Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Conference of the Parties, COP, 25: Discussion

Ms Jennifer Higgins:

I thank the committee very much for the opportunity to present to it today. While there are many aspects to the COP process, as my colleague identified, what I would like to look at today, especially from a development agency perspective, is the role of climate finance and its importance for developing countries in delivering on the goals set out in Paris.

The past 18 months have seen a flurry of new scientific information on the state of climate, geosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere through the three interlinked reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, and the publication from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. That severe climate effects are already being experienced, and by the poorest and most vulnerable, indicates how far off track on ambition the world is, both on mitigation action and on the provision of the means of implementation to allow poorer countries to prepare for increasing climate impacts and to follow a clean, climate-friendly development pathway. The science calls for rapid acceleration and deepening of climate action, including for nationally determined contributions increases to keep faith in the Paris Agreement. To date, unfortunately, the climate talks have been minimally effective because with the exceptions of some of the most highly vulnerable countries, each country tries to emphasise its own particular circumstances for why it should not take strong and rapid actions to cut its own emissions. The increasing scientific evidence should be used as a springboard for increasing ambition at the upcoming COP, and wealthier countries need to turn up prepared to show a greater commitment on the themes of ambition, climate finance and loss and damage.

What is climate finance? Article 4.3 of the 1992 UNFCCC commits developed countries to provide climate finance to developing countries to address climate change due to their greater responsibility for emissions to date and their greater financial capacity. According to the UNFCCC, finance should be provided to assist with both adaptation and mitigation. Finance for mitigation is focused on activities that reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation funding refers to the activities that reduce the vulnerability of human or natural systems to the impact of climate change and climate-related risks. By maintaining or increasing adaptive capacity and resilience, these can be large-scale, top-down infrastructure projects such as seawalls or community-based knowledge intensive activities such as livelihood diversification and local disaster preparedness planning.

Over the last decade, a new concept has been especially important to developing countries, namely, loss and damage, and there has been increasing calls for the creation of a new international mechanism at the UNFCCC to deal with the increasing and serious gap in funding. Loss and damage refers to the impact of both extreme events, such as floods, storm surges and heatwaves, as well as slow-onset events such as sea level rise and desertification. It includes both economic loss and damage such as damage to income and assets, and non-economic damage such as loss of life, territory and identity.

The convention also stresses that funds for climate finance should be new and additional, adequate and predictable, meaning they should be proportionate with mitigation and adaptation needs in developing countries and enable those countries to have a clear and reliable medium and long-term confidence in the availability of climate finance. Further, the source of this funding should not constitute repackaged existing financial flows, which would represent no added support in practice despite the extra burden that climate change presents for developing countries as they seek to extradite poverty. However, these definitions are something which donor countries have largely failed to adhere to, and it is important that the need for increased climate finance does not come at the expense of other key areas receiving support from overseas development assistance, ODA, programmes such as health or education. Progress towards existing ODA commitments and towards the fulfilment of climate finance commitments must take place in parallel.

In his report on climate change and poverty in 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, highlighted the profound inequality in which developing countries would bear an estimated 75% of the cost of the climate crisis, and since 2000, people in poorer countries have died from disasters at a rate seven times higher than in wealthy countries. Developing countries have an immediate need not only to reduce their own emission levels to achieve their targets set out in the Paris Agreement, but also to increase their ability to adapt to an increasingly unstable climate. They can only do this if they have a confidence that they will have the finance to do so. Clarity and certainty around the provision of climate finance for action in adaptation in developing countries is essential and fundamental for the delivery of the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and also for the delivery of the sustainable development goals.

For Ireland, doing its fair share on the global fight on climate change means deep cuts in emissions, but also contributing its fair share to the finance needed to ensure that the Paris Agreement is achieved globally in developing as well as developed countries. Among donor countries, Ireland has a positive story to tell on climate finance in terms of quality but not necessarily on quantity. Irish Aid has ensured a prioritisation of grants over loans and a focus on the lesser funded adaptation projects. While this is at times over-shadowed by Ireland's poor performance on domestic climate action, it is important to recognise the positive contribution Ireland's overseas development policy and programme makes and the strength that it can and should be built on.

The most recent Irish Aid policy paper, A Better World, also committed to a scaling up of our funding on climate action and to exploring innovative approaches to climate finance. This is the good news story in Ireland's otherwise persistently poor climate history. Recent increases in Irish climate finance over the years are welcome, and the €175 million which was committed to in the programme for Government in 2016 has already been met.

However, even at these levels, it falls far short of the fair share on global climate effort, and we are giving far less yearly than many similarly sized European neighbours.

It is difficult to specifically estimate any country's fair share of global climate finance, since there is a wide range of possible variables that can alter a figure significantly. However, a widely accepted analysis based on a combination of historical responsibility and present capabilities, known as the greenhouse development rights approach, would see Ireland make a contribution of €260 million to the overall €100 billion per year pledge. Despite disputes on how to calculate exactly what Ireland's fair share ought to be, what is clear is that what is currently being committed to is not enough to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, especially considering Ireland remains significantly off-target for meeting its current mitigation targets under the European Union targets, which are also far off the European Union and Ireland's fair share of global mitigation efforts required to deliver on 1.5°C.

The Government needs to oversee a drastic increase in ambition and urgency in domestic mitigation, a commitment to much more effective policy coherence and a commitment to a practical plan to increase its contributions to global climate finance. An increase in climate finance must also come with an increase in the quality of finance given and a commitment to it being new and additional rather than repackaged, which would come at the expense of poverty or gender-driven programmes.

A closer look at the nature of finance being provided globally demonstrates how current approaches to climate finance are not delivering for the world's poorest people, and it risks compounding existing structural injustices. I would like to pass over to my colleague, Ms Sharkey, who will discuss some of these key issues within the climate finance system that go beyond the amount given.