International climate finance / Green Climate Fund (GCF)

Did the UN Climate Action Summit benefit those hit by the climate crisis?

The German government also needs to increase its efforts to better protect vulnerable people in developing countries from climate change. Photo: BMU, R. Zylka

On 23 September, numerous heads of state and government gathered for the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. The UN Secretary-General had invited them to present new and more ambitious plans to curb the climate crisis. The summit was accompanied by record-breaking global protests – more than four million people worldwide took to the streets for climate justice, including 1.4 million in Germany alone. Chancellor Merkel also took part in the summit, which was accompanied by fresh warnings from the scientific community. Reports by the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm at the summit in view of the acceleration of numerous consequences of climate change.

Climate change slowdown not yet secured

The pledges made so far regarding climate protection – i.e. the reduction of emissions, particularly from fossil fuels and deforestation – still fall short on a global level. At present, the world is heading almost unchecked toward a highly dangerous average temperature increase of 3 or more degrees, while the goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit the rise to 1.5°C. In this respect, the climate summit did not achieve its objectives. The group of the least-developed countries (LDCs) did announce that it will become climate-neutral by 2050 by implementing measures such as making a complete switch to renewable energy in power generation. Yet the big players – China, the EU, Germany – did not make any tangible new commitments. India, at least, announced that it would raise its previous target for expanding generating capacity from renewable energy from 125 GW to 450 GW by 2022. Chancellor Merkel’s announcement that Germany would strive for carbon neutrality by 2050 and support the 1.5°C limit had a bitter aftertaste, as only days earlier, numerous experts and civil society had strongly criticized the German government for the shortcomings of its climate program for 2030, which is completely inadequate to achieve these goals.

Ultimately, however, one of the objectives of the summit was to increase pressure on countries to submit improved national strategies to the UN climate process by 2020, and more than 60 countries counted themselves in. The task at hand now is to increase pressure on others, to toughen up laws in the EU under the new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and to spur the German government to greater climate policy resolve.

Momentum for the Green Climate Fund, but gaps remain

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is intended to become a key instrument in supporting developing countries in the fight against climate change. Half of its funds are to be spent on climate resilience measures. So far, the GCF has financed projects on early-warning systems, climate-sensitive agriculture and protection against rising sea levels, but demand far exceeds its current resources. Civil society efforts have also contributed to the Fund’s increasing focus on gender equality. The financial resources pledged so far are almost exhausted, so that industrialized countries in particular were called upon to make new pledges. Several months ago, Germany made the first move and committed to doubling its previous funding to 1.5 billion euros. After the United Kingdom and France also doubled their pledges at the G7 summit in late August, the New York climate summit did indeed bring further progress: Sweden, Korea, Luxembourg and Denmark followed suit with a doubling and other countries at least announced an increase. In view of the Trump administration’s rejection and Japan’s hitherto reluctant position as another important donor, it remains to be seen whether the current level of $7-8 billion will be exceeded. At least $15 billion in commitments would be required by the end of this year to enable the GCF to expand its support for high-profile projects. A donors’ conference in Paris on 24 and 25 October will offer another political opportunity in this regard.

First steps toward increasing climate finance after 2020?

Chancellor Merkel reiterated her promise to double climate finance for developing countries by 2020. However, achieving this in a credible manner will require at least a further 500 million euros to be made available above the previously planned amounts in the current budget negotiations.

The Paris Agreement stipulates that the $100 billion in climate finance pledged by the industrialized countries should remain the minimum target beyond 2020, and that a new quantitative target should be set before 2025. At COP24 in Katowice last year, the countries agreed to officially start negotiations on this new financial target in the coming year. It is therefore noteworthy that the UK announced at the climate summit that it would double its contribution to climate finance by 2025 (as part of development cooperation funds) to around 11.6 billion pounds from 2021/22 to 2025/26. This also opens up the possibility for other countries such as Germany to consider that further growth will be necessary after 2020 given the scope of the climate crisis.

Initiatives for greater climate resilience must be effective for the poorest people

Beyond the national announcements, the summit also aimed to promote concrete action initiatives and partnerships in order to accelerate the practical implementation of climate measures.

The InsuResilience Global Partnership (IGP), of which CARE is a member, was one initiative that was particularly well-received at the climate summit. The IGP promotes climate insurance approaches and other methods of climate risk finance. A CARE expert from southern Africa represents civil society in the IGP steering group. The fact that the initiative intends to focus more strongly on measures for the poorest sections of the population and that gender equality has moved to a top position on the agenda can be seen as a success. A new “Vision 2025” establishes new goals, including better protection against climate risks in a group of 20 particularly vulnerable developing countries. 500 million poor people are to be protected by insurance approaches at various levels. Here it will be important to implement locally appropriate solutions – social safety nets, insurance, disaster prevention – that focus on the needs of those particularly impacted.

Other initiatives presented include a special adaptation initiative for Africa and the LDCs and measures to strengthen climate-sensitive agriculture by smallholders. All of these projects should give higher priority to overcoming social deprivation and gender-based exclusion than currently appears to be the case.

The UN Climate Action Summit will be remembered as a major milestone at which the UN and youth stood together as perhaps never before, while the most powerful countries fell far short of their responsibility toward present and future generations. The resistance of young people and other sections of society is growing – they are no longer willing to accept our current state of racing blindly into drastic, irreversible climate change. Many economic players have clearly positioned themselves in favor of greater climate protection. The German government certainly cannot expect the mobilization of civil society to wane as result of its current measures. Greta Thunberg told the assembled heads of government that change is coming, whether they like it or not. Driving positive change to slow down the climate crisis remains a top priority.

Sven Harmeling, CARE