Climate Action and the New Irish Government

Climate Action and the New Irish Government

Assessments as to whether the climate commitments in the proposed Programme for Government will deliver faster and fairer climate action have been a major point of debate in government formation talks in Ireland. This is a welcome departure from previous government formation talks, when dealing with the climate crisis barely featured in negotiations. However, one aspect of climate action that has not gotten much attention is Ireland’s role in helping poorer countries respond to the challenges of climate change by providing them with adequate and appropriate climate finance.

Article 4.3 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) commits developed countries, like Ireland, to provide climate finance to developing countries to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change, due to their greater responsibility for emissions to date, and their greater financial capacity.  Such climate finance should be additional, adequate and predictable.

The devastating impacts of climate change are being felt everywhere and are having very real consequences on people’s lives, especially in the world’s poorest countries. It is affecting many of the communities Oxfam work with; undermining their livelihoods through gradual, insidious changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, and increasing the frequency and/or intensity of hazards such as floods and droughts. Vulnerability to disaster and climate change matters because it perpetuates and deepens poverty and suffering. It stands in the way of people – particularly women – being able to enjoy their basic rights and reduces their chances of ever being able to attain them.

As well as reducing carbon emissions at home, richer countries like Ireland should provide sufficient climate finance to ensure that nations most impacted by climate breakdown have adequate resources to implement necessary adaption and mitigation measures. After all, poor countries and people living in poverty are being hardest hit by a problem they have not caused and have the least resources to address. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, has pointed out the profound inequality behind climate breakdown. Projections estimate that developing countries will bear 75 percent of the cost of the climate crisis, despite the fact that the poorest half of the world’s population, mainly residing in these countries, are responsible for just 10 percent of historical carbon emissions. In a report last year on Climate Change and Poverty, Mr Aston stated: “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”

Ireland has done comparatively well in ensuring that it provides quality climate finance, with its focus to date on targeting poorer countries, adaptation and gender. Ireland’s new overseas development aid (ODA) strategy, A Better World, commits to continue this focus, along with the policy of 100 percent of untied, grant-based climate finance. Ireland’s continued commitment to grant aid is particularly welcome considering that the OECD has found that between 2013 and 2017, 60 percent of bilateral, and nearly 90 percent of multilateral climate finance was in the form of loans, further adding to the looming debt crisis.

While the quality of Irish climate finance is high, Ireland is falling short in terms of the quantity and predictability of these financial flows. In 2018, Ireland reported nearly €80 million in climate finance as its annual contribution to the $100 billion a year global climate finance target to be reached by 2020. However, based on estimates using the Eco-Equity Stockholm Environment Institute Responsibility Capacity Index, Ireland’s fair share of this annual figure should be around $500 million a year. Importantly, the global $100 billion a year commitment is a political target, rather than an amount based on detailed assessment of needs in developing countries, which by some estimations are up to 18 times greater.

The Irish Government committed to at least doubling the percentage of ODA spending on climate finance by 2030 in its Climate Action Plan published last year. To reach this target, Ireland needs to spend about 20 percent of its ODA budget on climate finance. However, as climate breakdown is happening now, it important that this commitment is reached as soon as possible – by 2025 at the latest. It is equally important that increased ODA spending on climate finance should receive an additional budgetary allocation rather than being diverted from the existing ODA budget.

And on this point, we return to proposed Programme for Government and its commitments related to climate finance. While the 2016 Programme for Government had an established target for climate finance supported by specific funds, the currently proposed Programme instead commits to increasing the percentage of Official Development Assistance being counted as climate finance, rather than committing to new or additional funding, as envisioned under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The commitment in the Programme for Government to double the percentage of development assistance that counts as climate finance, without allocating additional funds, is therefore disappointing as it risks simply re-labelling existing aid as climate finance rather than committing to providing new and additional finance to support climate action in the poorest countries. While there are many positives in the Programme for Government related to climate action, the next government needs to do a lot more if Ireland is to fulfil its obligations to provide much-needed finance to help poorer countries adapt to a changing climate.

Mary Robinson has starkly outlined what is at stake in relation to figures: “With every incremental increase in global temperature, the need to adapt increases. The adaptation burden is greatest in developing countries where capacity and resources are most constrained and where there will be losses, even at 1.5°C of warming. In order to reduce the risks of famine, conflict, migration and injustice, climate vulnerable countries will need to be supported through a cooperative, global response based on solidarity.” It must be remembered that even if we can limit global warming to just a 1.5°C increase, 122 million more people could experience extreme poverty, with substantial income losses for the poorest 20 percent in 92 countries, a recent IPCC Report has estimated. This report also highlighted that an increase of 450 million flood-prone people will be vulnerable to a doubling in flood frequency in a 1.5°C warmer world. Depending on development scenarios, between 62 and 457 million additional people will be exposed to climate risks and vulnerability to poverty with a 2°C increase compared to 1.5°C.  And these are the best-case scenarios. 

To read more about Oxfam Ireland’s recommendations to the new Irish Government, read our briefing Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the New Irish Government and Oireachtas.

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