Many more will have to suffer
Many more will have to die
Don’t ask me why
The squandering of oil and gas is associated with
one of the greatest tragedies, not in the least
resolved, whish is suffered by humankind: climate
There are thousands of books and academic journals, well sourced and peer-reviewed, that chronicle the causes if climate change and that model its future impact, There are tens if thousands of reports from climate affected locales with touching stories of death and destruction, or bracing economic data about losses, damage and adaptation costs, There are hundreds of hours of speeches by political leaders, alternately pleading or promising cutbacks, commitments and cooperation. And there are millions of dollars pledged to combat climate change or estimated to address its impacts.
Yet the climate continues to change, the threat continues to grow, and small islands continue to face an uncertain, potentially apocalyptic, future.
It is difficult to imagine a global issue upon which more words have been expended, to produce comparatively few meaningful results, as Climate Change. Small Island Developing States have talked themselves hoarse over the years in various efforts to raise the alarm, put a human face on what was an esoteric scientific debate, and push multilateral negotiations towards a conclusion that would save lives and safeguard the very existence of nations.
Today, islands continue to raise their voices to encourage urgent action on climate change. But those voices are now tinged with frustration and anger as the toll of death and destruction continues to increase; as climate events grow more frequent and severe with each passing year; and as the window of opportunity for decisive action shrinks rapidly.
Island leaders have grown tired of telling major emitters that climate change is an urgent t problem – an existential problem. The defining challenge of our times. The response to islands’ alarms has been hollow promises, crocodile tears and studies indifference to the root causes of our distress. To date, the response of major emitters amounts to a reckless and criminal disregard of the consequences and obligation so their actions.
The initial optimism and faith that islands invested in annual negotiating conferences to confront climate change was, at best, naïve and premature. Twenty-four annual conferences of Parties (COP’s) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have yielded incremental progress, where decisive change was required. Nine years removed from the Copenhagen COP – which was supposed to “seal the deal” on Climate Change – successive conference hosts have sought to dampen expectations and kick the can down the road towards ever – distant horizons. Despite the intensifying global threat of climate change with its real and ruinous present-day impacts, historical and major emitters continue to act as if the planet has time on its side. The excuses offered for continued in-action – be they political, historical, scientific or economic – grow increasingly indefensible. The prospects of genuine progress against climate change become increasingly remote with each passing day of diplomatic dithering, buck-passing and finger-pointing.
The deepening crisis that is climate change cannot continue to be confronted at the glacial pace of business-as-usual multilateral diplomacy. Round after round onf inconclusive global summitry, whatever its intent, has only served to allow major emitters to defer the radical actions that are necessary to restructure and reinvent their economic bases and modes of production. The vacuum created by our multilateral stasis has allowed various countries or blocs to champion unilateral or bilateral initiatives that make headlines but achieve little genuine progress towards the cuts and commitments that are actually required.
1.5 to Stay Alive… Over Three, You Cease to Be
Nice years ago, at a Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark that was advertised as the world’s best opportunity to “Seal the Deal” on climate change, a slogan was born:
1.5. to Stay Alive
That slogan was coined by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) to highlight the fact that some small islands will disappear if the average global temperature rises more than 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels. They will simply be swallowed up by the rising seas. Entire populations will have to be re-settled elsewhere. Entire nations and civilizations will simply cease to exist. The “1.5 to Stay Alive” slogan was meant to highlight the plight of island states, which are more vulnerable to climate change than many larger countries. Climate scientists predict a number of apocalyptic scenarios for planet Earth’s global temperatures to rise over 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels; but for many small islands, the short distance between 1.5 and 2 is the difference between life and death.
In December 2014, Peru hosted the United Nations’ 20th climate conference. Those hoping to keep temperature rise below 1.5 received a shocking wake-up call. The final declaration for the Peru Conference said:
Noting with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.
Reading between the diplomatic lines, that paragraph contained a damning condemnation of the process: governments are nowhere close to keeping the temperature rise under 1.5 degrees C. In spite of the steady drumbeat of headline-grapping pledges from China, India, the USA and the SU that sound great individually, the cumulative weight of those commitments is shockingly inadequate. The planet is much closer to a cataclysmic 4 degrees C rise over pre-industrial levels than it is to 1.5. A 4 degrees rise makes the Caribbean unlivable, and guarantees that most Pacific islands vanish from the face of the earth.
This caution is echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a global scientific body that analyses “the scientific, technical and social-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation”.
