Don't let President Trump distract from urgent action needed at climate talks

IIED director Andrew Norton calls for action at the UN climate talks in Bonn

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Insight by 
Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton was director of IIED from 2015-2022
06 November 2017
UN climate change conference (COP23)
A series of pages related to IIED's activities at the 2017 UNFCCC climate change summit in Bonn
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (front right) surveys hurricane damage in Barbuda with Gaston Browne (centre), Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda (Photo: UN Photo)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (front right) surveys hurricane damage in Barbuda with Gaston Browne (centre), Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda (Photo: UN Photo)

The floods, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated millions of people's lives and dominated world headlines demonstrate the destructive force of climate change and the urgent need for action.  

From Bangladesh to Puerto Rico, Barbuda to Texas, the extreme weather proves – for anyone still in doubt – that the brutal effects of climate change are happening now. And that is at roughly one degree of warming – less even than the ambitious 1.5°C target urged by the Paris Agreement.

As governments come together for the United Nations climate talks hosted by Fiji (Bonn, Germany, 6-17 November), the battle against climate change must focus on the frontline. 

These talks need to help the women, children and men whose livelihoods and lives are threatened today, as well as act to reduce future emissions. 

Staying focused on what really matters

Uncertainties about the Trump administration may overshadow these talks. Everyone is waiting to see what the US delegation does. Will it even engage given everything the US president and his administration have done to dismantle US climate action?

From its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement to his commitment to out-dated fossil fuels as economic stimulants, everything indicates that the US government is not going to contribute to the urgent work that needs to be done. 

However much the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement is a setback and sets a bad example for other countries, it must not distract from what this meeting needs to achieve. The challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions grows more urgent, as the UN Emissions Gap report illustrates. Without considerable effort to increase action to cut emissions, the world is headed for a 3°C rise by the end of the century – vastly beyond any sane, safe limit.  

In the vital area of climate finance, the US pulling out of Paris and more has left a financial hole in plans to tackle climate change. But now others need to fill that gap. Others need to lead. 

We need support for local solutions

Less than 10 per cent of the US$17 billion in climate finance committed from international climate funds are being prioritised for local-level activities. 

This means that effective, locally-driven solutions are being put at risk. Such as climate finance that helped local cooperatives invest in a climate adapting enterprise buy equipment for deep-sea seaweed farming in Zanzibar. This is increasing their productivity fourfold and the profits are being reinvested into new adaptation measures. 

Or in Senegal, where climate finance invested in irrigating community gardens is enabling more girls to go to school because they no longer have to walk five kilometres every day for water. 

We know from our work with partners in developing countries that many of the world's poorest communities have powerful solutions to enable them to survive and even thrive in the face of climate change. But without more of the US$100 billion a year committed in Cancun channelled to the local level, communities particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change will fall deeper into poverty.

We need this year's climate meeting to agree clear, binding rules that are fair and transparent for all so more of these vital funds reach the poorest people and places that need it most. Without this, it will be harder for developing countries to implement the Paris Agreement and withstand the effects of climate change.

Despite the constant warnings, we are moving in the wrong direction. According to the Climate Policy Initiative, this year climate finance investment fell by 12 per cent. And the amount of public climate finance being channelled for adaptation is also falling.
Climate finance needs to be increased if it is to address the additional strain that climate change is putting on development. This is both to make sure progress is not reversed and to ensure that future development is low-carbon and resilient to climate change. 

But this cannot be left up to national governments alone. Increasingly, local and city governments and business – including in the US – are working with communities across the world to act against climate change. This needs to be recognised, including in national reporting on climate action.

Being closer to communities, local governments can work with them to identify their priorities for investing in programmes to tackle the impacts of climate change. Businesses that offer climate-resilient and low-carbon services to the poor are radically improving their lives, as seen with such enterprises as the solar finance business SunFunder, which channels investment into local off-grid energy.

We need an agreement that will help the millions of people who are suffering from the effects of climate change. From those hammered by the devastating floods and storms that hit Nepal, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and US, to protecting water supplies in Africa, and helping people move from threatened low lying islands and coastal areas like Tuvalu.  

We need clear rules, so finance can be tracked from its source to the investment itself. And firm targets so more money reaches the poorest countries and the poorest people.  

Andrew Norton ([email protected]) is director of IIED. This blog was originally posted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Andrew Norton was director of IIED from 2015-2022

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