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Covid-19, a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency

The Covid-19 crisis has created a new world. Old certainties are quickly becoming outdated, while new challenges and possibilities abound.

The response to the pandemic has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping economies and societies functioning to save lives. It offers us all an opportunity to rebuild a better, fairer and more sustainable world, one where we take the climate crisis seriously and do not jeopardise the lives of our children and future generations.

Building a More Sustainable World

Moves to address the climate crisis have been lacklustre at best and any sense of urgency to act seems to be pushed further back due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold environmental protection, as in many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. Unlike Covid-19, the climate crisis is not an immediate threat to our lives here in Ireland. But we have already seen its effects, and in the longer term, it will pose a much greater threat to our existence. Indeed, for the people Oxfam works with, the climate crisis is not a future threat but something they experience every time extreme and unpredictable weather wreaks havoc on their lives and livelihoods. As with Covid-19, we cannot say we are safe unless we are all safe. Therefore, serious action on climate must be taken now. We must aim to meet our targets as a matter of urgency.

Desert locusts swarms destroyed farmland and livelihoods in 2019 and 2020. Photo: FAO/Sven Torfinn

Climate Crisis

The devastating impacts of climate change are having real consequences on people’s lives right now; from locust swarms devastating crops and increased food and water insecurity, to extreme weather events and bush fires destroying homes and livelihoods. Vulnerability to disaster and climate change matters because it perpetuates and deepens poverty and suffering.

To date, Ireland has been a laggard on climate action. The Programme for Government contains very positive commitments on climate, but the question is – will those commitments be honoured? Past governments have also pledged to reduce emissions but failed to do so.

As well as reducing emissions at home, richer countries like Ireland have committed to providing climate finance to ensure the countries most impacted by climate breakdown have adequate resources for life-saving adaptation measures. While the 2016 Programme for Government had an established target for climate finance supported by specific funds, the current programme instead commits to increasing the percentage of Official Development Assistance (ODA) 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 to double the percentage of ODA that counts as climate finance, without allocating additional funds, risks re-labelling existing aid as climate finance rather than committing to providing new finance to support climate action in the poorest countries. While there are many positives in the Programme for Government on climate action, the Government needs to do more if Ireland is to fulfil its obligations to provide much-needed finance to help poorer countries adapt to a changing climate – without diverting existing and essential ODA.

Oxfam installed a solar powered water pump in Ghana that allows women to farm vegetables during the dry season. Ireland needs impactful climate action that helps all people. Photo: Oxfam

One in two people struggle daily to survive

Fulfilling these commitments will help the global effort to prevent countries slipping into food insecurity due to climate-related impacts on agricultural production and food prices. One in two people already struggle daily to survive; this is likely to increase dramatically in the wake of Covid-19. Food security must be protected, while policies and programmes that promote climate-resilient agriculture must be implemented and supported.

Rahela trying to catch fish for her family as they have nothing to eat after cyclone Bulbul. Gabura, Shamnagar. Photo: FabehaMonir/Oxfam

Throwaway & Circular Economies

The Government’s new National Waste and Circular Economy Action Plan is also to be welcomed; however, the focus is mainly on packaging even though textiles have been identified as one of the waste streams with the highest untapped potential to implement circular practices.

According to Re-dress, 225,000 tonnes of textiles end up in Irish landfills every year – a huge waste of resources considering it would take 13 years to drink the water needed to make just one t-shirt and one pair of jeans. In a circular economy, these items would be reused or recycled instead of contributing to increased greenhouse gas emissions leeching out into our soil, water and air. Circularity not only benefits the environment and helps fight the climate crisis, it also creates innovative and sustainable economic opportunities.

Moving Forward

The time is now for Ireland to take a leadership role in promoting progressive change needed in the world. We must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that have made so many people vulnerable in the first place.

The choices made now will have profound implications for the future. They can lay the foundations for a more equal and sustainable world, or they can accelerate inequality and environmental destruction.

Together we can learn from this unprecedented crisis, and build a more human economy and a fairer world.

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Alone in the world, the children of Moria deserve a safe haven

A young boy sitting alongside the road at a makeshift camp. Photo Caption: Yousif Al Shewaili / Oxfam

"Welcome to Prison"

By Erin McKay, Campaigns and Advocacy Executive with Oxfam Ireland

These words, scrawled across a concrete wall at the entrance to the camp, greeted everyone who entered Moria. Moria was a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos, a short distance across the sea from Turkey and served as a main transit route to Europe for people who are seeking asylum from persecution.

On a cold February day in 2018, my colleague and I passed these words as we wandered down the muddy and trash lined lanes of Moria. The camp was densely overcrowded with more than 11,000 people crammed into a space that was only ever meant to accommodate 3,000. We weaved in between makeshift tents cobbled together with tarp and duct tape; covered in the mud that plagued the camp in winter. Little faces poked out from the open flaps of these tents to wave at us as we walked by. We shuffled down a steep incline as water running from the trash heaps on the side of the road threatened to spill into our boots and arrived at a high chain link fence where the guards check our credentials and wave us in. This area, aptly called “the pen” is where unaccompanied minors – children who arrive in Europe without their family or a legal guardian – are held.

Inside this “pen”, a prison within a prison, there were children everywhere. On this winter day, most were not dressed for the cold and all were saturated in mud. I saw children caring for younger siblings, small children playing with trash and no adults in sight. Doctors I worked alongside in the camp would be called into "the pen" and the detention cells holding unaccompanied minors to respond to suicide attempts and self-harm injuries. Unimaginably, the children inside “the pen” are the lucky ones – they were able to prove their age. Other unaccompanied children, mostly teenage boys who do not have documents showing their status as minors, are left to fend for themselves on their own among the general population. These children are at high risk of exploitation and violence.

I left Moria two years ago, heartbroken and terrified. Scared for the young children trapped in unsafe, unhealthy and unfit conditions without their family or someone to care for them.

Children looking at what is left from the former Moria camp. Photo Caption: Yousif Al Shewaili / Oxfam

Moria was a prison and that prison burnt to the ground.

The camp, which was holding 13,000 people, 634 of whom were unaccompanied children, went up in flames on 8 September 2020. This came after a strict lockdown was imposed in response to the camps first recorded case of Covid-19. The competing tragedies of the spreading virus, fire and additional displacement are just the latest heartbreak in the lives of the people living in Moria. Even before the pandemic, the overcrowded conditions on this island were inhumane, unhygienic and unsafe.

The fire was a fully preventable tragedy and is the consequence of years of a misguided response from the EU and its member states to the arrival of people fleeing conflict and persecution. In March 2020, Ireland joined a coalition of the willing – EU member states that signed up to take a portion of the 1,600 unaccompanied minor children being held on the Greek Islands. This welcome initiative further illustrates Ireland’s long history as an island of refuge for the most vulnerable and in need of shelter. To date, Ireland has relocated eight children as a part of this coalition with the relocation of another four young people now in motion. In the wake of this tragedy and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, we need to relocate the rest of the unaccompanied minors that we have committed to take and bring them safely to Ireland as soon as possible.

The unaccompanied minors at Moria have now fled twice: once from persecution and violence in their home countries and now from the burning camp. These children, alone in the world, are in need of a safe place now more than ever.

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Not fit for winter: Conditions in ‘Moria 2.0’ camp are abysmal - GCR and Oxfam

Oxfam Ireland urge for swift relocation of the remaining 26 unaccompanied children from Greece to Ireland

The new temporary camp on the Greek island of Lesbos is even worse than the original Moria camp, with inadequate shelter, hardly any running water, limited healthcare services, and no access to legal aid, said the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Oxfam in their latest ‘Lesbos Bulletin’ news update. The organisations call for the immediate relocation of all people seeking asylum in Lesbos to adequate accommodation on the Greek mainland and in other EU countries - including the remaining 26 unaccompanied children Ireland has committed to relocate.

Almost 8,000 people – most of them families with children – now live in tents not fit for winter, some of which are just 20 metres from the sea. The tents lack a solid foundation and provide no protection against the weather including against strong sea winds and rains.

Food is only provided once or twice per day, and according to residents there is not enough to feed their families. Due to the lack of running water, many people wash themselves in the sea – this is particularly risky for children who could drown or get infected by wastewater from the camp. Due to the lack of toilets and showers as well as insufficient lighting in the new camp, women are also exposed to increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “When Moria burnt down, we heard strong statements from EU decision-makers saying ‘No more Morias’. But the new camp is rightly dubbed ‘Moria 2.0’. 

“The EU and Greek response following the Moria fire has been pitiful. Rather than relocating people to proper shelters where they would be safe, the EU and Greece have opted for another dismal camp at the external borders, trapping people in a spiral of destitution and misery.  

“This approach is echoed in the new EU migration pact: it proposes more camps at Europe’s borders to screen people seeking asylum. Experience shows that it is unlikely that resources will be invested to ensure a fair and efficient procedure. This means ordinary people using their legal right to flee conflict and human rights abuses will remain in limbo and despair, out of sight of the European public and politicians."

Natalia-Rafaella Kafkoutsou, refugee law expert at the Greek Council for Refugees, said: “We are deeply concerned about living conditions in the new camp and urge Greece to relocate immediately everyone from the island. Though the government’s plan to relocate all residents by Easter is welcome, it fails to address the squalid conditions in the camp, which will deteriorate in winter.

“The government plan also does not provide a durable and coherent integration strategy, in order to avoid simply transferring a policy-made problem from the island to the mainland. This also means that European governments need to work together and ensure effective relocation across member states for those seeking protection in Europe. The practices and policies that led to the failure of the EU ‘hotspot’ approach, both in Lesbos and the other Aegean islands, should not be replicated and consolidated in the EU’s future asylum system, which seems to be the case with the current proposals for a new EU migration pact.”  

Clarken concluded: “We recently welcomed the increase in funding for TUSLA in Budget 2021, and reiterate our hope that this leads to the swift relocation of the remaining 26 unaccompanied children from Greece to Ireland as committed to by the Government in March of this year. 

“We also urge the government to ensures that the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 be resubmitted for attention, allowed to pass through the final stages of the Dáil and be enacted into law. This simple act can reunite families torn apart by conflict and persecution.” 

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Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165 

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to editors:

  • Spokespeople are available in Ireland, Athens and Lesbos (English, Greek) as well as in Brussels (English).
  • In March of this year Ireland committed to bring 36 unaccompanied minors to Ireland from Greece. To date, Ireland has brought eight of the 36 children they pledged to relocate as part of the Coalition of the Willing initiative, with a commitment following the fires in Moria to begin working to relocate an additional four unaccompanied minors. 
  • Read the full “Lesbos Bulletin”, a two-monthly update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camp in Lesbos
  • When Oxfam conducted a rapid protection assessment at the end of September, the organisation identified numerous risks to the people living in the camp including limited access to food and healthcare, insufficient measures against COVID-19, as well as no drainage and sewerage system on site. The protection assessment that was conducted by Oxfam at the end of September is available upon request.
  • The fire in Moria camp occurred on the 8th and 9th September and left over 12,000 people without shelter.
  • After the fire, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said that “Conditions in Moria, both before and after the fire, were unacceptable… It is not good enough to say never again, we need action and all Member States must play their part.”
  • The UNHCR and NGOs have protested the Greek government’s decision to close two alternative community-based care sites in Lesbos for people seeking asylum, Kara Tepe and Pikpa. Following public pressure, the government has stated that the facility would temporarily remain open.
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True value of climate finance is just a third of that reported by developed countries – Oxfam

Ireland does well in terms of quality but falls down in terms of quantity

The true value of money provided by developed countries to help developing nations respond to the climate crisis may be just a third of the amount reported, according to Oxfam estimates published today – with Ireland standing out as one of the few countries that provide 100 percent of untied, grant-based climate finance.  

Oxfam’s Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020 estimates that donors reported $59.5 billion per year on average in 2017 and 2018 – the latest years for which figures are available. But the true value of support for climate action may be as little as $19-22.5 billion per year once loan repayments, interest and other forms of over-reporting are stripped out. 

Oxfam’s analysis is being released ahead of a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on developed countries’ progress towards the goal of providing $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020.

An astonishing 80 percent ($47 billion) of all reported public climate finance was not provided in the form of grants – mostly as loans. Around half ($24 billion) of this finance was non-concessional, offered on ungenerous terms. Oxfam calculated that the ‘grant equivalent’ – the true value of the loans once repayments and interest are deducted – was less than half of the amount reported. 

Compared to other countries Ireland also does well in terms of targeting its climate finance grants on those most in need- low income countries. Ireland’s new overseas development aid (ODA) strategy, A Better World, commits to continue this focus.

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 is over five times this amount.

Michael McCarthy Flynn, Senior Research and Policy Coordinator with Oxfam Ireland, said: “Climate finance is a lifeline for communities facing record heat waves, terrifying storms and devastating floods. Even as governments struggle with COVID-19, they must not lose sight of the mounting threat from the climate crisis. The commitment in the Programme for Government to double the percentage of development assistance that counts as climate finance, without allocating additional funds, 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.

“Developed countries like Ireland need to up their ambition in relation to climate finance and allocate more finance for adaptation and prioritise the most vulnerable countries – including Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. They should also use the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next November as an opportunity to set a new path for climate finance beyond 2020 by agreeing robust common accounting standards, and a specific finance goal for adaptation.”

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Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org| +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 

Notes to editors:

  • Spokespeople are available for interview.
  • Download a full copy of the report, Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020: Assessing progress towards the $100 billion commitment
  • The analysis comes ahead of updated estimates and analysis of climate finance provided and mobilised by developed countries prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expected in the coming weeks.
  • In 2009, developed countries committed to mobilise $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020 to support developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce their emissions. At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow next year, nations will begin negotiations on a new goal or goals to replace this commitment from 2025.
  • The figure of $59.5 billion is an average of the climate finance reported in 2017 and 2018 towards the $100 billion goal by developed country governments, multilateral development banks, multilateral climate funds and other organisations as reported to the UNFCCC and the OECD. They are the most recent figures available. 
  • Oxfam’s $19-22.5 billion figure includes the estimated grant equivalent of reported climate finance rather than the face value of loans and other non-grant instruments. It also accounts for overreporting of climate finance where action to combat climate change is only part of a broader development project.
  • This is Oxfam’s third Shadow Climate Finance Report. Reported public climate finance has increased from $44.5 billion per year in 2015 and 2016 (OECD) to an estimated $59.5 billion per year in 2017 and 2018. Oxfam’s estimate of net, climate specific assistance showed a more modest rise from $15–19.5 billion per year in 2015 and 2016 to $19–22.5 billion in 2017 and 2018. 
  • The analysis also raises serious concerns about how developed countries are allocating climate finance. Of total reported public climate finance in 2017-18, Oxfam estimates: 
  1. Around a fifth (20.5 percent) of funding went to the Least Developed Countries and just three percent to Small Island Developing States, which face the gravest threat from climate change and have the fewest   resources to cope 
  2. Only a quarter (25 percent) of funding was spent helping countries adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis while 66 percent of funds were spent helping countries cut emissions. However, the volume of funding for adaptation rose significantly from $9 billion per year in 2015–16 to $15 billion in 2017–18. 
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