Stressing that there is no vaccine against climate change and disaster, speakers called for urgent action today to assist vulnerable States because “the ‘now’ is long overdue”, as the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries concluded its third day of high-level thematic round tables.
Opening the meeting, Nataša Pirc Musar, President of Slovenia and Co-Chair of the Conference, stated climate change is not just a human security issue, but a major international security issue. No country is immune, but those least developed suffer most. In that regard, she hoped speakers would use this round table to discuss past mistakes, address current challenges, and identify obstacles to be effectively addressed so that the vision for the least developed countries as laid out in the Doha Programme of Action will materialize. There will be no progress without the involvement of everyone including those marginalized, including women and youth, Indigenous Peoples and different minorities. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’s appeal for an “action plan for the early warnings for all” within the next five years is well placed, since 50 per cent of the world’s population is not protected. “Needless to say, the ‘now’ is long overdue,” she stressed.
Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu and Co-Chair of the Conference, stressed the grave importance of climate change to least developed countries, as climate-induced disasters present serious challenges to development, in particular to his State. Least developed countries aspire to drive high rates of economic growth, structural transformation, building productive capacity and increasing their share of global exports. But strong economic growth must be decoupled from emissions, and not erode their natural resource base, nor degrade often-fragile ecosystems. Above all, he stated, support is needed to secure climate finance and prepare adaptation plans and projects for financing. It is critical to move from potential to prosperity, as vulnerable atoll nations like Tuvalu are increasingly at risk. “The fact that there is no vaccine against climate change and disaster makes an even stronger case for greater investment in disaster risk reduction and adaptation,” he stressed.
Titled “Addressing climate change and supporting the environment”, the round table featured a keynote address by Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Minister for State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships of France, who stressed that least developed countries are on the front line of a crisis they did not cause. Responsible for less than 0.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution, those States are home to one third of those affected by climate events. “Who cannot see this injustice?” she demanded. Europe and France are taking action by not giving up on the fight for attenuation, mitigation and holding to the limit of 1.5ºC — crucial conditions for the future of least developed countries. Europe, she noted, is living up to its responsibilities, aiming to reduce greenhouse gases by 55 per cent by 2030. Further, mitigation is the responsibility for great emerging Powers, and Europe and the Group of Seven (G7) countries are helping South Africa, Viet Nam and Indonesia move away from fossil fuels.
Least developed countries criticize the developed countries’ ability to implement previous commitments — and rightly so — demanding where the money is. However, she stated that lack of solidarity is not to be found with France, which is providing €6 billion in climate financing per year, one third of that for mitigation. France is responsible for 3 per cent of cumulative emissions since the nineteenth century, but is providing 10 per cent of current international adaptation financing. Nature is a crucial ally for vulnerable populations in developing countries, she observed, as a source for food, income and resources and a bulwark against climate change. Citing the creation of a loss and damage fund at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, she urged for its implementation. “We are not starting from scratch,” she stressed. Noting Africa holds 60 per cent of solar power potential and citing resources of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and copper in Zambia, she called for a transition from aid to financing.
The round table then featured panellists Dan Jørgensen, Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy of Denmark; Josefa Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment; Caroline Gennez, Minister for Development Cooperation of Belgium; and Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Mr. Jørgensen stated that the current situation is totally unjust, with least developed countries generating 4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases but being hit hardest by the effects of climate change. “These are not theories”, he stressed, but what is happening now — and even from a moral perspective, developed countries must act. There is no sense in talking about development policy and the Sustainable Development Goals if the international community does not put fighting and adapting to climate change front and centre. When drought hits Ethiopia, even for a dry country, the effects are extraordinary and far-reaching — affecting water and food production. This leads to fewer children being educated — a luxury when your livestock are dying. However, he noted the good news is that many solutions also interlinked. He noted that the European Union is going forward with a 55 per cent emissions decrease, “but to be honest, that’s probably not even enough”.
Ms. Sacko stated that despite accounting for only 3.3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, least developed countries are among the most vulnerable nations on the planet to the adverse impacts of climate change. Given their geographic location, small island developing States are highly exposed to floods and storms, while African countries, especially in West and Central Africa, are very vulnerable to drought. These States have limited fiscal space to adapt to the consequences of extreme weather events. Least developed countries, she noted, account for 65 per cent of the global population lacking access to electricity; hence, nowhere is the need for a “just energy transition” more important than in these States. Citing the Green Climate Fund, the largest dedicated climate fund, she noted that by July 2022, total funding for least developed countries has reached only $3 billion, or 28 per cent of the Fund’s global portfolio.
