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We have the solutions. Now, we just need to mobilise climate finance.

Frontline communities around the world are paying the ultimate price of a climate crisis. A crisis that they did not create. Leaders of small island nations, facing perilous sea-level rise, have been calling on wealthy nations to pay their fair share of climate finance for decades. When will we finally see reparations for loss and damage?

Last week, Stockholm50+ marked half a century of international conferences coordinating the global effort to protect our planet and the people on it. This year’s theme is “A healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity”. Five decades of UN conferences, including 26 on climate, and what have we achieved? Emissions are still rising, plastic is still choking wildlife and waterways. Frontline communities are still facing the brunt of rising temperatures, sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Progress is agonisingly slow. One of the major sticking points at these international conferences is the matter of climate finance. How much is climate action going to cost and who is footing the bill? Who is ultimately responsible for repairing what has been broken? We’re going to take a closer look at funding for climate resilience, adaptation and solutions.

Climate Finance

Climate finance, in UN terms, is the budget for climate “mitigation” and “adaptation”. Mitigation refers to any action that is taken to reduce greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. For example, transforming public transport to replace cars or investing in renewable energy infrastructure. This will allow society to function without emitting excessive amounts of ghg. Adaptation is defined as actions that help us to cope with the negative consequences of global heating. Things like building structures that can withstand flooding or equipping emergency services to respond to wildfires. 

This funding can come from many sources, via the government or from private funders and can be used for local, national or international climate action. The Paris Agreement, from COP21, called on richer nations to provide their fair share of climate finance to fund the global response and aid poorer countries, especially those that are already experiencing the impact of the climate emergency. 

$100 Billion Pledge

You might be thinking, “but, I heard that at COP26 wealthy states made a pledge of $100 billion dollars per year to support the Global South?” And you’d be right. But, this commitment was actually made back in 2009 and was supposed to have been dispersed by 2020. At COP last year, pledging nations had yet to make good on their promise.

When it was announced in Glasgow in 2021, it was not a new pledge or additional funding, it was simply a renewed commitment to the same pledge. Needless to say, representatives from poorer nations are frustrated and disheartened that adequate finance has not yet been mobilised to support them as they battle with the worst effects of the current levels of global heating. 

And there is another catch. Much of this climate finance fund is set up to disperse as loans to countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency. So, nations that already have a much lower GDP, and mounting debt, would actually have to pay that money back. In the words of Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, “ the bottom line is – to build back we have to borrow. And when we borrow it is added to our debts to GDP. And when our debt to GDP rises, our credit rating drops and we are unable to meet the basic fundamental demands that normal development requires of us. There has to be a recognition of being able to isolate that debt which is necessary to build resilient or build back after a climate disaster.”

The history of “Loss and Damage”

Even the phrase “loss and damage” has a contentious history. Amy Westervelt, an investigative journalist and podcast host, explored the topic in detail in a recent episode of her podcast Damages.

Let’s be clear, what we are really talking about here is compensation. From wealthy, high emitting countries to poorer, low emitting countries that are most at risk from climate disasters. Countries in Asia, Africa and South America, as well as small island nations vulnerable to sea-level rise, are facing huge losses and damage already because of the unstable climate brought about by global warming. These losses are not just statistics, they are lives, livelihoods and precious ecosystems.

For context, it’s important to note that the entire continent of Africa is responsible for less than 4% of historic emissions but is now warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, with devastating consequences for more than a billion people living there. And, dealing with the fallout of the climate crisis is expensive. Many countries are now facing costs greater than their annual income for climate-induced disasters

Way back in 1991 representatives from the Pacific island, Vanuatu brought up the idea of compensation during COP negotiations. In 2012, after 20 years of talks, rich countries got words like ”liability” and “compensation” removed from official documentation referring to climate finance. Now, the term “loss and damage” is used in its place which distances those most responsible from accountability. 

Make Polluters Pay

It’s not just the major economies of the world that bear a responsibility to put things right. We also need to be looking at industry. Did you know that fossil fuel companies are getting $11 million a minute in subsidies? 

That’s right, they are literally being paid to continue polluting. When you consider that fossil fuel execs have known for decades that their product was causing catastrophic damage. That they have pumped billions in misinformation campaigns. It’s a no brainer to advocate for policy that demands they pay up for climate finance. 

And right now, fossil fuel companies are making record profits while fuel poverty is surging. During the pandemic, billionaires saw their fortunes more than double. Clearly, the money to fund climate finance exists, it’s just being hoarded by a small percentage of the population. 

Make Polluters Pay (MPP) is a coalition of charitable and campaigning groups and organisations campaigning for fairer loss and damage finance. Their solution is very simple – top polluting nations, cities, industries, companies and people need to pay for the damage they have caused. MPP say that climate finance also needs to be; Grants, not loans, New and Needs-based. Needs-based is especially pertinent as funding often tends to be based on a number decided by the funder, rather than properly priced and based on the reality of the situation. 


The story of global finance, and climate finance, is not a complete story without looking at the legacy of colonialism. In the latest IPCC report, the link between colonialism and climate change was finally named as UN officials conceded that we are still living with the effects brought about by the exploitation and colonisation of the Global South by European powers.

“Colonialism and the fossil fuel era reconfigured the world economy. The Indian subcontinent’s share of the global economy shrank from 27% to 3% between 1700 and 1950 and it’s estimated that at the same time the UK benefitted by approx USD $45 trillion from its colonial rule of the regions….there are similar stories to be told of colonial endeavours in the Americas, in the African continent and beyond.” – Harpreet Paul, author of ‘Towards Reparative Climate Justice. 

The estimated costs of loss and damage are between $290 and $580 billion by 2030, which is more than the combined GDP of the world’s 80 poorest countries. It’s outrageous to expect those who have contributed the least to climate change to pick up the cheque. 


What about the billionaires, you say? Well, yes, they certainly have a responsibility due to their high carbon lifestyles (the top 1 % of people are responsible for 21% of emissions growth) and investment portfolios. However, private donations are not the answer. Philanthropy is inherently problematic because although donation amounts seem enormous to us mere mortals, there is often much less than the mega-rich should be paying in tax. In addition to that, philanthropy allows the donor to dictate what the money is spent on and to who it should be given. This often results in billionaire “climate funds” being given to primarily white, Western organisations or funnelled into tech solutions instead of funding grassroots, BIPOC and place-based solutions. 

Bezos, Gates and Musk have all created funds for the climate. But, let’s be real, this does not make them heroes. If they truly wanted to address inequality and injustice, they would not be billionaires. They would redistribute their wealth to marginalised communities and grassroots organisations. They only care about saving the planet if they get to maintain the status quo and hold on to their power and wealth.

Losses cannot be overstated

Something that cannot be quantified in loss and damage conversations is the loss of culture and heritage. It is impossible to truly understand the loss felt by a nation of people when their ancestral lands disappear and they become displaced.

As sea levels rise and island nations disappear, entire cultures and histories will disappear with them. Sacred landscapes, treasured lands, holy grounds, ancestral landmarks and sites. With that, native plants and animals. The pain of this impending loss and grief is unimaginable. The fracture of that connection of native people from their homelands will be profound and no amount of climate finance will ever compensate for that.

Leaders of island nations have the burden of responsibility on their shoulders – how to guide the people through this tragedy. How to advocate for their people in climate negotiations. To keep them safe from the climate crisis. To make a plan to evacuate them from safety. The very least that wealthy states can do is allocate sufficient climate finance. 

IMAGE: Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: The photo is being taken from inside the ocean water, half the image is of water as the camera is party-submerged in the water. The upper half is a line of palm trees, from a visible island close by.