Climate mitigation fails, adaptation limited, and loss and damage unavoidable – cooperation needed now more than ever!
Dr. Nfamara Dampha is a Research Scientist in Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services at IonE. He catalyzes the UMN/IonE community of faculty, staff, and students toward high-impact interdisciplinary research with the Natural Capital Project. Overall, he seeks to strengthen IonE and NatCap’s partnership with local and international stakeholders to advance natural capital accounting and ecosystem service assessment and valuation to inform decision-making for building a sustainable future.
Self interrogation – Is climate financing a form of charity or development assistance?
What obligations do you and I owe to those overburdened by climate change impacts? Are we doing enough to take immediate climate action now to mitigate climate risk impacts? Do you see climate action as an ethical and a moral duty, we owe to developing countries and generations yet unborn? Who should pay for climate loss and damage, how much should be paid, and who should receive it now and later? Is climate financing a form of charity or foreign aid or development assistance? Do you perceive climate justice a human rights matter? Who speaks and who listens to the voiceless, the marginalized, the underserved, and the disadvantaged communities?
I traveled to Sharm El-Sheikh on November 9 to participate in the United Nations’ 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) on climate to ask and reflect on these questions and follow negotiations on matters related to mitigation, adaptation,and financing, including a funding arrangement for addressing climate-related loss and damage. Institute on the Environment (IonE) sponsors students, staff, and faculty of the University of Minnesota to witness this historic international gathering of nearly 40,000 participants.
COP27 was about “ambition” and “justice” – justice overshadows ambition in an Africa COP
Given the realization of climate justice demands on African soil, the discussion and agreement on establishing a loss and damage fund, overshadows negotiation processes and outcomes on rising mitigation ambition to keep 1.5 alive. Both developed and developing countries must drive ambition and justice equally. Justice recognized is justice delivered, justice delayed is justice denied.
Make no mistake, increasing mitigation ambition must come from all nations, especially from higher emitters and emerging economies including US, China, India, EU, etc. Heading to COP27, I personally believe in the cardinal principle of climate justice as outlined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which clearly stated that “the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions.”
The terms and conditions of global cooperation on climate mitigation, adaptation, financing, resilience, and loss and damage are negotiated at the COP meetings. Since world leaders signed the UNFCCC in 1992 and the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21 in 2015, climate negotiations have been focusing on the implementation and accountability modalities of various articles of the Paris Agreement (CMA) as well as preceding (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol) and succeeding (e.g., the Glasgow Climate Pact) agreements signed by Parties. For instance, the Paris Agreement outlines key matters which remained central in the Sharm El-Sheikh negotiations. Upon following negotiations on these matters, I provided some reflective outcomes from COP27 as per the relevant articles of the CMA.
CMA: Article 2 – Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial level.
The mitigation efforts and goals set by countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are not ambitious enough to keep 1.5 alive, nor are they legally enforceable to hold countries accountable to their pledges. Modeled global emission pathways consistent with updated NDCs announced prior to COP27 will likely exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century. According to the IPCC, we need a legally binding agreement – similar to the Kyoto Protocol, which evidently led to reduced emissions in some countries and was instrumental in building national and international capacity for GHG reporting, accounting, and emissions trading. Can we push for a legally binding climate mitigation protocol at COP28 in UAE?
CMA: Article 5 – Conserving and enhancing carbon sinks, including using forests as carbon sinks
Natural ecosystems such as forests, soils, oceans, are the greatest reservoirs for carbon storage. Parties noted that nature-based decarbonization strategies are significantly needed and net zero or carbon neutrality by 2050 can’t be achieved in the absence of aggressive investments in natural climate solutions (NCS) and nature-based solutions (NBS). Developing country negotiators underscored the importance of recognizing the role of forests in staying below 1.5°C, while reminding others about IPCC’s findings that nature could help countries get back on track if taken seriously (IPCC). According to a recent study (Griscom et al., 2017), NCS can provide 37% (11 gigatons) of cost-effective mitigation needed to keep temperature below 2 °C. Parties recognized that nature can thrive with people and still allow co-production of essential ecosystem services. NBS are effective if they are properly implemented, scalable, and affordable relative to technological solutions. At COP27, President Biden highlighted the urgency to upscale NBS investment given that no technological development is required for NBS to serve as carbon sinks and offer co-benefits.
