiations among ministers this week does not include such a facility.

Blocked on that, developing countries have tabled an option for existing funds established under the U.N. negotiations – including the Green Climate Fund – to provide faster access to new money to help them address “slow onset events, comprehensive risk management, human mobility, and non-economic losses”.

That means, for example, financial assistance to relocate coastal dwellers whose homes are imperiled by crumbling shores and flooding, or farmers whose land has dried and degraded so much it can no longer sustain them.

Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change policy for charity ActionAid International, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the best that could be hoped for now in Madrid was the creation of an expert group to look into potential new sources of finance.

As well, a “Santiago Network on Addressing Loss and Damage” may be established, he said.

That could bring together U.N. agencies, aid groups, and others to work jointly to support climate-hit parts of the world such as Mozambique, an African nation still reeling after being battered by two powerful cyclones earlier this year.

“Outside this room, it is (climate) chaos,” Singh said. Within the negotiations, “we are not matching up to, or catching up with reality”, he added.

On Wednesday, about 200 climate activists – many young and from developing nations – were kicked out of the talks venue for trying to stage an unauthorized protest close to one of the main halls.

They said they wanted rich countries “to step up, pay up”.

“Future generations of impacted nations need you to pay up: climate reparations,” they sang.

Maria Jofresse, 25, holds a stuffed toy she received for her seventh birthday as she stands where her house stood, in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, outside the village of Cheia, which means "Flood" in Portuguese, near Beira, Mozambique, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Maria Jofresse, 25, holds a stuffed toy she received for her seventh birthday as she stands where her house stood, in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, outside the village of Cheia, which means “Flood” in Portuguese, near Beira, Mozambique, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The talks on how to cope with growing losses and damage from climate change have also been upset by an attempt by the United States to insert a waiver into the main decision that will come out of the Madrid conference.

It would say that the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), established in 2013 to look at ways to tackle losses, does not provide any basis for “liability or compensation”.

That language exists in regard to how the 2015 Paris Agreement is implemented, but the United States – which plans to leave the accord – wants to broaden its scope to the overarching U.N. climate change convention.

Washington is also trying to retain its right to a seat on the WIM’s committee, despite its planned exit from the Paris deal, according to an informal proposal seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The United States and some other developed countries argue financial needs created by climate damage could and should be met by existing climate funds and insurance – but the draft text language they have submitted on that is unspecific about how.

“We may not agree with all of the proposals made at this meeting but we are fully engaged,” said a U.S. official at the talks, speaking on the loss and damage discussions.

Sven Harmeling, global policy lead on climate change for charity CARE International, said at-risk people were relying on leaders in Madrid to mobilize “new and additional finance” to protect them from climate loss and damage.

The humanitarian agency called on the European Union, Canada, Norway and others “to stand by the vulnerable and resist pressure by those seeking to obstruct the prospect of support, such as the United States”.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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