“Our focus at COP27 is developed countries backtracking on their mitigation commitments”

CarbonCopy speaks to Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) finance lead Michai Robertson on the group’s expectations at ongoing UN climate summit

Made up of 39 small island countries, including Maldives, Mauritius, Fiji, Barbados, among others, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is said to be the most vulnerable to climate change and related events. The AOSIS was the first group that pushed for loss and damage due to climate change.

CarbonCopy spoke to AOSIS finance lead and their advisor for climate, oceans and legal Michai Robertson on the expectations of the AOSIS and the role of finance in fighting the climate emergency. Robertson is also the lead negotiator for climate finance.  

Here’s an edited excerpt of his interview: 

The AOSIS includes the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. So what are some key issues that it expects to see in the discussions at COP27?

Looking at our vulnerability and all the broader issues, our focus is developed countries backtracking on their commitments on mitigation. [They are] saying that this is only for the short term. With this backtracking, even if it is for the short term, science tells us it locks in decades of loss and damage. These are exacerbated by our vulnerabilities as SIDS [small island developing states]. 

So it is very important for us to land a space on the agenda to discuss funding arrangements for loss and damage response. 

And then the next thing is, what is the outcome? What is the package of solutions? Not only do we need countries to make commitments, we need it to be done in a fair and equitable way. Because if you look at the stats, SIDS are constantly marginalized and get a very small piece of the pie when it comes to climate finance. 

It’s because of a number of things, but it really boils down to [the fact that] we’re not considered geopolitically important. We’re not big economies, not big emerging developing countries, we’re not LDCs [Least Developed Countries], and we’re not countries in conflict. We may not have strategic resources or minerals. So there’s a lot of lip service paid to our special circumstances. And so we need to figure out a way in which the vehicle is there, a fund is set up, solutions are on the horizon, that we can then program funding to us. 

The $100-billion target is yet to be met. Developed countries continue to fall back on their climate finance commitments citing domestic financial crisis. Even last month at the Green Climate Fund meeting, the UK didn’t pay up the money that they were supposed to. What expectations does the AOSIS have this year, keeping in mind that other countries are going to say that they are also facing domestic crises.

We would love for that [$100 billion] to be met this year. We won’t know until two years from now anyway, whether they have met it for this year, but it’s looking unlikely with all the current projections.

And I think we should really question whether this is a crisis or an emergency.

Because you would see in global crises in the past, especially those that were Eurocentric during world war, the entire world stopped, right? All the broader means, production and food rationing and all of those things were focused on efforts to solve that crisis.  

Why is this not a world emergency? We are like canaries in a coal mine. We are the ones who face loss and damage issues. The wealthiest, who have the most resources and ability to adapt, are also facing it, so it is a huge issue that they are not prioritizing taking the lead to decarbonise. There is minimal funding to make ourselves resilient. We didn’t mitigate well enough to stabilize GHGs so that we could consider natural adaptation. 

The hundred billion is just symbolic. It’s nowhere close to representing all the funding that we need. But we can’t even get that—with very questionable accounting. Even with the most liberal accounting, we can’t even get to that. And so what does that say about the importance that we place on this world emergency? 

Note: Climate finance refers to the money paid by countries towards fighting climate change. In 2010, richer countries pledged to channelise $100 billion for poor countries.

This COP is being referred to as the “implementation COP”. They’re saying a lot of bold actions will be taken. So with respect to finance, what do you think is ready to be implemented?

I’m not sure, to be honest. Because you’re talking about commitments. [The commitments] that were made in Glasgow still haven’t been fulfilled. There are some before Glasgow, like the one you mentioned with respect to the Green Climate Fund, not being met. So when it comes to finance, there’s not much to show.

So we can start to implement the COP decisions in relation to loss and damage response, as well as Article 8 and Article 9 in the context of loss and damage funding arrangements. And then begin a process of implementing and operationalising the support element of loss and damage. Because it is about saving lives, livelihoods and assets. 

Note: Article 8 of the Paris Agreement recognises the importance of addressing loss and damage associated with climate change. Article 9 stresses on the importance of developed countries taking the lead in mobilizing climate finance.

Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement has been included as an issue of priority this year. How significant is it to the AOSIS?

It is very important. It is at the core of it because of how our global system is set up. That’s how the world is set up—it’s run on finance and finance flows. It’s only logical that in order to actually implement and achieve the very ambitious objectives of the Paris Agreement, it has to take a financial approach, because it is the foundation. 

Obviously, you have climate finance, which is fit for purpose, it is a means to an end. It goes to developing countries and assists them in implementing their commitments. However, there needs to be a broader discussion on flows between private entities. We need to make sure that there’s a way in which all of our financial transactions are aligned with a low emission, climate-resilient development pathway. Because if not, you’ll never be able to achieve those ambitious adaptation mitigation goals. 

So 2.1(c) is crucial for us to operationalise. We do need to give guidance to the rest of the world on what is Paris aligned and what is not. Because who better to guide us on that than the creators of the Paris Agreement, right? The UNFCCC and the CMA. If we don’t give clear guidance, you have the private sector and other entities dictating what is aligned, and there is a risk of them misinterpreting what we meant by what is aligned with our demand. 

And then [the private sector will] greenwash a lot of their efforts saying “yes we’re aligned to the Paris agreement” when the truth is they are not. 

Note: Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement says that climate finance should be tied to low emissions-based development. Developing countries like India argue that the article is ambiguous, which could lead to inequality in how money is distributed.

Greenwashing in the context of climate finance refers to portraying certain expenses/donations as climate-friendly, when in reality they are not.

For the first time, the standing committee on finance has released a report on the climate finance definition. AOSIS is one of the groups that has asked for a common approach for definition for climate finance. What are your views on this?

It’s crucial! It’s crucial because it is linked to accountability. And it’s linked to the essence of what climate finance is, which is new and additional. And the only way you can understand something new and additional is to understand its scope and confines. To understand what is climate finance, but also more importantly, to understand what is not climate finance. Because again, you have greenwashing as well in climate finance.

We can’t set a new goal without having a clear understanding on the scope of what [funds] can come to fulfill that goal. 

What do you expect from the new collective quantified goal on climate finance?

The process has been quite dispersed, it hasn’t been centralized. We need to have some refocusing of the technical process. And we need to make sure that the political process is also focused.

But there are a couple of things that we should decide on. Things like the timeframe of the goal. 

Even though it’s an annual goal, how long is that going to be applicable before we have periodic reviews of it? I think it will be really great to have a timeframe so that we’re not talking about things in the abstract. 

Mrinali is a researcher with Land Conflict Watch, an independent network of researchers studying land conflicts, climate change, and natural resource governance in India.

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