Angelina Heil is currently an intern at the Arava Institute’s Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy, researching the feasibility of a new approach to Israeli-Palestinian cooperation via the new mechanisms introduced in Article 6.2 and 6.4 of the Paris Climate Agreement. She shares below some of her reflections as one of the Institute’s delegates at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai (COP28).
COP28 set out with three mandated outcomes, stipulating a decision on the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund, the Adaptation Fund, as well as the Global Stocktake. The latter is the first assessment since the Paris Agreement of 2015, looking back at the progress thus far, highlighting existing gaps, while evaluating how to move forward. The former two in this pursuit demand greater financial expenditure for climate adaptation and impact. When breaking them down, all three of these outcomes in essence come down to two non-mandated outcomes, namely increased ambition and finance.
Indeed, the topic of finance consistently stayed at the forefront of debates throughout the entire conference. The two weeks of COP28 incorporated, beyond the final negotiations and the world climate action summit, seven days dedicated to different themes:
- health/relief, recovery and peace,
- finance and trade,
- energy and industry,
- multilateral action,
- youth and children,
- nature and land use,
- food, agriculture and water.
Throughout these days, I did not attend a single event that didn’t in some capacity highlight the need for increased finance ambition. Furthermore, on the first days of the conference, the overwhelming majority of events concentrated on finance. If one thinks of COP28 as basically a get-together of legislators, this financial emphasis may seem surprising. However, it would be foolish not to recognize that finance, after all, is the key to success in pursuing the climate agenda. Current lack of success may very well be due to the fact that financial resources, for far too long, have not been accessible.
The Arava Institute team can clearly testify to the fact that innovative solutions require not only ambition, and new ideas for the management of water, energy, and adaptation infrastructure in the Middle East, but also sufficient funding to realize these ideas – otherwise they remain just that, ideas. Lack of implementation is fatal, especially as the Middle East is one of the earliest and hardest-hit regions by climate change, with every country suffering losses and damages due to extreme weather events such as droughts, as well as lacking water resources.
In an attempt to mitigate these challenges, the Loss and Damage Fund was set up, at its core, for wealthier countries to allocate funds for the developing world to cover the impacts of climate change. The theory is that the wealthy developed nations, primarily in Europe and North America, have historically produced the highest amounts of emissions, leading to and increasing the scale of the very climate crisis wherein those poorer nations in the Global South are experiencing its first and hardest impacts. In the COP’s civil society hub, for instance, I had the honor of chatting with delegates from the Marshall Islands where global warming and the rising sea levels it brings has taken on such devastating existential stakes that the islands very soon may cease to exist. The very delegate I met told me how he and his family are planning to have to leave their homeland at some point in the future because of the way in which the so-called first world has developed. Other delegates from Sudan and Yemen shared with me how droughts in their conflict-ridden nations further added stress factors, giving people even more reason to flee. Climate change is as violent as it is cruel, undermining entire livelihoods already today. None of these stories are new, yet perhaps exactly because of that, they are ever-more striking. For the last 30 years, developing countries have vehemently urged for the need of establishing a fund to at least somewhat cover their losses and damages amid their lack of historic responsibility for this catastrophe – so far without luck.
During the opening plenary of COP28, in a historic move, the Loss and Damage Fund was finally agreed upon and operationalized, a “hard-won victory.” The announcement was followed by a standing ovation. It was clear to see how proud the Global North was of itself. The faces of many illustrated the conviction that this COP was to be revolutionary. However, pledges of filling the newly established fund have fallen short as in total, only $792m were pledged, while a minimum of $400 billion are required to cover the actual costs of climate change-induced loss and damage. Pledges therein cover less than 0.2% of what developing countries actually need.
It is no surprise to witness that at COP28, climate finance was at a crossroads. While the conference may have started with the announcement of the Loss and Damage Fund and subsequent global pledges, climate finance is still far below what is needed and owed to developed countries. “In an age of climate ambition”, the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice in their press conference on December 2nd asked, “where is the climate finance ambition?” International financial institutions, Global North governments, and the private sector dominate and are further expanding their roles and influence, dictating the substances and processes, while pursuing their own agendas. At the same time, they promote policies and carry out actions that enable significant control of international financial institutions and promote further expansion of debt-creating mechanisms and generation of profit from the climate crisis. Tyler Booth from Friends of the Earth International explained how the cloud of lacking finance hovers above everything, from adaptation to the implementation of the next UN Gender Action Plan. Still, there is “no more good faith on where this money will come from.”
At COP28 it became crystal-clear to me that the lack of climate finance is a social justice issue of global proportion. Teret Nera-Lauron from the Rosa-Luxemburg Foundation even screamed that “the so-called world leaders in the plenary room, especially from developed countries, should be ashamed of themselves.” In an emotional press conference she further yelled “shame on them for rubbing salt in our wounds by announcing pledges to the Loss and Damage Fund”, pledging amounts that are “nothing more than a drop in the ocean”, while expecting developing countries to applaud them. “Shame on them.”
In a different high-level side event on Climate Finance needs for Developing Countries, Grenada Minister Kerryne James for Climate Resilience, Environment and Renewable Energy emotionally stated that as environmental change makers in her region, “we feel hopeless that despite all efforts, all conversations and panels that we’re having, we still cannot get enough access to climate finance. And when we do get access to climate finance, the structures and the avenues that we have to go through are so exhausting that at times we are already set up for failure even before our project starts.” The question she then raised is, how can countries in these parts of the world collaborate without undermining themselves?
In project management in the Middle East, too, is it important to not only assure that joint projects are implemented and funded, but also to evaluate where the money comes from, while realizing its limitations, embedded structures and existing challenges in accessing it. At the Arava Institue our mission embraces cooperation to jointly lead the path to regional sustainability. Within cooperation, however, are always hierarchies at play, not only at the political and military level, but also at the financial and economic level, that need to be recognized as otherwise the social and sustainable aspects of the project are already undermined from its very inception, re-enforcing injustice.
In my observation, COP28 was all about finance, yet, even after it ended, the global financial ambition is still too low and lacking precision. The Loss and Damage Fund covers less than 0.2% of needs of developing countries, and the Global Goal on Adaptation is weak in its language on timelines and targets, simply reiterating the call for doubling of climate finance from developed to developing nations by 2025, yet giving no numbers, or any roadmap to scale up finance. As I am currently working on a proposal for a new financial model for project implementation in the Palestinian Territories, it might be just this shortcoming of COP28 that re-enforces my motivation and commitment for the research and projects we advance at the Arava Institute. We need all hands on deck.