“Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return [...] We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption.”
These are the words of UN Secretary General António Guterres during Earth Week 2020, in remarks released just a week before the annual Petersberg Climate Dialogue.
The Petersberg Climate Dialogue is a forum that’s convened by Germany each year, bringing together a group of countries to discuss how to advance global climate action. Traditionally it has been an important meeting for countries to share their priorities and concerns for the year ahead at a high-level. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiators then discuss the issues throughout the year, ahead of Heads of State and Governments agreeing outcomes at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COPs) at the end of the year.
UN Secretary General Guterres’s remarks were made in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. They also come during a period of sustained climate impacts that are only set to get worse, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if efforts to address climate change are not scaled-up urgently. So far, 2020 has borne witness to an intense Pacific typhoon period, continued Arctic ice melting and severe droughts in parts of South America. These impacts are experienced overwhelmingly by vulnerable, developing countries in the global south that have contributed the least to climate change.
That’s what makes this year’s Petersberg Climate Dialogue so pertinent. This is the first significant climate change conference to bring together heads of state from around the world since the Covid-19 pandemic status was announced.
This year the Dialogue has been elevated to the level of core high-level climate convener in 2020, which makes it one of the few opportunities for climate diplomacy in 2020. It must be used to drive ambition on emissions reductions, to scale-up climate finance, to address loss and damage and to employ adaptation measures. The world cannot afford to squander this opportunity.
The countries taking part in the Dialogue, including the EU, China, UK and Rwanda, are expected to discuss ways to support developing countries in the global south to implement measures to tackle climate change, including financial support. A clear expectation from developing countries is that there should be a discussion on finance to address losses and damages that have, are currently, and will take place. This same discussion took off at COP25 in December 2019 and was bandied back and forth between loss and damage negotiators and finance negotiators, before being parked for ‘future’ discussion.
The Dialogue is an opportunity for this discussion to be held at a political level. A strong outcome on loss and damage finance, coupled with a commitment from all G20 countries to significantly increase their climate targets, would send a strong signal to developing countries – helping to build trust and confidence.
Heads of State and Governments in attendance must also use this moment to champion and strengthen global collaboration, and to instil confidence that the dual global challenges of coronavirus and climate disruption will be tackled by all, together. This is especially important in a year when all countries are required to submit either their enhanced or 2015 climate commitments to the UNFCCC.
The volatile mixture of two crises is acting as a multiplier of shocks to societies and economies. What is clear is that developing countries in the global south are continuing to experience climate impacts, whilst also trying to strengthen their healthcare systems to respond to Covid-19, at the same time as keeping their economies afloat under social distancing measures and travel bans. High levels of indebtedness and decreasing revenues due to the economic downturn are leaving countries particularly unprepared to deal with climate, health and economic challenges.
So it is even more imperative that the Dialogue not only discusses climate commitments, but also addresses how to support vulnerable countries to implement their own domestic climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. Vulnerable countries need to know that they can rely on a stable, predictable flow of financial support so they can implement enhanced climate commitments, as well as designing climate-resilient recovery plans in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
All developed countries at the Dialogue must commit to achieving the collective commitment to provide US$ 100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020, and agree to go beyond this target after 2020. A clear priority is scaling-up finance for measures to adapt to climate change, which are severely underfunded, and creating a process to mobilise finance to address loss and damage caused by extreme climatic impacts – all of which must be new and additional.
Many vulnerable countries are also having to deal with increasing debt service payments, in addition to trying to tackle climate change at the same time as addressing the current pandemic. As such, grants and concessional loans must be prioritised, and should be provided using a gender-responsive approach.
Countries should also use this Dialogue to reflect upon how to create a fair and transparent debt resolution framework that considers human rights, public service (in particular health), gender, climate and other Agenda 2030 needs. Releasing the weight of unsustainable debts, through debt cancellation and restructuring, would allow countries to focus on their domestic sustainable development toward climate neutrality.
Those at the Dialogue must heed the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and send a clear signal that global climate action is a global priority and must continue, to ensure that we protect our planet both from the coronavirus and the threat of climate disruption.