Climate-battered nations hunt elusive cash to adapt at UN talks

The world's poorest are suffering the fallout of a heating planet, but are not receiving financial help they need to protect them. PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - The south-east African island of Madagascar was hit by six tropical storms in the first four months of this year, killing more than 200 people and affecting nearly 600,000 across the country, while the south simultaneously suffered from drought.

"We are not doing well," Jeremiah Fenitra of SAF-FJKM, a Malagasy development organisation, said at this week's UN climate talks in Bonn, noting 80 per cent of the country's population are farmers and thus highly exposed to climate change impacts.

"Humanitarian actions are insufficient to address the losses - additional support, especially finance, is needed," she added.

From storms wrecking homes and crops in unprepared island communities to as many as 20 million people facing hunger in the Horn of Africa after four failed rainy seasons, the world's poorest are suffering the fallout of a heating planet.

Yet they are still not receiving anything like the amount of financial help they need to protect them from a problem they did not cause, United Nations and government officials from those nations say.

The Pacific island state of Vanuatu, which was hit by an out-of-season cyclone in late May, declared a climate emergency soon after, reflecting the toll of storm damage and drought over the past decade on its people, who also face rising seas.

"We are finding more and more of our country is simply not safe enough to live in - so simply finding a safe place to live is the new objective for many communities," said Vanuatu opposition leader Ralph Regenvanu before the Bonn talks began.

He called for more international funding for purchasing land and building stronger infrastructure and services that will not be destroyed by heavy rains and storm surges.

Glaring gap

Aid experts say growing climate vulnerability around the world is due, in part, to a lack of financial support to help societies adapt to the impacts of global warming - a deficit that persists despite increasingly urgent appeals.

"You only need to look at heatwaves in India and Pakistan (and) flooding in South Africa and Bangladesh threatening the lives of millions to see that providing the means for developing countries to adapt to the now-inevitable changes in climate is absolutely vital," said Clare Shakya, director of climate change research at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

International finance for adaptation, at little more than US$20 billion (S$27.5 billion) a year, remains far below the annual US$70 billion developing countries are estimated to need - an amount that could rise to US$300 billion by 2030, the United Nations has said.

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, donor governments said they would aim for a balance between international funding for emissions reductions and adaptation in vulnerable countries.

But only about a quarter of their annual climate finance is going to programmes to boost resilience through things like installing early warning systems for storms and floods, planting coast-protecting mangroves and adopting drought-tolerant crops.

At last November's UN climate summit in Glasgow, governments responded to the glaring gap by urging rich countries to at least double the climate finance provided for developing nations to adapt, from its 2019 level to about US$40 billion per year by 2025.

But new analysis released by the IIED this week - aimed at untangling opaque figures - showed wealthy countries and multilateral development banks are on track to provide little more than half of that amount - only US$21.8 billion - by mid-decade.

IIED's analysis of countries' pledges and climate finance figures so far suggests rich countries will stump up US$10.8 billion in annual climate finance for adaptation by 2025, with multilateral institutions like the World Bank providing a further US$11 billion.

While there are no official discussions on increasing adaptation finance at the June 6-16 Bonn talks, experts said the meeting offered an opportunity for delegates to consult on how to win more pledges at the COP27 summit in Egypt in November.

Germany and Canada are working on an updated plan to deliver US$100 billion a year in climate finance for vulnerable nations - a goal that was supposed to have been met from 2020 onwards but is now only likely to be fulfilled in 2023.

Shakya and others said rich countries that have fallen far behind on delivering their fair share of adaptation funding include the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan and Australia, though Australia's new more climate-focused government has raised hopes of a boost.

Locally led

Another key barrier to rolling out adaptation projects has been the lack of climate finance trickling down to support small-scale projects in communities, despite growing efforts in places like Bangladesh.

But Shakya said donor governments are now starting to focus more seriously on the problem.

"I wouldn't... say we've got more finance flowing but I think what we have got is the attention," she noted, saying she anticipated more money beginning to flow to communities over the coming year.

In May, the donor-backed Green Climate Fund (GCF), for instance, approved a grant of US$26.2 million for an adaptation programme in Vanuatu, developed by community groups and also supported by smaller amounts from aid agency Save the Children Australia and the Vanuatu and Australian governments.

The project has been billed as the Pacific region's largest-ever investment in community-based climate adaptation.

The US$32.7-million climate finance deal aims to expand access to climate information and early warning systems, and support local efforts to boost food security and climate resilience by restoring and protecting coastal areas.

The effort, which hopes to reach 90,000 people - or nearly half of the island nation's rural population - over six years also will support women-led businesses and introduce new farming and fishing techniques.

GCF Executive Director Yannick Glemarec told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the initiative - which will give out many small grants for community-designed projects - was a new model for the multi-billion-dollar fund.

"If it works, we will reproduce it," he said, adding it was part of the GCF's mission to "push the frontline".

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