At the beginning day of COP27, more than 25 countries announced together to end deforestation by 2030 and promised to hold each other accountable. However, many developing countries lamented about the inadequate financing for the REDD+ program. While in the US, President Biden commits $20 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act for accessing nature-based solutions in the fight against climate change – mainly supporting climate-smart farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners as well as building climate resilience communities, restoring degraded ecosystem, and conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. How much has the US invested in NBS in developing countries as part of global cooperation for mitigation as stated under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement? I therefore encourage the Biden Administration to increase investments in NBS in developing countries, especially in Africa where the least financing is provided to meet the REDD+ program goals.
CMA: Article 6 – Pursuing voluntary cooperation to achieve emission reduction targets set out in their NDCs
The most contested Article of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP27 is perhaps Article 6 – which calls for voluntary cooperation for climate mitigation, adaptation, sustainability, and environmental integrity. Discussions centered on market-based mechanisms (international emissions trading, including Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation (JI), and land-based GHG removal mechanisms). Anything or everything on the nonmarket-based benefits of voluntary cooperation are discussed under matters related to non-market based mechanisms by the Glasgow Committee on Non-Market Approaches on internationally transferred mitigation and adaptation outcomes. They encourage Parties, public and private sector stakeholders, and civil society organizations to actively engage in the development and implementation of non-market approaches.
CMA: Article 7 – Promoting adaptation financing for strengthening climate resilience and reducing vulnerability
Developing country groups such as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS), African Group, Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and Group-77 plus China spent a lot of time negotiating and justifying the need for developed nations to fulfill the Copenhagen COP15 collective climate financing goal (USD 100 billion per year by 2020). As part of efforts to increase climate adaptation financing, some developed countries pledge additional funding to the Green Environment Facility (GEF) to strengthen climate adaptation in LDCs, SIDS, and AOSIS. The new pledges add to $413 million that 12 donor countries pledged to the LDCF at COP26.
The GEF programming strategy for the next four years anticipates that the LDCF will provide between $1 billion and $1.3 billion for LDCs, and that the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) will provide between $200 million to $400 million for Small Island Developing States and other climate-vulnerable developing states.
CMA: Decision related to Article 7- Parties agreed to setting a new collective quantified goal (NCQG) from a floor of USD 100 billion per year
According to the IPCC, annual financial flows for climate mitigation and adaptation increased by up to 60% between 2013/14 and 2019/20 (in USD 2015), but average growth has slowed since 2018. In 2018, public and publicly mobilized private climate finance flows from developed to developing countries were below USD 100 billion per year by 2020. Given the rising global adaptation needs, Parties decided, prior to 2025, to set a new collective quantified goal (NCQG) from a floor of USD 100 billion per year, considering the needs and priorities of developing countries.
CMA: Article 8 – Recognizing the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage
As climate mitigation efforts remain unambitious and climate adaptation efforts are limited, the world comes to an urgent realization to create a loss and damage fund for some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, including LDCs, SIDS, and AOSIS. Loss and damage was controversial, but remained central in the negotiations in Egypt.
Climate-induced loss and damage is addressed under the UNFCCC in several ways, including through the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), the Santiago Network for technical assistance, the Fiji Clearinghouse for Risk Transfer, and the Glasgow Dialogue, however none of these include funding arrangements from rich to poor nations, according to the Earth Negotiation Bulletin.
A day before the closing of COP27, developing country groups, including G77+China, LDCs, AOSIS, African Group, and others organized a press conference to pressure and express their disappointment of developed Parties inaction to establish a loss and damage fund. They collectively called on developed nations to fulfill their responsibility as stated under the UNFCCC, arguing that loss and damage is not foreign aid, rather an obligation which must be honored. For instance, Molwyn Joseph, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the AOSIS, “not establishing a loss and damage fund at COP27 is a betrayal and lack of political action.”
