Climate Finance gets Personal!

Side event at COP27 – photo credit Andy Clark

Andy Clark reflects on Climate Finance and Christian Ethics: Most reports I have seen in the press concerning COP27 have focused on disappointment about some of the unfulfilled expectations. As Alok Sharma said in the closing session “Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately, it remains on life support”, because very few countries had increased the ambition of their NDC targets compared to Glasgow as was agreed. The final text did not strengthen the commitment to a phase down of coal, nor extend this to include other fossil fuels. And little was done by the rich countries to close the climate finance gap (failing again to deliver the promised $100 billion a year towards mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries). Against the dark background of a year blighted by Putin’s war in Ukraine I was not all that surprised by these failures.

But in the darkness there were some glimmers of hope! There was more acknowledgment of indigenous peoples, the need to involve them in local climate solutions, and to benefit from their traditional knowledge. In general there was a lot more focus on promoting local solutions rather than just large national and international schemes involving major organisations. And the global food system, land use and agriculture all received a lot more attention than in previous COPs – which makes sense given that 30% of total emissions come from this sector. Finally after 30 years of stalling, COP27 took the historic step of establishing a fund for Loss & Damage!

What remains with me from COP27 is the need for climate finance. In 2022 we are only just passing the $80 billion mark compared to the $100 billion a year target promised in 2009 (meanwhile the latest need estimates are in the $160-340 billion range). According to the African Centre for Trade and Development, only 17% of the finance is grants and the rest loans, which bumps up the debt of the poorest countries. About two thirds of the climate finance goes to Mitigation projects, about one third to Adaptation and literally peanuts (measured in millions not billions!) is earmarked for Loss & Damage. Coincidentally mitigation projects, like producing clean energy, can be very economically profitable for investors. Adaptation projects much less so, and Loss & Damage is essentially charitable help for those facing catastrophic losses due to climate impacts.

I get angry when I think about the trillions and trillions available as investment towards achieving net zero (e.g. from GFANZ) compared to the trivial amounts for Loss & Damage. There is blatant self-interest by governments, the private sector, development banks and other large financial players in prioritising the use of funds. But when I reflect further I face the same challenges myself…

It was relatively easy to pay several thousand pounds for a solar system on my house – an admirable piece of mitigation helping the planet, but also very financially beneficial for me, particularly with soaring energy costs. But how much am I willing to give to Loss & Damage for example by helping those in East Africa starving because of drought, or those in Pakistan who have lost everything due to flooding? It’s so much easier for me to give some of my resources if there’s a benefit for me. But really it should be about using our affluence to put the interests of the needy ahead of our own, following the “Golden Rule” of treating others as we would wish to be treated (Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 7:12).

So how different are my personal values to those of leaders I would like to criticise for their self-interest and protecting their privilege and affluence, irrespective of the catastrophic situations facing many of the poorest people in the world?

I hear someone say, “let’s maintain some balance, it’s not wrong to be well off, and surely it is OK to use the resources I have earned to benefit me?” This sounds plausible until we step back and ask ourselves how we acquired those resources. In my case, both I and my parents worked hard in a prosperous industrialised society. But I am well aware that there were huge external costs related to our economic affluence and growth in the West which no one paid for at the time. Those costs of a damaged environment are now being paid by the vulnerable, often people who have had almost no share in the prosperity of development.

Again, someone may ask “Isn’t it like the difference in health care between prevention and cure?” Certainly we want to prevent damage by mitigation and adaptation as much as possible. But this will never eradicate severe diseases – like the climate impacts we are already seeing. What health system would survive politically if it spent 99% of its budget on preventative care, and it was just too bad if you got sick and the remaining 1% would not cover your treatment!

Jesus confirmed that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:25-37). The lawyer in the audience tried to quibble about the definition of neighbour (sounds a bit like COP negotiators wordsmithing!) and Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to clarify this. Ultimately it seems that the key to helping our global neighbours and saving the planet must be a large-scale, radical transformation of our personal values which leads to a transformation of society.  As Paul instructed Timothy:

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. (1 Tim 6:17-19, NLT)

Andy Clark, CRES student and Observer at COP27 for SIL International. He also attended COP26 in 2021 and wrote up his experiences in two blogs starting HERE: A Journey in Three Worlds – The John Ray Initiative (jri.org.uk)