Speaking to the Guardian last month, Belize’s representative to the UN vividly described the havoc wreaked on his country by global heating. “Loss and damage is already occurring,” said Carlos Fuller. “Severe erosion is altering communities; drought and floods [are] affecting farmers and causing infrastructure damage; [there is] coral bleaching; salt water intrusion is affecting the water supply.” From the catastrophic recent floods in Pakistan to the ongoing drought emergency in Kenya, similarly disastrous impacts are blighting developing nations across the globe. Many lack the economic resources to cope with new climate threats, which are overwhelmingly the consequence of historic carbon emissions by the world’s richest countries.
As the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, stated this week, ahead of November’s Cop27 summit in Egypt, properly addressing this dimension of the climate crisis – the damage already being done – is a “moral imperative that can no longer be ignored”. In Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries pledged to deliver $100bn a year to vulnerable states hit by severe climate-linked impacts.
That promise, originally to be met by 2020, has still not been kept and there is little clarity on when it might be. The manner in which available climate finance has been distributed has also been deeply flawed. Far too much assistance has come in the form of loans rather than grants, and been directed at middle-income countries rather than the poorest nations. Private finance and institutions such as the World Bank have funnelled money to projects designed to reduce emissions – where profit streams are more readily available – but neglected the need for poorer countries to deal with climate challenges that are overwhelming fragile economies.
Belatedly, there are signs that the rich world is waking up to its responsibilities to the global south. Last month, Denmark became the first party to the Cop negotiations to offer funding related to “loss and damage” – defined as the destruction caused by climate-related disasters so extreme that no protection is possible against them. The $13m pledged by Copenhagen to the Sahel region in north-west Africa must act as a catalyst for other developed nations to step up to the plate. Britain, which by cutting its overseas development aid contribution has scandalously moved in the opposite direction, could and should follow suit.
As governments focus on spiralling energy costs, soaring inflation and the geopolitical fallout of the war in Ukraine, the climate emergency is in danger of being relegated to the back burner of policymaking. With only a month to go to Cop27, there has been a global failure to follow through on commitments made last year in Glasgow – where countries pledged to provide more ambitious strategies to limit warming to the 1.5C goal. This month, climate justice demonstrations have taken place across Africa, and resentment is building in countries suffering ever more severe impacts as a result of past inaction. Mr Guterres is right to identify Cop27 as a “litmus test” of how seriously developed nations are willing to take the growing toll on vulnerable nations.
Announcing Denmark’s loss and damage pledge, the development minister, Flemming Møller Mortensen, said: “It is grossly unfair that the world’s poorest should suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, to which they have contributed the least.” The forthcoming gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh must be the forum at which this injustice is not only recognised but acted upon.