Their 5th Assessment Report on Climate Change was published in 2015.
The chapters on Small Island, coastal systems and Low-lying Areas, and Food Security and Food Production Systems are particularly relevant to small island developing states In summery, here’s what the IPCC scientists say is in store for small islands.
In 2019, the IPCC issued a Special Report called Global Warming of 1.5 degree C, which buttresses these points each of which could merit its own in-depth analysis. A full read of the voluminous IPCC reports makes one thing abundantly clear: islands’ very existence hangs in the balance.
The greatest long-term threat to the development of small islands is climate change. The greatest immediate threat to the development of any individual small island is a natural disaster, caused, quickened or exacerbated by climate change. The grave and gathering menace of climate change is the inescapable, incalculable risk that looks over every forecast, plan for aspiration. Island starts are on the verge of being “climatised” out of existence. Unfortunately, the severity of this risk is compounded by the uncertainty surrounding global support for climate change adaptation, and islands’ grim realization that they have been victimized by a cynical diplomatic bait-and switch on much-needed climate financing.
At the pivotal 2009 Copenhagen conference, the contours of a grand bargain were defined between the most vulnerable states ad those most responsible for the predicament. The developed and wealthy countries placed their most valuable commodity on the table – money – in exchange for the developing world’s most precious commodity: their dwindling time to survive. At it’s most basic, the Copenhagen Accord and subsequent COP outcomes formally enshrined an agreement of buying time – until 2020 – to reform their economic base and reduce their emissions. In return, the developed world pledged money to help mitigate, offset and adapt to the effects of their deferred action. In addition to being an indication of seriousness and good faith, the pledged funding was monetary down paying on future policy action.
But the deal of dollars for degrees – of buying time – has unraveled distressingly so. The pledged resources, already inadequate to begin with, are billions of dollars off target and hidden behind labyrinthine access and disbursement procedures. It is a false promise. Unfortunately, islands’ time has already been spent. Nine consecutive years of above-average temperature have elapsed. The oceans have warmed and risen. The storms and hurricane have intensified. The floods have worsened. The droughts have lengthened. Islands cannot turn back the clock, and they have precious little time left to give.
In the realm of adaptation finance, it is necessary to reflect on what was promised, what is being delivered, what is actually needed.
Back in 2009, as the outcome of the Copenhagen accord hung in the balance, and the United Nations’ much-ballyhooed pledge to “seal the deal”, teetered on the bring of self-parody, the then-US secretary of State made a seemingly-bold suggestion: developed countries would pledge US $100 billion per year to help the most vulnerable stave off and prepare for the effects of climate change. Developing countries and island states, without studying the sufficiency of the suggestions, latched on to the pledge as a firm commitment of tangible resources and backed off on their insistence on immediate changes and a hard 1.5 degrees C limit on global warming. A deal was struck.
The Copenhagen Accord committed developed countries “to a goal of mobilizing jointly US 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries”. This money should have a “balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation”. Further, “funding for adaptation will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such ad the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa.” Subsequent UN climate conference decisions, most notably the 2015 Paris Agreement, reiterated these commitments.
Today, it is clear that the arbitrary US $100 billion pledge will not be met. Even with the most generous accounting, self-reporting ad double counting of previously pledged assistance, the developed word if far off of its commitment. The United Nations’ Standing Committee on Finance, in its third Biennial Assessment of Climate Finance, estimates that international public climate finance flows are up to about $58 billion. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in totting-up its own embers’ commitment, predicts that “developed countries’ public finance in 2020 is projected to be close to USD 67 billion (approximately USD 37 billion of bilateral public finance and USD 30 billion of multilateral public finance attributable to these countries), - 33 billion short of the modest Copenhagen pledge. On the eve of the 2020 deadline, the settled consensus that that the pledge will bot be fulfilled.
Worse still, the goal that “the provision of scaled-up financial resources should aim to achieve a balance between adaptation and mitigation” is far off course. Best estimates suggest that only 25% of the financial resources is being targeted to adaptation. This dearth of resources of adaptation is of particular concern to small island developing states for whom adaptation resources are the difference between existence and oblivion.
While the UN climate agreements determined that “significant portion of such (climate) funding flow through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund”, roughly 4% of the money is being routed through this facility. This is probably for the best. The Fund’s international administrative problems ad labyrinthine access procedures have benefitted no one, and developing countries have lost confidence in its ability to deliver meaningful support to their existential struggles.
