Ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, developing countries want rich countries to take historic responsibility for climate change, while poorer ones go into debt to deal with its consequences.

The average American is responsible for emitting as much CO2 each year as 581 Burundians, the country with the smallest carbon footprint in the world – which also tops the list of people most at risk of food insecurity in the world. world.

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, low-income countries are calling on rich countries – which have amassed their wealth through unlimited CO2 emissions – to step up their commitments to the most poor people, who are often on the front lines of climate change.

So far, rich countries have failed to deliver on their pledge to provide $ 100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020; money has been disbursed in the form of loans rather than grants. The fear is that climate finance could put the world’s poorest in debt even more, especially as countries are still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.

“This climate crisis is further exacerbating the debt burden of low-income countries,” Professor Mizan R. Khan of North Western University in Bangladesh, who is also the country’s leading negotiator on climate finance, told TRT World. at the UN.

“Low-income countries have received this funding more in the form of loans than grants and we are fighting against that,” Khan said. “Our argument is that adaptation finance creates a new debt trap for developing countries.

Bangladesh is a low-lying country where devastating storms and floods have wreaked havoc, costing millions of dollars in damage over the past few years. Parts of the country are affected by drought and shortages of drinking water and irrigation, leaving millions of people with no choice but to migrate.

According to the 2015 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Bangladesh’s economy is more threatened by climate change than that of any other country. It has invested more than $ 10 billion in climate change-related projects, including adapting agricultural systems or securing homes and riverbanks, earning it international praise for some of its practices. adaptation such as its floating agricultural gardens.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a lobbying partnership of 48 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East particularly affected by climate change, called for a reassessment of the debt of developing countries. development in the light of major natural disasters that have caused public spending to explode. Collectively, these countries are responsible for five percent of global emissions. The G20 countries represent around 75 percent.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations agency responsible for assessing the science of climate change, issued its strongest warning yet and said that some of the changes the planet is undergoing as a result of human activity are now irreversible. Many in the developing world saw this as further confirmation that the world’s big polluters should take historic responsibility for the consequences of global warming.

“It is unfair of the world to expect climate-vulnerable countries to pay such a high price for the emissions of others,” said Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who currently chairs the CVF, wrote in response to the report, calling on international financial institutions, loan providers and donors to support efforts to restructure their debt burden.

Students come out of a “floating school” in Chalan Beel in Rajshahi district, Bangladesh / dossier. (Munir Uz Zaman / AFP)

“With COVID-19 gutting our economies that were already in a difficult debt situation, and the expectation of worsening impacts now that warming is locked into the climate system, small island developing states are facing a financial tsunami, ”Belize Ambassador Janine Felson said. finance negotiator at the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which represents 39 small island developing countries in the UN climate process.

Khan argues that one solution might be to consider “debt-for-adaptation” swaps. The basic idea is to offer debt relief to countries which would then invest the released funds in national adaptation programs.

“It’s a win-win for everyone. It does not involve new money for the donors, and the recipients will benefit as well, ”Khan said.

Climate negotiations, however, tend to focus on what countries around the world can do to reduce their emissions, rather than how to address the damage already done. Even on this front, the international community is lagging behind. The 2030 emission reduction targets presented as part of the UN process by the G20 countries this year would, together, lead to a warming of 2.4 ° C by the end of the century.

“There is not just one solution. There are a lot of them, ”Felson told TRT World. “Debt cancellation is an immediate, tested and proven option.”

“Other initiatives to simplify processes and expand eligibility to access subsidized and concessional finance also provide further opportunities to right the wrongs for the most vulnerable and least contributing. [countries], paying for others to continue their business as usual.

Rising sea levels threaten Tuvalu Coral Atoll nation's homes / dossier

Rising sea levels threaten coral atoll nation’s homes of Tuvalu / file (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

“Climate justice” and historical responsibility

In some parts of the world, adaptation to climate change is no longer an option. Communities in Pacific island countries like Fiji are facing displacement, while Kiribati has purchased land elsewhere to deal with the prospect of the country drowning due to rising sea levels. The only way for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to adapt to desertification is to migrate.

Developing countries have long argued that rich countries should pay for climate damage through a dedicated “loss and damage” mechanism as it is called in climate diplomacy.

“Our people are suffering in various ways as a result of a crisis that they have done little to bring about. Now is the time to discuss how the international community can fairly deal with the loss and damage manifested in developing countries due to climate change, ”said Sonam P. Wangdi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan and current chairman of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Negotiating Group. before COP26.

However, there has been no international consensus or agreement on what the loss and damage might entail. The principle that rich countries are morally responsible for climate change was accepted during the 2013 climate negotiations in Warsaw, but it is not legally binding.

Professor Khan believes the growing pressure, along with increasing evidence, will eventually lead to “dedicated loss and damage funding” over the next few years.

“LDCs and Small Island Developing States are calling for urgent action on loss and damage at this COP,” said Clare Shakta, director of climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED ).

Shakta told TRT World that debt swaps, along with emergency grants and funding to respond to emergencies would be needed to protect lives and livelihoods on the front lines of climate change.

“And we have to see some form of polluter sanction,” Shakta continued. “Either the fossil fuel suppliers, meaning the oil and gas industry, or the most emitting industries … somehow paying the costs of the action.”

“The latter is important for climate justice, but it is politically the most difficult.”

Source: TRT World