COP26: 'Borrowed to our eyeballs' and facing 'debt traps' - poor countries demand help with climate finance

·4-min read

Poor countries have "borrowed to our eyeballs" and must be granted more cash to cope with the climate change ruining lives and livelihoods around the world, a representative of 46 developing nations has told Sky News.

Sonam P Wangdi, chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group at UN climate talks, said around 70% of the money poor countries receive to tackle climate change is in the form of loans they "can't afford", sending many into "debt traps".

Speaking of the high proportion of loans, he said: "That is totally a no. It must be grants and then access must be ensured."

"It is ridiculous" that it can take three years to access money due to bureaucracy and delays - whereas they need it in less than a year, he added.

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It comes as negotiators at the Glasgow climate talks COP26 prepare to discuss today two highly sensitive issues for developing nations: funding for adaptation and for loss and damage. The former helps poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change, for example an extreme weather warning system, and the latter covers damage from climate change, such as displacement or death.

Just this year climate change has contributed to devastating drought and hunger in southern Madagascar, deadly flash flooding in China, and fierce wildfires in Europe and the United States, leading to loss of life and livelihoods.

"When you are hit by a calamity, when you have people whose homes are destroyed or flooded; people who don't have food to eat, people who have lost their jobs. That's loss and damage," said Mr Wangdi.

The adaptation money should come from the $100bn-a-year pot of "climate finance" that rich nations - the main contributors to climate heating emissions - promised to provide a year by 2020 to poor countries, usually low emitters and also least able to cope with it.

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But the climate finance target has been missed by several billions, set only to be met in 2023. And far more of the funds have gone to mitigation measures - ways to slash emissions - rather than being split equally with adaptation, as called for by the UN chief and most developing nations, but private finance perceives as a riskier investment.

Meanwhile although Paris Agreement signatories agreed to address the "loss and damage associated with climate change impacts", none have yet stumped up any cash, with some seeing acknowledgment of liability as a slippery slope.

However, a small £1m commitment from the Scottish government last week could act as "seed capital" to get the process off the ground, Mr Wangdi said.

The LDC group is also calling for more adaptation funding, an extension of climate finance beyond 2025 and for clearer accounting. Oxfam analysis claims far less climate finance has come through than thought.

To mark today's theme, the UK government is to announce £290 million in new funding and, perhaps more significantly, plans for the CDC, the UK's development finance institution, to work with other donors to boost adaptation.

Taylor Dimsdale, risk and resilience expert at green group E3G, said historical emissions means there's already "a lot of climate risk" built into the system. So while it's critical to keep investing in mitigation, there "also has to be much more of a balance" with adaptation.

"So what's been encouraging to see is that adaptation and resilience is more of a mainstream issue in this COP," he said.

Positions on what poor countries expect and rich countries are willing to give will start to "crystallise" from tomorrow, he said, with outcomes contributing to the final text and to how willing countries are to agree to it.

The first week saw a slew of promises and pledges, although "promising something and doing it is very different" Mr Wangdi pointed out.

Mohamed Adow, director of think tank Power Shift Africa, said COP26 so far has been "two-faced".

"On finance they talk up the trillions that could be mobilised outside yet inside they can't even deliver the $100bn they promised 12 years ago. The fact they had the gall to show up here without the $100bn is staggering," said Mr Adow.

"They publicly claim they care about adaptation but inside the talks most of the money goes on emission reductions and they undermine efforts to prioritise the adaptation needs of vulnerable nations."

In the background negotiators have been drawing up a preliminary text that they will now hand to their ministers - usually from environment, energy and climate departments - to refine, with a back and forth with their leaders and with their negotiators.

Interim updates will come from ministers on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday.

After feverish negotiations this week, the two-week summit will culminate in the publication of final texts that will finally shed light in overall progress from the talks. This summit is due to end on Friday but eleventh hours talks may well spill over into the weekend.

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