Climate conference in Egypt warns wealthy nations against ‘backsliding’ on funding commitments

Climate conference in Egypt warns wealthy nations against ‘backsliding’ on funding commitments


The Egyptian hosts of the COP27 climate conference are warning the leaders of wealthy nations that there can be no “backsliding” on commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow, United Kingdom, last year.

The meeting, formally the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, which began on November 6. In a letter to world leaders this week, conference president Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, reiterated concerns that extra climate finance for the most vulnerable countries – promised in Glasgow – has not materialised.

Industrialised countries had pledged to start to double funding for climate-adaptation projects, aiming to reach $40 billion per year from 2025.

But researchers say nations are off track to deliver this commitment. In addition, wealthy countries have failed to reach a promised goal to provide climate finance of $100 billion annually to vulnerable nations. Low- and middle-income countries (LMICS) were expecting multilateral organisations such as the World Bank to increase funding to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and make communities and ecosystems less vulnerable to climate change, but this has not yet materialized into concrete agreements, Shoukry wrote.

Mahmoud Sakr, president of the Egyptian Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Cairo, says that scientists from climate-vulnerable countries will be urging COP delegates to boost research funding. Countries, he says, need to conduct more of their own climate studies – especially in the Middle East and North Africa, which already experience low rainfall and arid conditions.

The Arab world accounts for just 1.2 per cent of published climate studies, according to an analysis published at the end of 2019.

This week, researchers at Greenpeace Research Laboratories, based at the University of Exeter, UK, reviewed climate-impact studies on six countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

They concluded that the Middle East and North Africa are warming at twice the global average rate. However, they also said that it is hard to track this trend, because of a lack of consistency across data sets in the region.

“There have been many promises,” says Mahmoud Mohieldin, the UN’s climate change high-level champion for Egypt, but “without finance, money and investment, nothing will progress”.

In 2015, Egypt estimated that it needs to set aside $73 billion for projects to help the country mitigate climate change and adapt its infrastructure. But this number has now more than tripled to $246 billion, says environment minister Yasmine Fouad.

“Most climate actions we have implemented have been from the national budget, which adds more burden and competes with our basic needs that have to be fulfilled.”

Delegates from LMICs and climate campaigners are confident that “loss and damage”, a concept featured on COP27’s provisional agenda, will be part of the main talks. Loss and damage is a reference to a demand from LMICs to be reimbursed for harm they experience as a result of emissions from high income countries.

Until now, the European Union and the United States have opposed this idea, mostly because of concerns that they could be subject to large claims for compensation.

However, the LMIC cause was boosted when the phrase “losses and damages” featured in the latest report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in February.

Christopher Trisos, an environmental scientist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and a lead author of the report’s chapter on climate impacts in Africa, says: “There is stronger evidence than ever that Africa has already experienced loss and damage that is attributable to human-induced climate change.”

The concept of reimbursement for such loss and damage is not aid, but based on the “polluter pays” principle, the basis of environmental laws around the world, says Sunita Narain, editor of science magazine Down to Earth, based in New Delhi. This financing “must be on the table – not to be pushed away with another puny promise of a fund that never materializes,” Narain writes in the November 1-15 issue.

Ian Mitchell, a researcher with think tank the Center for Global Development in London, warned of possible unintended consequences if agreement on loss and damage becomes a deal-breaker at the meeting. High-income countries could agree to the principle and then absorb loss-and-damage finance as part of their humanitarian-aid spending – meaning it would not be new money.

Adil Najam, who studies international climate diplomacy at Boston University in Massachusetts, thinks it is unlikely that these issues will be resolved in Egypt, and says that the politics will probably get messy. He adds that loss-and-damage finance can no longer be avoided by the high-income countries, especially given that climate impacts in vulnerable countries are becoming much more visible and severe.

Fouad says that organizing this year’s COP in Africa has been transformative. “We are expecting more attention towards issues that are crucial and meaningful to us Africans and relevant to most developing countries, such as food security, desertification, natural disasters and water scarcity. This COP is a chance for more African youth, non-governmental and civil-society organizations to be heard.”

  • A Nature report
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