Paris climate deal must not leave vulnerable to foot the bill

A levy on fossil fuel companies could pay for protection of the world’s poor from climate damage, argues Julie-Anne Richards

Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam (Pic: UNICEF)

Vanuatu in the wake of Cyclone Pam (Pic: UNICEF)

By Julie-Anne Richards in Paris

Over the next 48 hours, choices are being made at the Paris climate conference that will have a profound impact on the lives of billions of people.

Delegates toy with brackets behind closed doors, while those on the front line of climate change plead for action. Yesterday, Maina Talia from Tuvalu talked of the mother-child relationship Tuvaluans have with their island homes. And of how water bubbling up through the centre of his island at high tide is making his home no longer habitable. He spoke of how Tuvaluans do not want to leave their home – they want to fight for their culture and their sovereignty.

Meanwhile, we are on a pathway to 3 degrees of warming – and all of the climate catastrophe that entails. At this level of warming everyone will suffer, including the citizens of New York facing trillions in costs of rising sea levels and those of southern Australia fighting ever more ferocious bushfires.  But it is certain that vulnerable countries, like Tuvalu, will suffer first.

A recent report from Oxfam found that developing countries face US$1.7 trillion in economic damages annually by 2050 in a world of 3 degrees of warming. That is where we are headed as a result of the diabolically inadequate carbon-cutting pledges that complacent governments are trying to get away with at the Paris talks – or, even worse, celebrate as success end of this week.

Compounding this inadequate mitigation is a woefully inadequate level of adaptation finance. Current levels of true adaptation finance are less than US$10 billion per year – a far, far cry from the $100 billion yardstick for mitigation and adaptation finance agreed 6 years ago in Copenhagen.

This inadequate mitigation ambition and finance for adaptation add up to a massive loss and damage impact – and bill – for developing countries. At present the expectation seems to be that vulnerable people will pay this bill. There is currently no willingness from rich countries to consider providing support for loss and damage. The only proposal from rich countries, being discussed in back rooms in Paris, is to explicitly take off the table any future discussion of compensation and liability. When vulnerable countries have done almost nothing to cause climate change, this is a truly outrageous position.

Rich countries needn’t fear facing the full bill for climate change loss and damage.  If they were to establish a carbon levy, a fossil fuel extraction levy, they could ensure that the industry responsible for 70% of emissions pays for the damage its product is doing. This could easily raise $50bn a year and go a significant way towards paying the costs of loss and damage. The fossil fuel industry can afford to pay for climate damage they are causing – just two companies, Chevron and ExxonMobil, made $50 billion between them in profits last year. Coincidentally, that’s probably how much loss and damage is costing the 48 least developed countries right now.

Such new sources of finance can be unlocked in the near future – and should also unlock the politics that are stuck on the “diabolical” setting for loss and damage.

At Paris, countries must agree to keep warming below 1.5C – anything less will leave hundreds of millions of vulnerable people behind. Essential to have any hope in hell of achieving such a goal is agreeing to review and increase the currently inadequate mitigation plans in 2018, and agreeing that climate finance will increase with clarity and predictability. In particular, assurance that adaptation and loss and damage will receive sufficient funding.

A Paris climate agreement that sets the most vulnerable up to suffer and leaves them to deal with it largely unsupported is no climate agreement at all.

Julie-Anne Richards is international policy expert at the Climate Justice Programme

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