17 November 2017

Africa: UN Talks Offer Little Help for Soaring Losses, Climate-Hit States Say

Bonn, Germany — From Fiji to St. Lucia, small island nations have taken every opportunity to flag the growing risks of climate change to their land and people at U.N. talks in Bonn - but their cry for help has fallen on deaf ears, officials and experts said on Friday.

Over the past two weeks, leaders of those states have spoken consistently of the loss of life and property caused by powerful storms in the last two years, and the existential threat to their low-lying territories as seas rise on a warming planet.

Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit described how 90 percent of buildings on his Caribbean island nation were damaged or destroyed when it was hit by Hurricane Maria in September, causing losses equal to more than double the size of its economy, and decimating its forests.

Two months later, 95 percent of the country lacks electricity, water systems are not functioning properly, and many residents are still living in shelters, he told the Nov. 6-17 conference, held in Bonn but hosted by Fiji.

"We are on the front line (of climate change), and this is not a metaphorical war, or a metaphorical line... it is one in which we bury the dead, console the grieving, nurse our wounds and call out for reinforcements," he said on Thursday.

With Fiji leading the proceedings, its prime minister has also evoked many times the damage wrought there by powerful Cyclone Winston last year, and called for help to strengthen island developing nations against increasingly extreme weather and higher seas, which scientists link to climate change.

But the governments of those vulnerable countries expressed disappointment on Friday at the talks' lack of progress on concrete measures to boost support, particularly funding to pay for growing losses.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) adopted a declaration entitled "The Urgency of Now", which it said reflected "grave concerns" about the pace of international efforts to address the climate change crisis.

Thoriq Ibrahim, environment and energy minister for the Maldives, which chairs AOSIS, said the 2015 Paris Agreement to tackle global warming was "a remarkable diplomatic achievement".

But "it will be judged by history as little more than words on paper if the world fails to take the level of action needed to prevent the loss of entire island nations", he said in a statement.

Besides stressing the need to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius, the lower ceiling in the Paris accord, the AOSIS declaration urges wealthy countries to deliver on long-standing commitments to provide the financial support developing countries need to transition to renewable energy and adapt to climate change impacts that can no longer be avoided.

It also called for greater attention to loss and damage from climate change, and access to funding to help pay for that.

But aid experts said developed-country governments had offered little reassurance they were willing to advance those discussions, beyond launching an expanded partnership to provide climate risk insurance to 400 million more poor people by 2020.

Armelle Le Comte, climate and energy advocacy manager for Oxfam France, said there was "a disconnection between the reality of climate change and all the impacts we have seen this year - with a number of droughts, hurricanes, floods, monsoons... and the focus on technical procedures (here)".

Developed countries have promised to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 from different sources to help poorer nations develop cleanly and become more resilient to climate change.

But so far they are less than two-thirds of the way there, and have shied away from setting out how the target will be reached in the next three years, especially given U.S. President Donald's Trump reluctance to contribute.

At the Bonn conference, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Ireland and Belgium did make pledges totalling more than $180 million to two U.N. funds for developing countries.

Experts said they hoped a climate summit organised by the French president on Dec. 12 in Paris would deliver larger promises of funding.

Robert Chimambo, a Zambian farmer who is a member of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said rich countries had so far failed to deliver the money they had promised to help African countries carry out their climate action plans.

"Slowly Africa is being pushed to the precipice," he said on the sidelines of the talks. "The resources that have been promised to us must be put on the table."

 - Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Alex Whiting

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