Forest fire wildfire at night time on the mountain with big smoke in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Forest fire wildfire at night time on the mountain in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Now is the UK’s opportunity to lead on climate justice and development

Climate change is setting back global progress in sustainable development and poverty reduction, while increasing countries’ debt and fragility.

Covid-19 and related crises have further compounded people’s and planet’s vulnerabilities, so government action has never been more urgent.

Tomorrow, the UK will be hosting countries from around the world at a Climate and Development Ministerial meeting. This is billed as an opportunity to discuss critical measures to overcome barriers preventing climate vulnerable countries from implementing the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This ministerial meeting needs to deliver on the priorities for low and middle-income countries. The meeting must result in a clear set of concrete actions to address the most critical challenges and deliver climate justice.

What the UK can do

This year, the UK is the official host of the ministerial event, the G7 Summit and the UN Climate Change negotiations (COP26). Ahead of the ministerial meeting, NGOs are calling on the UK, as host, to:

  1. Honour the UK’s legally binding commitment to 0.7% of GNI for official development assistance (ODA).
  2. Appoint a loss and damage champion, and deliver a clear strategy to deliver action at COP26 on addressing loss and damage as a result of climate change impacts.
  3. Support the UN secretary general’s call for all countries and multilateral development banks to commit by COP26to allocating at least half of their climate finance to adaptation.

Reversing the aid cuts is vital for the UK’s credibility as host of COP26. The UK is reducing the ODA budget, while at the same time drawing on it as the only source of climate finance, which was negotiated in good faith as finance that would be “new and additional” to pre-existing commitments to 0.7%. The aid cuts will inevitably harm the most vulnerable in society and push huge numbers of people (back) into poverty.

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To date, the UK has not supported countries most vulnerable to climate change on loss and damage in the international climate change negotiations. Failure to advance action more than five years on from the Paris Agreement risks vulnerable countries losing faith in COP26. This has to become a priority of the UK COP26 presidency.

Loss and damage refers to the irreversible impacts of climate change on people and nature, where adaptation has not occurred or is not sufficient to withstand the impacts. Climate change is costly, deadly and hits hardest those who are least responsible for causing it. Low-income countries are exposed to some of the most severe climate impacts, yet have the least capacity to adapt and resources to recover from the loss and damage caused by devastating floods, droughts, heatwaves, cyclones, and rising sea levels.

With limited available options, countries are forced into even greater debt to address the losses and damage suffered, thus exacerbating the cycle of poverty. In January, Mozambique was hit by Storm Eloise, which killed more than 1,000 people, destroyed 100,000 homes, and flooded thousands of hectares of crops. At that point, the country had yet to recover from Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019, which pushed its public debt to almost 110% of its GDP. Indebtedness caused by climate change impacts has to stop.

Increasing finance for adaptation is also urgent and vital. Despite global commitments to provide a balance of climate finance between adaptation and mitigation, funding for adaptation continues to lag significantly behind, leaving the most climate vulnerable people at risk. A breakthrough on adaptation finance is a critical outcome for COP26.

The UK fulfils its obligation to provide half of climate finance for adaptation. But, as COP26 president, the UK needs to go further. The UK should support the UN secretary general’s recent call for all donors and multilateral development banks to provide at least half of climate finance for adaptation.

The UK must take these immediate and impactful actions to shape the agenda being discussed with countries from around the world. Civil society is clear that now is not the time for the UK to renege on its promises to the most vulnerable. Rather, the UK should redouble efforts and lead from the front on commitments to leave no one behind.

4 outcomes we want to see from the ministerial

The event must provide concrete actions across all four themes of the summit on the quality and quantity of climate finance, access to finance, responding to impacts, and fiscal space and debt sustainability. These all require a critical goal: in 2021, international finance flows must contribute to social justice, increased solidarity, and trust.

International civil society is calling for the following outcomes from the ministerial:

  1. Demonstrate clear commitment by US, Canada, Germany, Japan, France, Italy and other contributor countries to announce, before COP26, new pledges for increasing climate finance right now and over the next five years, and to dedicate at least half to adaptation.
  2. Commit to helping low and middle-income countries to achieve green and fair recoveries, particularly by providing public climate finance that helps countries transition away from fossil fuels.
  3. Announce the way forward towards additional support to address loss and damage from climate impacts.
  4. Make explicit commitment in the chair’s summary by both contributors and recipients, that programmes are implemented in a socially-just and locally-led way, including through strengthening gender equality and women’s leadership, inclusiveness, and truly participatory approaches.

Read the report from Bond Development and Environment Group 2021: A supercharged year for accelerating climate change adaptation