We need to focus more on responsibility as a fundamental component of achieving climate justice and begin to identify and operationalize what climate justice responsibility from the global perspective could entail.
While we must work to truly operationalize the Barbados-led Bridgetown Initiative, WTO rules must work for our climate commitments and not against them.
We need to continue to explore new mechanisms and programmes to address the dire debt situation in developing countries where their resources are often spent not on mitigation and adaptation or on health, gender equality, education, and social services, but on debt repayment.
By Matthew Wilson, Ambassador of Barbados to the UN, WTO and other international organizations in Geneva
We are living at a time of climate crisis. The reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show a slowly degenerating ecosystem, and at a recent speech in London, the Chair of the IPPC firmly stated that “it is clear that climate change, unequivocally caused by human activities, is already upon us.” Small states like Barbados are on the frontlines of this crisis. The most vulnerable live the reality of this catastrophe every day. A more deliberate effort is needed to punctuate and position our ongoing efforts around mitigation and adaptation through the lens of climate justice.
There are many facets to the word ‘justice.’ Clearly documented evidence and facts support this call to action. There is the moral argument that those who have should protect those who have not, and that those who have caused the climate crisis should take greater action than those who have not. Research shows that least developed countries (LDCs) produce less than 4% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions but have suffered 69% of deaths caused by climate disasters since 1972. Small States have also had minimum impact on emissions. There can be no stronger argument for accepting common but differentiated responsibility as a global principle than that. It is important to recall what then-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said when Scotland gave a grant of USD 1.26 million to the Climate Justice Resilience Fund as she acknowledged developed countries had a “moral responsibility” to support developing ones in the face of climate change. This is also what underlines Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley’s call for “global moral leadership.”
Instead, we need to focus more on responsibility as a fundamental component of achieving climate justice and begin to identify and operationalize what climate justice responsibility from the global perspective could entail.
First, we must work to truly operationalize the Barbados-led Bridgetown Initiative. Many of the countries on the frontlines of climate devastation are unable to access the necessary financing because of multilateral financial systems that have not matured to meet the realities of today. Climate financing is crucial to supporting mitigation and adaptation actions. However, financing should not disadvantage already highly indebted nations, and this is why the Bridgetown Initiative sets out some solutions and contours to help the financial system support adaptation while also ensuring development is not eroded From proposing natural disaster clauses in loan agreements to ramping up liquidity support, mobilizing private sector investment for green transformations, and increasing official sector development lending, the initiative seeks to spirit reform in a manner that is aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Second, World Trade Organization (WTO) rules must work for our climate commitments and not against them. Trade rules agreed to 25 years ago may not be automatically relevant to the realities of today. Small developing countries need to be able to invest in the green transition by providing subsidies and incentives to their micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). They need to be able to access green technology and to ensure food security through modern climate-smart agricultural techniques. Those who resist a relook at existing trade rules under the guise of ‘no roll back’ are likely those who are either not directly affected by climate change, have the means to address issues outside of the multilateral trade regime, or are simply flouting the rules and doing what they want to do domestically anyway. Small states can do none of the three. We want to see progress on completing the fisheries subsidies negotiations in a way that balances sustainability and development and in the WTO Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade coordinated by Australia, Barbados, China, Ecuador, Fiji, and Morocco. The same must be harvested in the work done in the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD)led by Costa Rica and Canada, and the work in the Committee on Trade and Environment must be reinvigorated. Support for the Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate launched in Davos this year must also be enhanced as it is a prime platform for coherence. Barbados is a member of all three initiatives.
Third, we need existing commitments to be honored. I was heartened to see the response to the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – but many developing countries would have expected more. Many small states were equally invigorated by the agreement on the loss and damage fund but disappointed that the talks leading up to the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28) still appeared to be discussing certain fundamentals, although it is positive that a draft proposal has been agreed to. Announcing a fund is a relatively easy thing to do, but it is much harder to resource it and to decide where to host and anchor it, but we have a commitment to do so especially as funds required for loss and damage are expected to reach USD 671 billion annually by 2030. I am also heartened to see that the global community is increasingly responding to the advocacy of small states regarding the use of binary measures, namely per capita income, as the sole criteria for assessing access to grant and concessional financing. More needs to be done to ensure that the most vulnerable, including island states, can access the requisite funds.
Fourth, we need to continue to explore new mechanisms and programmes to address the dire debt situation in developing countries where their resources are often spent not on mitigation and adaptation or on health, gender equality, education, and social services, but on debt repayment. The Caribbean is among the world’s most indebted regions, with debt levels averaging 90.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) since the beginning of the pandemic. As Professor Avinash Persaud, one of the architects of the Bridgetown Initiative, recalled,“50% of the increase in the Caribbean’s debt could be traced back to some natural disaster that we had to pay for ourselves.” We need a new global debt forgiveness plan for small states and LDCs.
Fifth, we need to continue to explore innovative mechanisms like the recent Belize debt-for-nature swap, or the World Bank’s loan approval for Barbados’ Green and Resilient Recovery. As Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said, “this will advance our efforts to achieve climate resilience, including continuing our shift to clean energy… while creating opportunities for green and blue jobs and investment.” The international community must also seek to support and replicate what Barbados announced at the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact in Paris last summer – a new Blue Green Bank that “will help finance over USD 250 million of green investments in affordable homes, hurricane-resilient roofs, the electrification of public and private transport, and other Paris-aligned investments.”
At the country level, we need to see more focused support for developing countries to invest in the circular economy. For the EU Green Deal, we need more transparency and consultation, enhanced capacity building for developing countries’ MSMEs to understand what is coming their way, and a developmental angle to the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), as called for by the Europe Jacques Delors Institute.
A concerted recommitment to Aid for Trade is also required. What was once an innovative spotlight on matching trade-related capacity-building needs with supply has now become almost routine and more about which donors top the leader board on commitments at the WTO Aid for Trade Global Review. We need to green Aid for Trade and center it on innovation, leveraging private investment and showing results. I challenge all funders to engage at the 2024 WTO Global Aid for Trade Review with renewed vigor and for developing countries to share what has worked and is scalable and what has not worked. Oxfam has estimated that the true value of climate financing from developed to developing countries as of 2020 stood at between USD 21 to 24.5 billion per year. Experts estimate that USD 2.5 trillion is needed annually for adaptation, mitigation, and loss and damage. We need to ramp things up.
Developing countries also have a massive responsibility and some cleaning up to do in their own backyards. Our populations are feeling the impact of the climate crisis viscerally. Jobs will be lost, vulnerable communities will be affected, and sectors will be disrupted. We need to prioritize actions that move us away from overdependence on fossil fuels and to more sustainable forms of energy and to addressing domestic accountability issues that often prevent aid from having the impact that it should. Larger developing countries that can contribute to development funds like the loss and damage fund and the Blue Green Bank and to promoting Aid for Trade collaboration focused on technology and knowledge transfer must also do so. It has to be all hands on deck.
Finally, a large part of climate justice is also what we can do as individuals. Individual actions and voices have an impact. Activists are waking people up and agitating the status quo. May we all practice ‘good trouble’ if it means we preserve our earth for generations to come.