Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Conference of the Parties, COP, 25: Discussion

Ms Cliona Sharkey:

I would like to thank the committee, the Chairperson and the secretariat for the invitation to join the examination by the committee of the State’s preparation and input to COP 25. The UNFCCC annual Conference of the Parties is far from perfect, but it is an absolutely essential forum. It is the forum where the IPCC science is commissioned, where global policy is debated, agreed and monitored. It is also the most inclusive global forum for dialogue, where the largest emitters and the most vulnerable countries interact directly. It serves as a critical annual temperature check on the state of multilateral climate co-operation. That temperature check at COP 24 in 2018 was deeply concerning. Efforts from the most vulnerable countries together with a number of European Union member states to bolster global ambition following the publication of the IPCC report on 1.5°C were met with silence from others, including Ireland.

Ahead of COP 25, I would like to set out where we believe Ireland performs well at the UNFCCC level, as Ms Higgins set out, and where Ireland can build on this, and finally to ask the question, on what side of the critical ambition debate Ireland will place itself over the next weeks, when we are only weeks ahead of the coming into force of the Paris Agreement.

Ireland is well respected within UNFCCC circles for its technical, policy and financial support to least developed countries. Irish Aid representatives within the Irish delegation to the UNFCCC negotiate on behalf of the European Union in relation to least developed country issues. Ireland is also recognised in the UNFCCC, as it is in the OECD, for the quality of its climate finance, which, building on the work of Irish Aid, is focused on least developed countries, adaptation, and gender and importantly is 100% grant-based. In this policy approach, Ireland is playing an important role, bucking a number of international trends.

According to the most recent report of the OECD, between 2013 and 2017, 60% of bilateral and nearly 90% of multilateral climate finance was in the form of loans. Anyone who has been looking at international development co-operation for a number of years will remember the debt crisis. Indeed, in a number of fora, the risk of a renewed debt crisis is something that is of significant concern, with the focus on loans for climate finance.

Annual total figures of global climate finance also include significant levels of self-serving instruments from donor countries, such as export credits and blended finance mechanisms where public money is used to leverage private investment in developing countries. While private finance of course has a role to play, loans and private sector investment require a return. They are neither attracted to nor appropriate for many of the interventions required to support the most vulnerable communities, and it is for this reason that both adaptation in general, and least developed countries in particular, are losing out in current global finance flows.

A sufficient balance between public and private finance is needed to ensure that adaptation interventions that target the most vulnerable people and that are transformative - necessary but not necessarily profitable - are adequately funded. Despite a commitment in the Paris Agreement to balancing financing between mitigation and adaptation, the amount of climate finance going to adaptation activities is only 19% of total climate finance flows and has climbed only 2% from 17% in 2013. We believe strongly that Ireland should continue within the European Union and the UNFCCC to champion a climate finance policy approach that is based on quality and equity and build on the headline commitment in the new international development policy, A Better World, to reach the furthest behind first.

Ireland has the potential to carve out a niche in this area, which is critical to the overall political success of the Paris Agreement as well as to the practical delivery of its goals. Doing so, however, will require addressing a number of important gaps in Ireland’s current UNFCCC engagement. I will highlight one or two of the key ones here. Number one is increasing the quantity and predictability of climate finance. The IPCC report highlighted in 2018 that pathways to deliver on limiting warming to 1.5°C required increased co-operation and support to developing countries. Next year, discussions will begin within the UNFCCC on a new global finance goal to be adopted in 2025. Much like the ambition ratchet mechanism under the UNFCCC, climate finance needs are only going to become greater if increased mitigation ambition to deliver on 1.5°C is to be delivered, and greater because the delay in mitigation to date means that even in the best case scenario of limiting warming to 1.5°C, adaptation and loss and damage finance needs are set to increase. To be able to plan to increase mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, they need to know what kind of levels of funding are going to be available.

It is likely that any reasonable selection, as Ms Higgins said, of variables to quantify Ireland’s fair share of climate finance - as a rich country with high levels of emissions per person - will show that Ireland’s current contributions need to increase significantly in the years to come. Ireland needs to put in place a plan for how it is going to not only finance its own transition, but how it is going to fulfil in a predictable way its growing responsibility on the international climate finance side, as well as meet its commitment to deliver 0.7% of GNI to ODA. In the Government’s statement at COP 25, we would like to see the Minister acknowledge this and commit to the development of a strategy to this end.

Number two is to acknowledge and engage with the issue of loss and damage, including finance needs. Developing countries and civil society have been advocating for the inclusion of loss and damage as a core concept and funding need within the UNFCCC. This is necessary because global mitigation has not been taking place at the scale and pace needed, meaning that climate change impacts are already happening that are beyond the adaptive capacity of many poorer countries. I have set some examples on my statement on the types of impacts and the level of the human and economic costs being borne by the poorest countries.

Beyond estimated mitigation and adaptation finance needs, loss and damage costs alone are estimated to be around €50 billion a year currently, reaching €300 billion a year by 2030 as impacts increase. While the mechanism for formal dialogue and policy development on loss and damage has existed within the UNFCCC since 2013, developed countries have refused to allow discussion on the need for a collective pool of funding within the UNFCCC for loss and damage. This funding need not come from existing finance streams, but could be generated from innovative new global sources that have been long talked about but never delivered, such as levies on climate damaging activities like international shipping, aviation and fossil fuel extraction.

Denying discussions on global loss and damage finance does not get rid of the problem. It simply leaves already vulnerable countries faced with the prospect of repeated enormous disaster response costs repeatedly eroding the capacity of those states to reduce poverty and indeed to pursue climate change mitigation and adaptation. Ireland aspires to be a champion of the least developed countries and indeed the small island developing states. Its silence therefore to date on the issue of loss and damage is very notable. A critical component to a coherent approach within the European Union and the UNFCCC requires Ireland to engage with this issue and to champion a constructive approach to loss and damage, including the generation of new funding streams dedicated to providing this finance.

Number three is increasing ambition and being aligned with 1.5°C. There is simply no getting away from it. Ireland's short-term domestic ambition will have to increase. Ireland's current targets and plans fall far-short of being in line with the pathway to deliver on the 1.5°C limit. Next year, parties to the Paris Agreement will submit new or updated targets, and debates on increasing the European Union's 2030 target are already well underway. Ireland is currently among the member states within the European Union that are posing proposals, supported by the Commission and eight member states so far, to increase the European Union 2030 target to 55% without delay. It is important to note in this context that 55% is the compromise proposal that is being put forward between the institutions at European Union level. Civil society is actually calling for a reduction by the European Union of 65% based on, as Professor Sweeney said, the European Union's historical responsibility for climate change and its capacity. Opposition to an increase in European Union targets saw Ireland absent at COP 24 last year from the joint statement from the coalition for greater ambition. The role of the European Union in sustaining and growing ambition and aligning politically with the science cannot be overstated, and particularly with the number of notable large states currently seeking to undermine both.

In the context of a highly political debate at COP 24 last year, as Professor Sweeney said, on the findings of the IPCC special report and its implications, it was disappointing that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, did not take the opportunity in his statement to the conference to welcome the IPCC report and its importance in informing both global and national action.

We cannot underestimate the implications of Ireland's position within the European Union and the UNFCCC at this critical point, when we will either be part of the balance of forces that tips political momentum in the right direction, or be part of the balance of forces that is holding it back.

In its statement at COP 25, the Government should clearly signal that it welcomes the IPCC special report on 1.5°C, the role of that report in guiding domestic and global ambition and its intention to enhance short-term domestic ambition and support an increase in the European Union's NDC. I thank the committee.