On the closing day of COP27, Parties, including EU and the US agreed to create a loss and damage fund to compensate poor, developing countries for climate devastation, after decades of opposition. While in Egypt, some countries reported loss and damage pledges to LDCs/SIDS including – Austria ($50m), Belgium ($2.5m for Mozambique), Denmark ($13m), Germany ($170m). Yes, this is still a small amount, but it’s a great start for admitting responsibility to address climate disasters and fulfill its historical justice demands in the poorest nations. This means a lot to advance the demands for climate justice.
In today’s persistent call for justice, one would think that fulfilling climate justice won’t be that controversial, unfortunately, it is, and there still remain skeptics who won’t agree to the obvious demand for climate equity and justice given the clarity of the scientific evidence on historical emission sources. Despite the creation of a loss and damage fund, much remains unaddressed – who should pay, when, how much, who benefits, and under what circumstances? Will other developed countries fulfill their obligations? Also, the proposed language says that countries would not be held legally liable for payments. Another rhetorical question to think about is – will loss and damage payment undermine climate adaptation efforts – proactive risk reduction strategies instead of reactive risk response mechanisms? How will it be differently sourced, provided, and implemented compared to climate adaptation funding mechanisms?
CMA: Article 9 – Investing in technological development and transfer for mitigation and adaptation
Investing in research, science, and technology development is vital for upscaling renewable energy deployment and a just energy transition, especially in developing countries. Africa alone has 40% of the world’s renewable energy potential, more than any other continent, yet the continent received the least investment in renewable energy technology deployment. At COP27, Egypt launched the Africa Just and Affordable Energy Transition Initiative (AJAETI) aimed at helping African countries secure access to affordable energy for at least 300 million Africans, transition 300 million Africans towards clean cooking fuels, and increase the share of renewable electricity generation in the continent by 25 percent by 2027.
At COP27, Parties recognized that without the support of developed countries, just transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient transformation would remain a distant dream for many developing countries especially in Africa. All noted that renewable energy technology has a crucial role to play in achieving the NDCs of all African nations and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. Speaking at the kicking off of COP27, the former US Vice-President Albert Al Gore said that Africa can “be a great power in the field of renewable energy.” According to IRENA, US$1 trillion is needed over the next 20 years to meet Africa’s power demand. In the US, President Biden’s climate pledges include committing billions of dollars to coordinate research so far on six key areas for energy transitions and climate mitigation: hydrogen, long-duration energy storage, carbon dioxide removal technologies, floating offshore wind, advanced geothermal, and industrial heat. Once again, I request the US to redouble its investment in clean energy technology development and deployment in developing countries, especially in Africa. Africa’s energy security guarantees the US’s national security and promotes international peace, justice and sustainability.
CMA: Article 11 – Providing capacity-building & Article 12 – Promoting climate change education, public awareness, participation and access to information
Climate adaptation efforts will be ineffective, meaningless, and unsustainable if local capacity of various state and non-state stakeholders are not strengthened. Any capacity building program or climate change education has to be anchored on local knowledge, which should be intentionally sought out and integrated into contemporary ways of knowing and sharing climate information.
Universities have a vital role for meeting Articles 11 and 12 of the Paris Agreement. Universities in developed countries like the University of Minnesota should contribute to sharing, building, and strengthening the technical capacity of stakeholders in developing countries. This is an ethical obligation of all such universities – given that many such universities are built on proceeds made from the exploitation of non-renewable natural resources and industrial activities which led to the emission of greenhouse gasses. In fact, universities are still emitting megatons of carbon from heating, cooling, and transportation, including travels.
To compensate for their contributions, universities in developed nations must provide financial support to students from developing countries to study climate change and sustainability matters, conduct joint scientific research with professors from other countries, and encourage student exchange programs between universities in developed and developing countries. According to the IPCC, only 1% of all climate research globally goes to African research institutions – thus establishing the urgency to support build technical capacity strengthening, knowledge sharing, and partnership between universities in developed countries with their counterparts in developing countries, especially in Africa.
I applaud the Institute on the Environment, at the University of Minnesota for prioritizing and sponsoring students from developing countries to attend COP27. The students learned COP proceedings, shared their knowledge, and added their voices to call for increased ambition and fulfilled climate justice sooner than later. For example, the students met bilaterally with senior negotiators from the Gambia and discussed the role of universities in supporting technical capacity strengthening in The Gambia and in other LDCs.