Ms. Gennez noted that civil society is campaigning around two words: climate justice. This is also a global concept, as least developed countries are not to blame for what is happening today. She cited an article in Nature magazine in October 2022, signed by the ministers of forests and the environment of Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and the Congo, arguing for additional funding to study and protect the Congo Basin rainforest — noting that Africa’s rainforests annually absorb the same amount of carbon as was emitted each year by fossil-fuel use across the entire African continent in the 2010s. In other words, Africa is carbon neutral. Young people are taking to the streets worldwide, she observed, and it is up to politicians to listen. Belgium prioritizes financing and will add €12.5 million. Her Government fully supports the Bridgetown Initiative and is also investigating the potential of debt-for-climate swaps.
Mr. Stiell called for more national adaptation plans, more support for least developed countries to devise them and clear targets for delivery of that support. The plans reflect a shifting conversation to harnessing the rich diversity of natural and human resources to build more resilient communities, more secure cities and create a safer and more prosperous region for those who call those nations home. The Paris Committee on Capacity-building published a paper with several key recommendations, including: strengthening international, regional and domestic knowledge networks; building on local capacity and indigenous knowledge; and developing national and regional rosters of experts on relevant issues to access available expertise more easily. “We know these ideas work,” he stressed. One example is the establishment of the “Tomai Pacifique”, a registered network of preapproved experts that respond to assistance requests from Pacific island countries, developing project concepts and proposals and preparing reporting requirements.
The Conference then turned to its lead discussants: Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and Selwin Hart, Special Adviser and Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Change.
Ms. Coleman noted that in 2021, damage caused by weather-related disasters was around $30 billion in developing countries; and according to the World Bank, damages and economic losses from last year’s floods in Pakistan alone have exceeded $30 billion. Yet, the total of all global humanitarian assistance is around $31 billion a year — most of which addresses humanitarian needs stemming from conflict, not climate. The United States Agency for International Development has nearly doubled its investments into climate-related activities since President Joseph Biden took office. She further noted that Bank of America estimates the climate adaptation market could become a $2 trillion industry over the next five years. Today, the world invests about $50 billion in climate adaptation — but needs are projected to grow beyond $300 billion by the end of the decade. With just 2 per cent of current adaptation finance coming from the private sector — a significant gap — she noted the call to action has already seen corporations like Google, Mastercard and Microsoft helping to expand access to climate information and early warning systems.
Mr. Hart bluntly stated that every indicator on climate change is headed in the wrong direction, with the world on the pathway to witness an increase in global temperature of 3.2ºC. Warning that citizens in least developed countries are 15 times more likely to die from climate-related impact, he called for ensuring that those people and their countries not only survive but thrive. The international community must urgently address the root cause of crisis: carbon pollution. Given the massive fossil fuel expansion currently being witnessed, he stressed that there is no such thing as clean fossil fuel: “Less dirty is still dirty.” Renewables offer the best chance to limit warming to 1.5ºC. — and least developed countries must not be left behind with old fuel models. He called for reducing the high cost of capital investment in renewables and scaling up investment in loss and damage. He noted the Secretary-General is mobilizing the United Nations system to ensure everyone on Earth has early warning systems within the next five years.
When the floor opened for discussion, Heads of State, ministers and delegates emphasized the urgency of moving from talk to action in the face of an escalating crisis.
Jeremiah Manele, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade of the Solomon Islands, observed that sadly, the world is spending more on wars than on saving humanity. As a least developed and small island developing State, the Solomon Islands are located in a climate hot spot, and the 2021 World Risk Report notes it is the second most exposed country to natural hazards. “Our countries are in a constant recovery mode from extreme weather events,” he stressed: “Climate change remains a threat multiplier.”
Wavel Ramkalawan, President of Seychelles, noted that his country is considered a small island developing State, but has “graduated”, so to speak. Regardless, it remains as vulnerable to climate change as before, but has been punished by a lack of assistance because it has protected the environment with its limited resources. He said those on the road to graduation should not be deserted — with a transitionary means to access to concessionary financing.
Philip Mpango, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania, noted losses to floods alone in his country amounted to $33.7 million over 10 years. The country is engaged in tree planting, use of clean energy and building dams to store rainwater; however, the key issue remains limited access to key funding and technology.
Looking towards solutions, the representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that least developed countries hold incredible promise — not least because they are home to over 1 billion people, including many youths. In its 64 Biosphere Reserves established in 28 least developed countries, UNESCO will provide nature-based solutions at the local level to facilitate adaptation to climate change by restoring and preserving biodiversity and ecosystems.
Also speaking were ministers and delegates of Timor-Leste, Singapore, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Greece, Netherlands, Romania, Maldives, Monaco, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Liberia, Nepal, Niger, Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria and Gabon.
Representatives of the United Nations Capital Development Fund and the World Fund for Development and Planning also spoke, as did a youth activist from the Sudan.