The world cannot wait

COP27 is the “number one litmus test” of how seriously the world takes the toll on countries that suffer most from climate change, according to the UN Secretary-General. November’s summit must finally make good on promises to deliver climate action that ensures a sustainable future for all

ClimateGlobal

Sylhet, Bangladesh. Four million people were stranded by the recent flash floods in north-eastern Bangladesh. Two fifths of the world's population are already highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. ©UNICEF/Mukut

This year has been one of uncertainty and challenge. The world is still dealing with and reeling from the effects of:

  • the COVID-19 pandemic
  • global conflicts and crises
  • increasing food and energy prices
  • challenges in access to clean energy, particularly in Africa
  • financial constraints
  • the threat of an economic recession

Two fifths of the world’s population are highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change – no longer a distant threat but happening now. In 2021 alone, extreme weather driven by climate change caused over USD 170 billion in damages.

When it comes to sustainable development, in some ways the world is in a worse situation than seven years ago when the UN announced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. For example: in 2022, in light of increased global prices, the World Bank increased the extreme poverty line to USD 2.15 per person per day, up from USD 1.90. This means that more people will now qualify as extremely poor who weren’t considered so before.

On top of this, countries and communities like those in Africa that have done the least to contribute to the climate crisis are being affected first, worst, and with least resources to adapt. Africa contributes no more than 3% of global emissions. Small island developing states (SIDS) contribute less than 1%. Yet these nations suffer the most. Most African countries need to spend up to five times more on adapting to the negative impacts of climate change than they do on healthcare. According to reports by Tearfund, 11 vulnerable countries (Eritrea, Madagascar, Mauritania, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, DRC, Sudan, Mali, Ethiopia, and Republic of Congo) are spending up to 22% of gross domestic product to adapt. 

At the same time, the adaptation and resilience needs of least developed countries, SIDS and Africa are growing, as the frequency and severity of natural disasters worsen. Such countries are also struggling under national debt burdens. Meanwhile, their access to capital markets to build their adaptive capacity and resilience to future climate impacts and to protect development gains are contracting.

Despite the urgency of the situation, a core tenet of the SDGs – that they are interconnected and mutually reinforcing – is being overlooked, particularly when it comes to climate action. A reductionist approach continues to be adopted that reduces sustainability to climate action, and climate action to only mean decarbonization. When talking about effective climate action, the conversation is often only about Goal 13, rather than considering the other SDGs. As a result, some developed countries focus on greenhouse gas emissions alone rather than also helping developing nations transition to renewable energy sources in a just and equitable manner or build adaptive capacity and resilience to the ongoing negative effects of climate change, which would require investment and advanced technologies. 

Such an approach is unsustainable and needs to change. Instead, an approach must be adopted to deliver all aspects of climate action, ensure a managed, financed, and just transition, and deliver sustainable development outcomes. This is particularly true for communities and countries that are facing the worst effects of climate change despite having done the least to cause the problem.

As the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP27, it is my conviction that there are five priorities that should guide climate action:

1. Taking a holistic approach

First, the urgency and the complexity of the climate crisis – and the increasing challenges facing the world, from inequity to biodiversity loss – demand actions of unprecedented depth and scale. A holistic approach must be adopted that places the world on a low-carbon and climate-resilient development pathway. Such an approach must consider the provision and mobilization of finance, adaptation, losses, and damages, alongside mitigation. 

From a developing country perspective, it should also consider the full context of the sustainable development agenda, such as poverty eradication, addressing hunger, increasing employment, and advancing gender empowerment. This is why the Climate Champions have prioritized the Race to Resilience campaign. This puts people at the heart of our work, with a goal of increasing the adaptive capacity and resilience for four billion people by 2030. This is also why, during Climate Week New York 2022, the Champions launched the Adaptation and Resilience Breakthroughs. These Breakthroughs, which define common solutions and outcome targets, will accelerate adaptation action and increase resilience to climate hazards, such as floods, droughts, and lethal heat. These solutions cover food and agriculture, oceans, water, human settlements, and infrastructure systems. 

2. Implementation

Second, COPs must shift from pledges and promises to implementation and investments. Operationalizing, projectizing, and action should become the key performance indicators for the success of COP27 and the following COPs.

3. Regionalization

Third, climate action must be regionalized. On the road to COP27, the incoming Egyptian Presidency of COP27, the UN Five Regional Commissions, and the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions launched a series of five regional forums on “Climate Initiatives to Finance Climate Action and the SDGs.” These forums bring together key stakeholders from public and private sectors. The aim is to scale up investment and finance to deliver on climate ambition and development goals, and build momentum towards Sharm el-Sheikh and beyond. 

The five regional forums contribute to the implementation priority through facilitating engagement with a broad set of partners and stakeholders. The goal is to accelerate public and private investment in concrete initiatives and projects in climate mitigation and adaptation in line with the SDGs. Several ready-to-be-financed mitigation and adaptation projects were presented at the recent African, Asia-Pacific, Latin American–Caribbean and Arab regional forums. 

The process of project preparation and building the narrative of Champion projects ready to be funded will continue up to – and after – COP27.

4. Localization

Fourth, climate action must be localized and people centric. For that purpose, the Egyptian Government has launched the National Initiative for Green Smart Projects to implement climate action, again in a holistic manner, at the local grassroot level. 

In each of the 27 governorates of Egypt, the best green and smart projects will be chosen in six categories. These projects will then take part in a national competition in October, in the presence of national and international organizations from the private sector, financial sector, and development institutions. A specialized jury will choose the winning 18 projects, which will be showcased at COP27. 

The initiative will develop a comprehensive and localized investment map of sustainable green and smart climate solutions, through a bottom-up approach, in all the governorates of Egypt.

5. Finance

Last, but of utmost importance, is finance. We must ensure a just transition that also considers historically low emissions and development aspirations. It has been estimated that an increase of at least 590% in annual climate finance is required to meet all internationally agreed climate objectives by 2030 and to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that annual adaptation costs in developing countries will be USD 115 to 330 billion by 2030. Of the USD 29.5 billion annual climate finance committed to Africa in 2019 and 2020, only 39% – USD 11.4 billion – was targeted at adaptation activities. Only 3% came from the private sector.

For finance to be truly centred at COP27 we need to see investment in green growth, protecting the necessary natural resources, enhancing circularity, and promoting equity. Overall, seven challenges must be met:

  1. The promised USD 100 billion must be fulfilled and scaled up.
  2. We need to see more investments and not debt.
  3. The private sector must invest more, with public finance utilized to de-risk investment in adaptation and mitigation.
  4. We need more innovation in financial instruments and structures such as debt swaps and the reduction of sovereign debt.
  5. Carbon markets must be established, particularly in developing countries.
  6. Standards must be set for finance, and the very real concern of greenwashing addressed.
  7. Budgets need to embed SDGs and climate action at their core.

Conclusion

It is imperative that the world does not look back in 50 or 100 years and realize that we had the chance but failed to deliver on climate action and enhance sustainable development. COP27 can shift the dial. But it needs everyone – governments, states, regions, cities, business, financial institutions, and others – to act with holistic, SDG-aligned action in mind, in collaboration with each other – and above all with ambition.

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