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EXCLUSIVE: COP28 declaration to tie climate funding to conflict for the first time

‘It really shines a light on this massive problem.’

Cop28 UAE' logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) under the theme of 'United on Climate Action Toward COP28', in Abu Dhabi, UAE, January 16, 2023. Rula Rouhana/Reuters
The COP28 UAE logo is displayed on screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, on 16 January 2023.

The COP28 presidency will call for immediate action and “urgent” funding to help communities hit by conflict and climate change, according to a draft declaration being circulated ahead of the upcoming climate summit.

The draft declaration, obtained by The New Humanitarian, is being seen as a landmark attempt to bring climate and humanitarian policy together for the first time at an annual UN climate conference, placing the intersection squarely on the international agenda.

Drawn up by the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting the 30 November-12 December talks in Dubai, it is high-level recognition that people in fragile and conflict-hit settings have been left behind by the world’s climate action – despite rising global insecurity.

The New Humanitarian was sent a copy of the “pre-final” draft of the Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace Declaration by a staffer at an organisation involved in consultations that had received it in October from a UAE official.

The text, which is not legally binding, urges “immediate and structural action across financial support, programming, and partnerships” through actions such as improving conflict sensitivity and measuring how much climate money makes it to fragile contexts.

“With the UAE using its COP presidency to champion this issue, the needs and realities of communities in fragile contexts have been elevated to a level we have not seen before,” said Adrianna Hardaway, Mercy Corps’ senior policy adviser on climate and water security.

In an email to The New Humanitarian, she said the declaration “does a good job of clearly stating what the problem is and how fragile and conflict-affected situations… fall through the gaps on climate finance”.

It “really shines a light on this massive problem”, Harriet Mackaill-Hill, climate and peace advocacy adviser at International Alert, another NGO that has seen the draft declaration, told The New Humanitarian.

It matters because it comes at a “very timely moment” when climate finance negotiations are “not going very well” and have suffered a “blind spot” in getting funds to conflict and fragile settings, many of which are “on the forefront of climate change”, Mackaill-Hill said.

The declaration is “a great step in the right direction and definitely helps us as civil society organisations shed more light on this topic and bring it to the forefront of negotiations, considering it’s a non-negotiated topic”, she added.

Last week, Cindy McCain, World Food Programme chief and COP28 president, issued a call to action ahead of the summit that mentioned the declaration publicly – possibly for the first time – but gave no details.

The New Humanitarian spoke to several people involved in the negotiations ahead of COP28. They wouldn't be quoted by name due to the sensitivity of the ongoing talks but said Norway is believed to be one of the government signatories to the declaration, with the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross among the organisations supporting it.

The breadth of the draft declaration obtained by The New Humanitarian underlines how the COP conferences have become increasingly political events, discussing an ever-wider range of climate issues.

This concerns some environmentalists who fear distractions from the official COP negotiations, run by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Several people consulted on the declaration expressed concern that the UAE did not sufficiently consult affected countries or communities, and that it could see precious funds drawn away from the negotiated COP process.

These talks are focused specifically on three areas: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate change, and responding to the loss and damage caused by environmental disasters.

Increasing climate financing for all three areas is a core aspect of the upcoming talks, with discussions on a new funding target – the New Collective Quantified Goal, or NCQG – beginning at COP28.

Conflict declaration is UAE’s ‘primary objective’

COP28 will be the first UN climate summit to host a day – albeit outside the core negotiations – dedicated to conflict and disaster. And it is this event on 3 December that is focused on the theme of “Relief, Recovery and Peace”.

The draft declaration for the event acknowledges climate change “can act as a significant and rapidly growing challenge to stability… and be a catalyst for social, economic, and political tensions”.

Signatories will agree they are “deeply concerned that the specific needs and challenges” of people affected by conflict, fragility, or humanitarian crises are “largely unaddressed” by existing climate resilience work.

This is because of “barriers to accessing finance, capacity constraints, and real and perceived risks associated with working in such environments”, the draft declaration says.

It emphasises that “climate action in such contexts and for marginalised populations is possible and effective and, if managed properly, can offer avenues for sustainable development and inclusive peacebuilding”.

Six proposals for “good practice and programming” are made in the declaration. They include a call for climate programmes to be designed to include “conflict sensitivity standards… to ensure climate action does not lead to adverse effects on societies or spark new grievances”. The risk of climate programmes or the disbursement of climate finance worsening conflict dynamics has long been a concern of peacebuilding experts. 

The declaration also calls for improved organisation of expertise “across climate, development, humanitarian, and peace actors”, and for the incorporation of “conflict, and peace considerations into climate efforts”.

Gaining political unity around the declaration is “COP28’s primary objective”, according to a separate UAE document outlining the COP Presidency’s plans for the “Relief, Recovery and Peace Action Agenda”, also obtained by The New Humanitarian.

That phrasing is, again, likely to worry some climate campaigners, as the declaration is not part of the official climate negotiations, for which the UAE is tasked with ensuring a successful outcome.

Pressure is growing on humanitarian policy experts to work out how their sector will respond to the challenges of climate change, especially given the lack of climate finance reaching people affected by crises and conflict – people who are also often affected by hunger and extreme poverty. States categorised as extremely fragile by the OECD received $2.1 climate finance per capita between 2014 and 2021, compared to $161.7 per capita in 90 non-fragile lower income countries.

The draft declaration says money is “urgently required” to build climate resilience for people affected by conflict or disasters.

But those concerns come alongside a major deficit in climate adaptation finance, for which the draft declaration also calls for an “ambitious scale-up”. Climate adaptation is a broad field describing projects that help prepare and respond to the effects of climate change, which tend to require grant and concessional financing – a key reason for the shortfall.

The draft also calls for “action to address loss and damage”. These negotiations, which had long been beset by difficulty, did recently reach a landmark agreement to get a new fund up and running at COP28.

The EU announced on Monday that it was prepared to make a “substantial” contribution to the fund, but financing concerns remain amid tight public budgets in many Global North countries – those obliged under UN agreements to contribute the most to climate finance because of their larger role in causing climate change.

As well as calling for increased funding for climate adaptation, the declaration’s financing objectives also say there should be improved access to that money: Difficulties getting hold of available climate finance from international bodies like the Green Climate Fund have been a key complaint of lower-income countries.

According to Mercy Corps’ Hardaway, the “weakest” aspect of the declaration is a section on partnerships that lacks specifics on how donors should adjust their risk calibrations to invest in fragile contexts. “While we recognise the challenges donors face in increasing their risk appetite, we would have liked to see explicit references to this in the declaration,” she said.

And while the declaration agrees on assessing progress at COP29 next year, International Alert’s Hill said, “we would like to see a stronger monitoring mechanism that would ensure and guarantee accountability of those that will sign on… so this is not just a one-shot occurrence and there will be strong follow-up”.

International Alert would also have preferred if the declaration had included language around “devolving decision-making” to affected communities, said Hill, rather than just “prioritising local impact and results”.

The draft makes no mention of fossil fuels, the root cause of the climate crisis. Several sources involved in the COP28 preparations told The New Humanitarian that the UAE, a major oil producer, has been resisting the inclusion of language that blames fossil fuels for the climate crisis.

Edited by Irwin Loy and Andrew Gully.

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