Consequences of climate disasters must top Cop27 agenda – Kenyan activist

Climate-related disasters with millions of people starving are evidence of the devastating “loss and damage” in many parts of the planet, a Kenyan climate activist has told the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee.

Addressing the committee on Tuesday, Elizabeth Wathuti said the issue of how to support affected countries must be the defining one at next month’s Cop27 climate summit in Egypt.

She condemned wealthy countries’ inaction, while those in the Horn of Africa were living with prolonged drought following the failure of five consecutive rainy seasons and where many are at risk of famine.

She criticised the outcome of Cop26 in Glasgow last year, notably the failure of wealthy countries, including Ireland, to deliver on a promise dating back to 2009 to provide $100 billion for climate-vulnerable countries.

There were no measures to deal with “loss and damage” other than a promise to have an annual dialogue, she said. Loss and damage measures relate to impacts that cannot be avoided by cutting emissions, adapting for inevitable disruption and measures such as disaster risk management.

It involves economic and non-economic costs, and results from extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods and droughts, as well as slow onset climatic effects such as sea-level rise and salinisation. It includes permanent and irreversible losses to lives, livelihoods, homes and territory — including loss of culture, identity and biodiversity.

“We left Cop26 still on course for 2.7 degrees of global heating, which will make large parts of my continent uninhabitable … Our natural ecosystems — our life support systems — have been pushed beyond breaking point,” Ms Wathuti said.

“Wealthy countries with the greatest historical emissions are not acting fast enough to help frontline communities cope with the devastation they are facing … Climate justice is not abandoning frontline communities to their fate,” she said.

Some of the world’s poorest countries were being left to pay for a crisis not of their making, said Siobhán Curran, head of policy and advocacy with Trócaire. “This is diverting much needed public finance for sustainable development into dealing with crises and is pushing countries further into debt,” she warned.

Richer countries like Ireland should contribute to, and support, the development of “a permanent [and transparent] finance facility” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, she said, adding that “loss and damage” should be a permanent agenda item.

Head of policy and advocacy with Christian Aid Ireland Conor O’Neill said that while $83 billion was provided in 2020, “the vast majority of this money was in the form of repayable loans, which add to unsustainable debt burdens and ultimately leave the costs still shouldered by the world’s poorest.”

A further portion was “mobilised” by private finance, which tended to flow towards projects delivering a return on investment, rather than where need was greatest, he said.

The Government should support a new global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, with a view to ending new fossil fuel projects and phasing out fossil fuel production, said Jerry MacEvilly, head of policy with Friends of the Earth (FoE).

There was significant international momentum behind such a treaty, while Ireland was already “a first mover in committing to phase out fossil fuel exploration”, he said.

“In July 2021 the Government legislated to prevent new licences for oil and gas exploration in Irish waters. This made Ireland one of only six countries to have a clear legislative ban on fossil fuel exploration,” he said. Elsewhere there has been a rolling back of measures, with countries relying on fossil fuels due to the energy crisis.

“We are already witnessing European countries shifting focus and seeking to narrowly define energy security as fossil supply and to replace Russian fossil fuels with long-term fossil fuel infrastructure. Certain member states are seeking to expand gas production in Africa and ignoring questions of gas demand reduction measures in Europe itself,” Mr MacEvilly added.

FoE said it recognised the immediate challenges posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but said there was a danger that the energy crisis could result in further dependency on gas “instead of ushering [in] a commitment to zero-carbon energy systems, based on renewables, storage, energy efficiency and demand reduction”.

The overall solution to this crisis of affordability, pollution and supply, was to reduce dependence on fossil fuels as fast as possible.

Policy coordinator with Stop Climate Chaos Coalition Dr Bríd Walsh said greater ambition to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees needed to be nailed down at Cop27.

“This year the climate crisis brought historic levels of rain, heat, drought, fires and storms impacting almost every part of the world,” she said.

These were not random events but clearly attributable to the climate crisis, and not unexpected “because we’ve been warned for decades”. There was a direct connection between extreme and slow onset events and Governments’ inaction to reduce emissions to stay within 1.5 degrees, she noted.

Dr Walsh added: “High-emitting countries like Ireland, its partner Member States in the EU, as well as the US and others, must cut emissions more steeply and quickly, reach net zero as quickly as possible and before 2050, and secure a system-wide, transformational decline in the use of fossil fuels.

”Cop27 urgently needed to scale up and improve access to climate finance, “to avert, minimise and address the loss and damage currently facing communities in countries most vulnerable to climate change”, Niall McLoughlin of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications told the committee.

“Ireland will continue to engage constructively in the Glasgow Dialogues on Loss and Damage and explore concrete solutions and frameworks to assist those in need,” he added.

To avoid exacerbating existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, Ireland’s financial support was “overwhelmingly grant-based, and emphasises sectors that are of most relevance to the poorest, such as agriculture and food security, energy and social protection”, he confirmed

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