Lives on line as the rich dither

Poor countries struggle while climate talks drag on

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File picture

Behind wrangling at UN climate talks over financial aid for poor countries dealing with increasingly extreme weather and bracing for worse to come, real-world projects that can save livelihoods – and sometimes lives – are queued up, waiting for approval and money.

Rich countries are slowly opening the spigots to help reinforce coastlines sinking under rising seas, convert agriculture to drought-resistant crops, or switch public transportation from petrol to green electricity.

Tens of billions of dollars from public and private sources are now flowing every year.

But that falls well short of the $100-billion (R1.26-trillion) a year promised from 2020, and is a pittance compared to the trillions experts agree will be needed to engineer the global transition to a green economy.

The 197-nation Paris climate treaty calls for capping the rise in temperature to well below 2°C and pressure is mounting to set the bar even lower at 1.5°C.

That may be mission impossible, according to some scientists.

The global thermometer has already gone up by a full 1°C.

In any scenario, however, poor regions highly exposed to climate risk are confronting life-altering impacts from carbon pollution, made worse by poor choices.

In southwestern and eastern Uganda, for example, vast wetlands drained to make way for crops have become barren and no longer buffer rainwater cascading down the slopes of Mount Elgon during climate-enhanced storms, the UN Development Programme's Benjamin Larroquette said.
Subsistence farmers now never know when a flood will wash away their crops.

A $44.3-million (R558.2-million) project managed by Larroquette will restore some 60 000 hectares of wetlands over the next eight years, and reconnect the area’s networks of streams and rivulets.

More than half the money comes from the $10-billion (R126-billion) Green Climate Fund, which backs projects that help developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce their carbon footprint.

The fund is one piece in a much larger climate finance puzzle that has long divided rich and developing countries at UN talks currently tasked with working out the “operating manual” for the Paris pact before the end of the year.

Recipient nations seek clear commitments for more money from public sources, while donor nations favour loans and a larger role for the private sector. But all agree what is on the table now is, in the long run, not enough.

“We are talking in millions and billions of dollars while we should be speaking in trillions,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa told delegates from more than 190 nations gathered in Bonn until today.

The UN Environment Programme estimates that climate adaptation alone will require $140-billion to $300-billion (R1.76trillion to R3.78-trillion) of spending per year by 2030.

In Bonn, the finance issue is slowing progress across the board. Negotiators cannot even agree on how much is currently being spent.

Of the $48-billion (R605-billion) in climate finance ostensibly disbursed in both 2015 and 2016, only $16-billion to $21-billion (R201-billion to R264-billion) – less than half – is actually “net, climate-specific public finance”, a report by Oxfam International said.