Tragically, even this “will they or won’t they” speculation about whether developed countries will meet their annual $100 billion pledge is beside the point. The pledge – an arbitrary number plucked from the sky in the heat of a political negotiation – is unconnected to what is actually needed to adequately fund adaptation and mitigation. The required level of global adaptation financing alone – which is currently receiving roughly $20 billion annually, at best – is estimated to be between $100 billion and $500 billion of 2050, depending on the extent to which developed countries miss their commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions. According to a 2010 World Bank report, “the cost between 2010 and 2050 of adapting to an approximately 2 degrees C warmer would by 2050 is in the range of $75 billion to $100 billion a year”. However, as has been indicated, global warming is currently projected to overshoot 2 degrees C by a wide margin. A more recent and more realistic estimate by the United Nations Environment Program started that “the annual costs of adaptation could range from US $140 billion to US $ 300 billion by 2030 and from US $280 to US $500 billion by 2050”.
These are sobering estimates. For small islands, the upshot is terrifyingly simple: projected global warming and sea level rise will wipe many islands off the map. Projected recourses required to adapt to and prevent that annihilation are orders of magnitude more than what is currently being provided.
In that context it is not hyperbolic to say that the continuing refusal of major polluters to meaningfully mitigate, their emissions constitutes an undisguised act of aggression against small island states and their populations. In the face of that aggression, small island states – out-manned and out-gunned in this battle – must coordinate an energetic strategy of asymmetric diplomatic warfare designed to extract concessions, commitments and the resources necessary to fund adaptation efforts.
Despite the failing and inefficiencies of the UNFCCC’s intergovernmental process to date, multilateralism is the only mechanism that allows island states a seat at the table and a voice in discussing their own destiny. Over endless rounds of negotiations in those multilateral for a, small island states have bent but not broken in the thus-far futile pursuit of an acceptable solution. The current incrementalism, lack of ambition and multilateral gridlock must be broken in the interest of small states, developing nations, and those countries with a genuine interest in success at solving our climate conundrum.
Success has a clear definition: emissions targets that ensure global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees C, in relation to pre-industrial levels urgent, predictable, new and easily accessible adaptation financing, whole parameters will be determined not by the comfort of developed countries, but instead by the actual needs of those most affected; a legal basis to penalize the non-compliant.
What this all means is that the diplomatic and advocacy playbook must be rewritten. New alliances, new tactics and new arguments are required. 1.5 degrees C is still the target, but it is becoming less and less a realistic goal with each passing g day. Island states must fight in every venue and at every opportunity for that target, but they must also prepare for the possibility of a world with a temperature increase of two or more degrees. That means money – much more money – to fund adaptation from those major emitters responsible for climate change. They must realize that either they pay to change their internal modes of production and consumption, or they pay more for the external damage that they cause. While the required resources seem large in absolute dollar terms, the World Bank has pointed out it is “of” the same order of magnitude as the foreign aid that developed countries now give developing countries each year, but it is still a very low percentage of the wealth of countries as measured by their GDP”. When one considers that developed countries Official Development Assistance is currently less than 0.4% of their GDP, providing adaptation financing is not a particularly daunting task.
Island states have arrived at a stand up and fight moment. The public diplomacy and advocacy of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has been focused on explaining what will happen to island states if the climate change is not controlled, and hoping that gentle moral suasion would guilt major emitter into action. AOSIS has resisted strong calls from within the group to be a revolutionary – even disruptive – force in climate change negotiations out of concern that such action could marginalize the bloc or be counterproductive to the overall process. But islands cannot be complicit handmaidens to their own destruction. In defense of their right to exist, they must unambiguously and collectively demand that those with the responsibility and the means step up and solve this problem.
Traditional North-South negotiating blocs have, to date, proven inadequate to tackle Climate Change. If the major emitters and fossil fuel producers of the global South are reluctant to recognize the urgency of this moment, new alliances must be formed. Islands must consider legal innovative challenges to those countries and companies scientifically proven to be major climate change contributors. In the absence of enforcement mechanisms in the existing climate accords, islands must fashion their own and make climate compliance the litmus test that guides their diplomatic engagement and alliances.
Islands must weigh the cost of derailing the process against the cost of acquiescing to a process that ensures their destruction. If business as usual continues on the climate front, destruction is all but certain.
Chapter 6 from the book “Globalized. Climatised. Stigmatised”, written by Camillo M. Gonsalves, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning, Sustainable Development, and information Technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines