Adaptation finance justice demands
The Climate Action Network (CAN) International, Climate Justice Now!, a new climate justice network, and other civil society networks such as the Pan African Climate Justice Network, representing 63 NGOs from across Africa, attended COP15 in Copenhagen in record numbers in 2009. Many of these groups had adopted a justice message at the negotiations, focused on realizing a legally binding and enforceable treaty, and for wealthy countries to pay their climate debt, including the establishment of a Fund under the COP to administer such finance.
Civil society groups in both CAN International and the newly formed Climate Justice Now! network made calls during this period for innovative public finance mechanisms to fund adaptation. CAN International, while focusing most of its attention on mitigation, called for adaptation to have equal footing with mitigation in the Convention (e.g., see CAN International 2007). Many of the more radical groups demanded a “solidarity fund” or a “reparations fund” to administer climate debt to countries of the South. A sign-on letter was issued earlier in 2009 before the intersessional in Bonn by the Third World Network in order to “galvanize the members of the civil society and social movements globally to support the call for the repayment of the climate debt and to advance these calls in the climate negotiations” (cited in Raman and Lin 2009, online).
In Copenhagen, other civil society networks also called for repaying the climate debt and for displacing a growing focus on market mechanisms in favor of public support (developed country government-funded adaptation pledges and payments to developing countries). These included a statement by participants of the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change held in Anchorage, Alaska, which was agreed by Indigenous representatives from the Arctic, North America, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, and Russia (see Inuit Circumpolar Council 2009), a statement by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, and a statement by the Trade Union Conference of the Americas, including people from across Latin America and the Caribbean (Third World Network 2009). The movement to get wealthy countries to pay their climate debt was gaining momentum, and upon entering the Bella Center in Copenhagen, it was hard to miss this message which decorated countless signs in the NGO display booths and buttons on backpacks and jackets of civil society members. For example, the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance declared:
“For their disproportionate contribution to the effects of climate change—causing rising costs and damage in our countries that must now adapt to climate change—the developed countries have run up an “adaptation debt.” Together the sum of these debts—emissions debt and adaptation debt—constitutes the climate debt. Proposals by developed countries in the climate negotiations, on both mitigation and adaptation, are inadequate. They seek to pass on the costs of adaptation and mitigation, avoiding their responsibility to finance climate change response efforts in Africa” (Pan African Climate Justice Alliance 2009, online).
This statement sought to stand in support of States in the negotiations that made similar official statements on climate debt in the UNFCCC process, including a Declaration by Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, a speech by the Sri Lankan Environment Minister, and a statement by the Lesotho delegate on behalf of the LDC negotiating group (Third World Network 2010). For example, the Latin American countries above declared that:
As for climate change, developed countries are in an environmental debt to the world because they are responsible for 70% of historical carbon emissions into the atmosphere since 1750. Developed countries should pay off their debt to humankind and the planet; they should provide significant resources to a fund so that developing countries can embark upon a growth model which does not repeat the serious impacts of the capitalist industrialization (cited in Rabble News 2009, online).
Likewise, the Sri Lankan Environment Minister explained: “If we adopt [the] scientific criteria of [the] IPCC, these so-called developed countries should cut their emission level by at least 70–90% by 2020. On the other hand, they owe environmental debt to other countries and should compensate them by establishing an adaptation fund” (cited in Nizam 2009, online).
Low-income States including the LDCs, AOSIS Members, and Bolivia came into the pivotal negotiations in Copenhagen with other ambitious demands. These included a legally binding treaty that would keep average global temperature rise below 1.5°C, US$400 billion of “fast-start finance” from wealthy countries to enable those hardest hit by climate change to adapt to its impacts, and an equitable share of the atmosphere to ensure adequate “development rights” (see AOSIS 2009; Government of Bolivia 2009a; Ourbak and Magnan 2017). Tuvalu’s blueprint, which it had tabled at COP13 in Bali in 2007, called for an International Climate Insurance Pool that included internationally-agreed threshold triggers such as wind speed, flood levels, sea-level rise, drought indices, and inundation levels due to storm surge for payouts to communities. This would largely be a precursor to demands beginning in 2010 for a loss and damage mechanismFootnote 1.
The leadership and capacity of the LDCs grew stronger over the years.Footnote 2 This, combined with the adept legal skills and ambitious demands of AOSIS, meant that the presence of the low-income States in the negotiations had become highly visible since the pivotal conference in Bali in 2007. On the eve of the negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, the G77, despite major shifts in broader geopolitical relations, seemed as strong and capable as ever in challenging the interests of the Global North.
A central focus of the more radical civil society groups was pushing the World Bank and other major multilateral banks to get out of climate finance, something that was backed by numerous developing countries. To this end, during the first week of negotiations in Copenhagen, a mobilization took place outside the Bella Center calling for reparations and addressing the climate debt. Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon-Romero, speaking at the Bolivia and Jubilee South Press Conference on December 14, joined in this call saying, “The first element we are speaking about is a debt of emissions, second we are speaking about a debt in adaptation, and third we are speaking about a debt to mother earth” (pers comm).
Other organizations, as part of the more moderate Climate Action Network, also took strong positions on climate finance for developing countries, a notable shift from the level of attention that they gave the issue just two years prior in Bali. These calls echoed the climate finance demands of low-income countries, and in some cases, sought to preempt what they saw as strategies of co-option for a weak political agreement on mitigation that were yet to come.
Provision of adaptation finance
The Copenhagen negotiations, dubbed by critics as “Brokenhagen,” were a turning point in global climate politics. Expectations were high for a new agreement on climate action and support that finally addressed the injustices. Even after almost two decades, there were wide differences among groups of countries in the negotiations about how climate finance should be mobilized (Ciplet et al. 2015). There was a yawning gap in the amount of adaptation funds available to developing nations, compared with any assessment of adaptation needs. The Copenhagen Accord and the 2010 Cancun Agreements promised developing countries US$30 billion in short-term “fast-start finance” for the period 2010 to 2012 and a “scaling up” to US$100 billion per year by 2020. However, the true meaning of these numbers depended on the interpretation of key phrases in the text, many of which were loosely defined or not defined at all (Roberts and Weikmans 2017). In our interviews with delegates from different blocs during these negotiations, widely different interpretations were derived.
First, the texts promised “adequate funding” yet developed countries fell short in this area. Donor countries did not make it clear how they would determine their financial contributions for adaptation. In order to know if the pledges and delivered funds are truly adequate, “we would need updated and best-knowledge estimates of need for mitigation and adaptation funding” (Ciplet et al. 2013, p. 58). Such estimates are very difficult to establish but the UN Environment Programme estimated that adaptation costs could range from US$140 billion to US$300 billion per year by 2030, and between US$280 billion and US$500 billion per year by 2050 (UNEP 2016). The mobilization of US$100 billion a year both for mitigation and adaptation by 2020 was clearly not in line with these cost estimates.
The proportion of the funding that would be in the form of pure grants, partial grants, or purely market rate loans was also not made clear. The Copenhagen Accord states that, “This funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral, and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.” Despite repeated complaints about this mixing of two very different types of finance, during this period, there was no improved clarity regarding the proportion of funding that should or must be publicly raised in the agreements that followed, i.e., the Cancun Agreements of 2010, the Durban Platform of 2011, or the Doha or Warsaw Agreements of 2012 and 2013, respectively. The 2015 Paris Agreement avoids mentioning specifics, indicating that funds will be mobilized “from a wide variety of sources, instruments, and channels, noting the significant role of public funds […]” (Article 9.3). But contributor nations are protecting their right to channel climate finance through their own bilateral agencies (and not just through the multilateral climate Funds established under the UNFCCC) and to provide loans and export credits, instead of grants-based assistance. While the United States (USA) allocated no money to the UNFCCC or the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in its Appropriations Bill for the 2018 Financial Year, for example, it has been channeling a larger amount of its climate finance support through its State Department, its Agency for International Development, and its Treasury (Thwaites 2018; United States Government 2018). This preference for prioritizing bilateral transfers is in no way surprising—the Paris Agreement avoids directly referencing some of the key principles of climate finance relating to funds mobilization, administration, governance, disbursement, and implementation (Schalatek and Bird 2015). And unlike the Convention, the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreements, the Paris Agreement also does not mention “alternative/innovative” sources of finance, such as funds that could be generated through a tax on international financial transactions or international air travel. These funds are critical for scaling up commitments from developed countries such as the USA.
The Copenhagen and Cancun texts as well as the Paris Agreement promise “predictable” funds, which is essential for developing countries to establish their own budgets and to plan for adaptation responsibly, but predictability did not increase in this period. Some quite developed proposals were put forward to levy international air passengers a small flat fee or to finally tax bunker fuels used in international shipping, instituting a tiny international transaction tax, or a tax on carbon, or even a tax on arms trade (see Gewirtzman et al. 2018; Richards and Boom 2014). However, none of these proposals were advanced and climate finance remained voluntary, depending most apparently on political expediency in the wealthy countries (Khan 2015).
Another issue impacting the predictability of funding during this period was the extreme fragmentation of climate finance (see Caravani et al. 2012). There were almost 100 dedicated funding channels, both bilateral and multilateral, with private foundations also actively mobilizing funds (OECD 2015). With so many funding channels, and sometimes little transparency regarding what is being funded, it was difficult for both contributors and recipients to adequately assess where money was going (Roberts and Weikmans 2017; Weikmans and Roberts 2019).
