At COP26, climate finance is a matter of justice

At COP26, the countries of the South are calling for the establishment of a financial framework to help them cope with the consequences of climate change. As the end of the conference approaches, negotiations remain tense and hopes of finding a satisfactory consensus are diminishing.
Written by | 10 November 2021 | reading-duration 5 minutes

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Global warming is well underway - an increase of 2.4°C is expected by the end of the century - and with it the frequency and intensity of extreme weather phenomena. In Tunisia, these are already a reality: In 2018, the city of Nabeul was hit by floods that would make history, counting 6 deaths and damages amounting to tens of millions of dinars. 

Even if it is difficult to establish a direct link between this particular episode and climate change, one thing is certain:  "there will be other, much larger disasters like this one", says Nidhal Attia, a member of the Tunisian COP26 delegation in Glasgow. For each additional degree Celsius that is recorded, extreme daily precipitation events increase by about 7%*, according to the latest IPCC report published in August 2021.  

"Faced with these climate threats, we have no choice but to prepare and adapt", warns the Tunisian delegate. Adaptation brings together all the measures that aim to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of countries and populations to the effects of climate change, by building more resilient societies in the face of the threats. The financing of this adaptation is one of the thorniest issues at COP26.

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"Adaptation is protection. 
Tunisia is not ready"

Dealing with the consequences of climate change is not just a matter of building embankments against rising sea levels, Nidhal Attia explains. "New infrastructure projects must take the climate into account, so that our roads, electricity networks and agricultural systems are prepared to survive heat waves and floods." It is also a question of preparing the populations to react to extreme climate conditions: "During the record heat waves this summer, we behaved as if the temperatures were normal, when in fact we lost lives because of this wave."  

To this day, no adaptation plan has been established in Tunisia, merely a national resilience strategy. "We are asking for funds to be able to adapt to climate change, but we have no outlook on the issue, it's paradoxical", says Nidhal Attia. "All this requires capacity building", explains Mohamed Zmerli, head of the Tunisian delegation in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, another contradiction arises: while Tunisia is a country with very low carbon emissions (0.07% of global emissions) the country has committed to a drastic fight against its carbon intensity, with a reduction of 45% by 2030, in its latest Nationally Determined Contribution. 

As a result, most of the estimated needs are directed towards mitigation (reducing emissions), not adaptation, which accounts for only 22% of the budget. "This imbalance is unjustifiable", says Nidhal Attia. "We are not ready to face what lies ahead, but we continue to pretend." 

Enforcing the climate debt 

To finance this adaptation, the needs are enormous: the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates the costs of adaptation for developing countries alone at nearly 300 billion dollars per year by 2030, and nearly 500 billion by 2050. 

"Vulnerable countries are on the front line of climate change caused by the development of Northern countries. These states are indebted to us, it is a question of climate justice", defends Nidhal Attia.   

At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries pledged to raise $100 billion (public funding) per year until 2020, in order to help developing countries tackle climate change. More than 10 years later, "the numbers aren't there", notes the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which brings together 48 countries that are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, including Tunisia. 

In 2019, wealthy countries provided merely 79.6 billion dollars in climate aid to developing countries, two-thirds of which went to emission reduction projects, making adaptation a "orphaned subject", as Nidhal Attia laments. 

In Glasgow, these countries are currently being held accountable. From the point of view of African countries (which are among the most vulnerable to climate change, even though they are responsible for barely 3% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions), the issue of financing adaptation is considered to be "the major challenge of this global meeting".

Vulnerable countries are also seeking recognition of the "loss and damage*" that they are suffering through as a result of the raging natural elements, the costs of which are estimated at between $290 billion and $580 billion per year by 2030. Negotiations began at the start of COP26 on October 31, 2021 and remain tense. 

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Climate Financing: The crux of the matter

This technical topic in itself crystallises the sensitive issues at stake in this COP: the questions of inequality between developed and developing countries in the face of global disruption, the "shared but differentiated" responsibilities with regards to the climate, and consequently the debt owed by the countries of the North to those of the South... 

"Talking about adaptation is what allows us to fight inequality. We cannot find solutions to climate change without tackling the issue of inequality", declared Andrea Meza, Minister of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica, the "champion of adaptation", on November 8, 2021. 

Since the beginning of the discussions, the various parties have clashed on this thorny issue. "The big problem is that the countries have still not agreed on a clear definition of climate finance", explains Adel Ben Youssef, a regular at climate negotiations and member of the Tunisian delegation. "The countries of the North are very reluctant to give a definition, the vagueness is convenient for them."

So far, the United States and other Western states have been reluctant to acknowledge their historical responsibility for climate damage, and are blocking the legal process. According to a source with access to the negotiations, the European Union is also reportedly blocking, seeing the issue of financing as "problematic given that there is no comprehensive adaptation plan". "But they have done everything to ensure that this plan does not see the light of day", says the same source.

The position of developing countries, including the African Group, is firm: this funding must be in the form of grants, not loans, and has to come from public finances. 

"Until now, most climate deals have been in the form of loans, which places the receiving countries in even further debt. However, this is a debt that some countries owe to those who did not cause climate change, and who are its primary victims", defends Adel Ben Youssef. In his opinion, the money should absolutely come from public finances, as the private sector has its share of unpredictability and can "turn off the tap at any moment"

The draft of the final decision for COP26 was made public on November 9, 2021. It calls on developed countries to urgently increase their offers of funding for adaptation. Anything could still happen in the coming two days.