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Rich should foot bill for impact on developing nations, report claims

Young Maasai herders with their cattle in Tanzania.

Young Maasai herders with their cattle in Tanzania. Many traditional ways of life are under threat from global heating.
Photograph: Ami Vitale/Getty Images

A new international organisation should be set up to raise and distribute funds to nations who will suffer the worst impacts of global heating.

That is the key conclusion of a UK report – Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change – that will be debated this week at the COP25 climate talks in Madrid. The authors argue that the cash raised by the new body should be used in addition to the $100bn a year rich countries have pledged to help poorer nations cut their carbon emissions and adapt to the climate crisis.

These new funds would compensate nations who suffer the most acute effects of rising temperatures, in terms of the cultural devastation, loss of traditional jobs and eradication of biodiversity inflicted on them.

“Many countries most affected by climate change did little to cause it, yet they face significant losses and damages,” state the report’s authors, Rebecca Byrnes and Swenja Surminski of Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

Funds to compensate for that loss and damage are now desperately needed, and cannot be delayed, they insist.

This week’s international climate meeting will be held in Madrid after political disturbances in Chile, its original host country, forced a change of venue. Delegates are expected to focus most attention on market mechanisms that could best achieve carbon emission cuts and on the losses and damages to culture, livelihoods and biodiversity facing developing nations on a heated planet.

Compensation should be provided for affected nations, some delegates will argue – a notion that others will find controversial. Yet it is clear, says the report that the impacts of climate change are already going beyond mere inconvenience for nations and are already harming health, biodiversity, traditions, culture, livelihoods and many other aspects of life.

An example of the problems that lie ahead is provided by the impact of sea-level rises on ancestral homes and burial grounds in island states in the Pacific. These special cultural and religious places are now at severe risk of submersion. Yet families have used them for generations. In this way, climate change threatens many people’s entire cultural experience. Similarly, livelihoods – such as fishing or herding – will be destroyed in a warming world and money will be needed to help people train for other occupations.

The coal- and natural gas-fired Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky.

The coal- and natural gas-fired Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Economists estimate that, if global temperature rises are kept under 2C, the damage to developing nations caused by rising sea levels, spreading deserts and changing ecosystems will reach $200bn a year by 2030. However, this sum would rise to $4tn a year if temperature rises were allowed to reach 3C or more.

According to the UN Environment Programme report last week, this latter scenario remains the more likely. Unep said that in 2018 total carbon emissions reached the equivalent of 55 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – an atmospheric input that is putting the Earth on course for a temperature rise of 3.2C by the end of this century.

“A lot of money has been promised to help disaster risk management and development in developing countries, and that has been considered to be developed nations’ ways of reducing the worst impacts of global warming,” Surminski said. “But we need something extra. Losses and damages are already occurring, and countries need support for that as well.”

Just where the funds for such efforts will come from is difficult to assess, however. President Trump has indicated that the US will pull out of the existing Paris climate agreement and he is unlikely to be an enthusiastic supporter of compensation schemes for poorer nations.

The task is a desperate one, said Surminski. “It might look difficult now, but if we leave it until later it will be almost impossible.”


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