The phrase “scaled up” is another aspect that was not adequately addressed during this era. After years of the wealthy nations putting only token amounts of voluntary funding into the UN climate Funds, developing nations pushed for real, “scaled up” funding after Copenhagen. This phrase came to stand for the post- “fast-start finance” period, from 2013 to 2020, when the Cancun Agreements specified a tenfold “scale up” of funding per year. Yet, there was no language in the associated UNFCCC decisions indicating a plan for the “scaling up” period. In 2013, only US$25 billion (7% of total flows) of public funds supported adaptation, despite previous agreements on maintaining a balance between funding adaptation and mitigation (Buchner et al. 2014; Ciplet et al. 2013). More recent years have seen small improvements in the imbalance (Carty and Comte 2018). Also disquieting is that the overwhelming share of climate finance (76–80%) is actually official development assistance, defined as “government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries” (OECD 2018b, p. 1). This suggests that climate funds are not additional to what would have been delivered anyway (Nakhooda et al. 2013). In the Paris talks in 2015, the OECD published a report claiming that developed countries provided US$62 billion in climate finance in 2014 (OECD and CPI, 2015). The Indian delegation, based on their analysis, responded that only US$2.2 billion could be regarded as credible new and additional climate support (Government of India 2015).
Overall, the above issues suggest that while low-income States succeeded in some ways in their efforts during this period to have adaptation finance scaled up, large gaps in justice remained. Never were fair shares or carbon debt–based approaches seriously considered in the formal negotiations. Moreover, it seemed unlikely that the emerging “loss and damage” agenda, focused on those climate impacts that cannot be readily adapted to, would result in a rebalancing of this power dynamic.
Who should get adaptation finance?
During this second era, there was no formalization of which countries should be prioritized for receiving adaptation funding. Though the Copenhagen Accord, and the Cancun and Paris Agreements recognize that preference should be given to the particularly vulnerable countries, the Paris Agreement avoids mentioning those countries in Africa as part of the particularly vulnerable countries group. The Copenhagen Accord had the expression of “the most vulnerable countries.” The Africa Group, led by Egypt and South Africa, was very active in the negotiations and continues to lobby for such recognition. Some other developing countries also floated the idea of “highly vulnerable countries.” This effort has been referred to as something of a “beauty contest” to identify those countries that are the most vulnerable (CAN International, 2010, online). While the proposal for “highly vulnerable countries” was rejected by the G77, it indicates the perceived benefits that gaining specific vulnerability status might have for certain poor and vulnerable countries in the UNFCCC. This process also indicates the risk that concessions based on special status can have on disrupting solidarity among developing countries (Ciplet et al. 2013). However, after Copenhagen, disunity among the G77 intensified (Khan et al. 2013). Some activists from the Global South even called for the dismantling of the bloc (Narain et al. 2011).
Studies on the distribution of adaptation finance did not concretely establish that money was directed to the most vulnerable countries (Betzold and Weiler 2017 is an exception). In the case of SIDS, for example, more adaptation finance went to countries with good governance quality and low per capita incomes (Robinson 2018a, 2018b; Robinson and Dornan 2017). The Maldives, which ranked first of all SIDS on an average of the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Index for exposure between 2010 and 2014, received the 18th largest commitment of approximately US$23 million (Robinson and Dornan 2017). These studies should, however, be considered with caution, given the poor quality of adaptation finance data (e.g., see Kono and Montinola 2019; Weikmans et al. 2017), and the lack of reliable vulnerability indicators (e.g., see Füssel 2010; Klein 2009).
Governance of climate finance/procedural issues
During this era, the World Bank continued to serve as the Trustee of the LDCF and SCCF, while the Adaptation Fund was administered by a 16-member board, with 10 representatives from developing countries, and the remaining six from developed countries. The newly established GCF was operationalized and administered by a 24-member board, with equal representation from the developed and developing world. At COP18 in Doha in 2012, however, some developed countries unsuccessfully made efforts to dilute the accountability of the GCF to the COP, and thus weaken developing country decision-making over the Fund (Article 11.1 of the Convention plus Decision 3/COP17). Also, a 20-member Standing Committee on Finance with equal representation from developed and developing countries was operationalized to oversee the coordination, rationalization, mobilization, and the measurement, reporting, and verification of finance. As the financial architecture of the climate regime remained extremely fragmented, this high-level committee, with direct accountability to the COP, was tasked with rationalizing and making the whole process of raising and distributing climate finance more coherent. The committee was, however, given no power to force nations to behave differently—instead, it assumes the role of assessor of the Biennial Reports submitted by developed countries every two years.
In terms of concretizing compensatory justice, not much progress was made during this era. While the Paris Agreement recognizes the importance of “averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change” (Article 8), it avoids tackling the dual issue of liability and compensation by explicitly stating that the Article “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” Key Parties such as the USA opposed arguments for liability and compensation (Vanhala and Hestbaek 2016). As a result, the Article promotes sustainable development as a way of reducing the risk of loss and damage, which does not provide a concrete pathway for particularly vulnerable countries to be financially compensated.