100 billion / International climate finance / Petersberg Climate Dialogue

Coronavirus pandemic: Why climate finance must feature high on the agenda of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue

Rohingya refugee Ayesha collecting water for her family in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Rohingya refugee Ayesha collecting water for her family in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Poor and margnalised people are at the forefront of boith the Coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Next week’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue (27-28 April 2020) should recognise the links between the Coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis. Climate finance and going beyond rich countries’ $100-billion-a-year goal must be a key ingredient to the debate.

The Coronavirus pandemic is a truly globalised crisis that is impacting both rich and poor countries – but the impacts will not be felt equally. The crisis will hit the developing world hardest – already fragile healthcare systems could be completely overwhelmed. Without dramatic action to shore up vulnerable economies, half a billion people could be pushed (back) into poverty. In some regions, poverty could reach levels last time seen 30 years ago. As my colleague Julie Seghers writes, a rapid increase in aid from rich countries can save millions of lives, focusing first on prevention, health, social protection and food assistance, and then engaging in reshaping the future of aid for more equal and more resilient societies.

A green recovery is the only recovery there is

This is where the Petersberg Climate Dialogue comes in, the annual gathering of around 40 ministers from all over the world, usually discussing political issues around the international climate regime and the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This time, the meeting will be held virtually. Main items on its agenda are the enhancement of countries’ climate action commitments under the Paris Agreement (‘nationally determined contributions’, or NDCs, in UN jargon) that countries are required to ratchet up every five years; and a ministerial discussion on how to link up post-Corona recovery with the fight against the climate crisis.

Both, enhancing NDCs and a climate-compatible post-Corona recovery are urgently needed. The combined effect of what governments have committed to under the Paris Agreement point to warming of 3°C or more. Efforts need to increase five-fold in order to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep warming below the critical threshold of 1.5°C. As for the post-Corona recovery plans, if we get this wrong – if the stimulus packages are short-sightedly designed, for instance by listening to the German car manufacturers – then we cement in the disastrous 3°C. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Forthcoming recovery policies and planned economic stimuli packages could be targeted so that they ‘build back better’ and contribute to shifting economies towards a climate-compatible recovery, putting the World onto a path towards zero emissions, climate-resilient development. It’s a once in a life-time chance. We won’t see this scale of government money be mobilised again over the next decade that easily. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez puts it: “Fiscal firepower must drive a shift from the grey to green economy, and make societies and people more resilient. Public funds should be used to invest in the future, not the past.”

Climate finance as a central pillar for climate action amidst the Corona crisis

Climate finance cuts across all of this. The fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic is set to cripple economies in developing countries, making their societies even more vulnerable to the worsening climate crisis (with Cyclone Harold wreaking havoc across Vanuatu being a case in point), and lowering their capabilities to shift away from fossil fuels. Ministers at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue would do well to recognise these linkages. It’s now needed more than ever before. Climate finance invested to support adaptation to the worsening impacts of climate change can deliver a double-dividend. The reasons that make people vulnerable to the worsening impacts of the climate crisis are largely similar as those that make them vulnerable to other crises, including the Coronavirus pandemic. Stable incomes and secure livelihoods despite a changing climate, social safety nets to address climate-related risks, programmes to enhance food security or water security, or overcoming political, cultural and social marginalisation all make people more resilient to all sorts of crises, including both the climate and the Corona crisis.

For the post-Corona economic recovery, ministers at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue would, ideally, embrace a common vision of aligning their economic recovery packages to the Paris Agreement. At the same time, many developing countries suffering from widespread poverty and heavy debts do not even remotely have the funds, as the Ghanaian Finance Minister noted recently, to spend as rich countries do. Hence, a central pillar of that vision needs to be increasing levels of climate finance support to enable poorer countries to join the effort and build a renewable energy future for their societies as they recover from the Coronavirus pandemic. Sufficient climate finance provided by rich countries will not only allow the recovery to be more profound and more sustainable, but also enhance capabilities to meet and strengthen their NDCs and the mitigation ambition contained therein.

All this should prompt rich countries to use the Petersberg Climate Dialogue to, on the one hand, reaffirm their promise made more than a decade ago to ramp up climate finance so it reaches an annual level of 100 billion USD this year (a figure that is dwarfed by the trillions that have been mobilised by G20 economies in a matter of days to respond to the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic)  and back this up with a commitment to update their somewhat aged 2020 projection, explaining how they are going to meet that goal. They should also, on the other hand, use the opportunity to pledge to significantly increase climate finance in the 2020-2025 period, especially for adaptation and resilience-building (and to be clear: alongside urgently needed additional aid to deal with the immediate emergency that the Coronavirus pandemic creates in developing countries).

Germany, hosting the Petersberg Climate Dialogue jointly with the UK, could lead by example. When Chancellor Angela Merkel takes the floor next Tuesday, she might want to not only explain if and how Germany will work towards increasing the EU’s insufficient NDC and use planned economic stimuli to chart the path to climate neutrality. The chancellor should also follow the UK to indicate how German climate finance will increase between now and 2025.

The money is there. Just yesterday, the German development minister asked the German Bundestag for three billion Euros in additional aid for a Corona emergency response – for 2020 alone, on top of the adopted federal budget (within which he plans to reallocate a further 1 billion Euros towards fighting Corona). It’s now for the German government to treat the global climate crisis with similar verve and commit to a substantial increase in climate-related support to vulnerable countries. This would be a great first signal that climate finance will not fall of a cliff after 2020 but that the world may indeed come out of the Corona crisis more resilient and better prepared to confront the challenges the climate crisis puts in front of us, today and in the future.

Jan Kowalzig, Oxfam