Climate Action Network seeks climate justice for Africa at CoP 27

Climate impact to hit Africa with new debt of USD 996 bn in 10 years, says CAN International



October 17, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Climate Action Network seeks climate justice for Africa at CoP 27

Sub-Saharan Africa are threatened by natural disasters (Photo - Pic Alliance/Anka agency international)

With the next Climate Summit or CoP27 slated to begin in Sharm El Sheikh in just over two weeks, climate activists say international bodies and world leaders must address the mountain of new debt that is looming on Africa due to climate change, even though the continent has had hardly any role to play in carbon emissions.

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One of the most divisive issues that is set to dominate the discussions when global leaders assemble in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh would be climate finance.

For over a decade, the rich world, that has been responsible for an overwhelming proportion of total carbon emissions since industrialisation and whose transnational companies continue to pillage the environment across the world, has been trying to wriggle out of its commitment to pay the developing world USD 100 billion a year to help in adapting to climate change and mitigating its worst impact, which is also being felt much more in the developing countries due to the density of population there in areas most susceptible to climate change.

However, this pledge has never been fulfilled, even as the cost of climate change impact on many poor, notably small island states, has ballooned due to the high frequency of severe climate incidents taking place each year all around the world.

Various studies have shown how far behind the West is in meeting its commitments. What’s worse is that not only have they consistently failed to live up to their word, but they have also resorted to clever accounting practices as well as outright fudges in trying to shore up the assistance given to the developing nations. For instance, most developed countries have begun adding up several unrelated and prior commitments such as existing bilateral assistance, committed for diverse purposes like health or education, or even loans – be it from a government to government, multilateral or even private sector loans for projects that are totally disconnected from climate change and whose implementation will not make any impact on the climate change commitments.

So blatant are these fudges and so far behind is the rich world in meeting its commitment that even the United Nations climate chief Patricia Espinosa was forced to take up the issue on the same day when the Biden climate meet began. “We need clear signals that commitments made by developed countries to developing countries will become a reality. We still don’t have those $100 billion with clarity on the table,” said the UN official in an unusually frank and open lashing at the leaders of the rich world.

Developing countries need fiscal assistance for two distinct purposes. One is to be able to deploy new technology to cut their own emissions and secondly for adaptation and mitigation of climate change impact. Though some developed world leaders have been asking why they need to pay for the rest of the world, the logic is pretty straightforward. Climate change is overwhelmingly due to the mindless industrialisation and consumption that the western societies have been indulging in for the past two centuries.

Not just historically, even today, the rich world countries account for a very large share in emissions of greenhouse gases. According to International Energy Agency, in 2018, 12 rich countries accounted for 35 pc of the global carbon emissions. The disproportionate role of the rich world becomes more evident if taken on a per capita basis, which is the sole fair measure, of each country’s responsibility in climate change. Australia’s per capita emissions in 2017 were 16.88 tonnes, that of the United States 16.16 tonnes, while China, which accounts for 25 pc of the global emissions, fades in comparison on a per capita basis. It was a mere 6.86 tonnes and India an insignificant 1.84 tonnes.

Back in 2015, the developing countries, led by India, has sought USD 2 trillion in total finance for both – cutting their emissions as well as to be able to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impact on the population and their economies. Since then, the rich nations have kicked the ball further down, reluctant to even raise it at multilateral forums. Last year’s economic meltdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic cannot be used as an excuse by them to shun their responsibility.

It is in this context that a call by Climate Action Network-International, an activist group, is key. CAN says that the not only have the rich nations not kept their climate finance promises, but also the failure of global decision makers to adequately respond to the economic shock caused by the pandemic has plunged many global south countries further into a debt crisis that has been building for the last decade.

“Meanwhile, many of the same countries are on the frontline of the climate crisis, experiencing devastation from more frequent climate extreme events like tropical storms and droughts, to rising sea levels and increasing temperatures. Countries need funds to address the climate crisis now. However, many global south countries are trapped repaying vast sums to their creditors every year, hampering their ability to respond to the mounting impacts and costs of the climate crisis,’’ says CAN International in a press statement.

CAN warns that extreme climate events and insufficient grant-based climate finance are forcing indebted countries deeper into debt, keeping many locked in fossil fuel production, as the main source of income to guarantee debt service payment, and creating a vicious cycle that can be impossible to escape. Ironically, CAN adds, that climate finance itself continues to push vulnerable countries into debt as over 70 pc is provided as loans. “Countries which have done the least to create the climate crisis are stuck paying the most. Without finance for addressing Loss and Damage, and adequate finance for adaptation, over the next 10 years we calculate that Sub-Saharan African countries will have to take on an additional USD 996 billion in debt, a 50 pc increase on current debt levels as a percentage of GDP,’’ it says.

The activist group reiterates that even though the developing nation governments, civil society and even key global institutions like the World Bank and IMF have been highlighting the links between debt and the climate crisis on several occasions, including at COP26, but this has not translated into adequate action by decision makers such as the G7 and G20.

CAN International goes on to say that to address the climate crisis, urgent action is needed on the debt crisis in the global south. This includes debt relief and new, additional and adequate grant-based climate finance, in recognition of the climate debt owed to countries in the global south by wealthy polluting nations for their role in creating the climate crisis from colonialism to the present day. This finance is absolutely necessary to support vulnerable countries as they attempt to adapt to the impacts of climate change, address the Loss and Damage arising from such impacts that have gone beyond what can be adapted to, and manage the climate transition.

“The provision of climate finance from the global north to countries in the global south lies at the heart of the international cooperation framework for climate action under the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, and is enshrined in the principles of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability (CBDR-RC) within the UNFCCC. COP27 presents a vital opportunity to continue to raise the importance of the debt issue and its close and direct linkage to the climate crisis, ensuring it is factored into key decisions moving forward and to move decision makers beyond words to action,’’ says CAN International.

Finding a way out of spiralling debt

It has also listed a series of steps that need to be taken urgently by the international community to help the poor countries. Amongst the steps proposed are debt cancellation for all global south countries that need it across all creditors, including ensuring that private creditors take part, to free up resources for climate action and other national needs, and to ensure that countries are not trapped in fossil fuel and other extractive sectors.

A large part of the debt that the African nations are struggling with is due to private lenders and they are not doing enough to address the debt challenge that the poor nations face. Developing countries are currently spending five times more on debt repayments than they are addressing the impact of the climate crisis, says CAN International adding that debt repayments increasing by 120 pc between 2010 and 2021, reaching their highest level since 2001.

Almost half of external debt and interest payments by low and lower-middle income countries are to private lenders and this is why debt justice is key to addressing the climate crisis, it says.

The economic shock resulting from the pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Public debt has increased in 108 out of 116 global south countries. As many as 54 countries are currently in a debt crisis and this number looks set to grow as countries are further impacted by the food and fuel crisis resulting from the Ukraine war and rising US interest rates. As a result, resources needed to respond to the climate crisis, pandemic and other national needs are increasingly being diverted to debt repayments.

CAN also calls for the lenders to cancel debt when climate extreme events strike. Suspend and cancel debt payments when a climate extreme event takes place, so countries have the resources they need for emergency response and reconstruction without going into more debt. “Provide significantly more, better-quality, new and additional climate finance so countries are not forced into more debt to pay for a crisis they did not create, including establishing and delivering on a new climate finance goal as a part of the New Collective Quantified Goal for climate finance, and a Loss and Damage Finance Facility,’’ highlights CAN.



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