A lot happened on international climate finance at the US Climate Summit; but what does it all mean?


While the Leaders' Summit on Climate brought together climate laggards and climate-vulnerable countries, the ‘invite-only’ nature of the Summit is another reminder that the climate agenda is still largely driven by rich, developed countries.

By Leia Achampong (Eurodad) and Carola Mejia (LATINDADD)

Dubbed the ‘Biden Summit’, the Leaders’ Summit on Climate from 22-23 April was the US’s way of reintroducing itself back into the climate change battle, and signalling what can be expected from the Administration on this global issue. Consequently, all eyes were on the level of climate ‘ambition’ that the US and other invited major polluting countries would commit to. Climate ambition refers to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, address climate impacts (through adaptation and loss and damage measures), and provide climate finance.

Heads of State and/or Government from the world’s 17 largest economies were invited to join the US, as were several Heads from the climate Vulnerable Twenty group (V20), the chiefs of the IMF and World Bank Group, and other public development banks and international financial institutions, the summit was an opportune moment for those climate-vulnerable countries and climate finance providers invited to highlight their priorities, needs, and solutions.

The Summit was also an exercise in climate diplomacy. The multilateral commitment to tackle climate change is at stake!

According to new figures from the International Energy Agency, the world is on track to see another 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere from energy-related carbon emissions this year, largely from coal. This highlights the urgent need to transition away from harmful fossil fuels, towards renewable energy, coupled with energy efficiency measures.

It’s clear that climate-vulnerable countries will require financial support to carry out a fair transition to renewable energies and energy efficiency if they’re to stave off further debt, and to rapidly adapt to ongoing climate impacts that are having negative social, environmental and economic effects. Consequently, all developed countries will need to fulfil their commitment to the existing US$ 100bn global climate finance goal and ensure that all countries are able to contribute to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

What are the Summit's outcomes on finance for climate-vulnerable countries?

The US led the charge and made several announcements, including that by 2024 it intends to double its annual public climate finance to developing countries and that within this, the US “intends to triple its adaptation finance” as well. This announcement was complemented by:

Other significant announcements from other developed countries include:

  • Japan's announcement to provide up to US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund —the fund serving the Paris Climate Agreement and largest climate fund in the world.
  • New Zealand highlighted the need for both climate finance and sustainable finance, as well as more accessible finance, especially for adaptation. Their Pacific Island nation neighbours have long been calling for greater access to climate finance.
  • France will host a Summit on ‘Finance for African economies’ on 18 May, which is expected to focus on private finance, a type of financing that studies have shown can be costlier and lead to additional unplanned costs.
  • Italy confirmed that it will host the second Finance in Common (FiC) Summit, which gathered together more than 450 public development banks last year. It also stated that supporting the most vulnerable will be one of its priorities.
  • The UK reiterated its pledge to double UK climate finance, and as COP26 hosts urged rich nations to fulfil their commitment to achieving the global climate finance goal of US $100 billion.

But how meaningful is it all?

The only announcement of new international climate finance came from the Summit hosts, the US; since the UK’s pledge to double climate finance was initially made in 2019. Also, it’s not clear if the announcement from Japan is new, or simply the sum of two existing climate finance pledges for 2015-2019 and 2020-2023 that amount to US$ 3bn. Additionally, while the US’s tripling of adaptation finance sounds impressive, this tripling is not in addition to the US pledge to double its public climate finance by 2024 but forms part of this pledge. So is merely another reminder of the scarcity of climate finance for adaptation.

Moreover, few details were given on the form of this climate finance —loans, grants, tradable financial instruments etc— and whether it would be new or additional to existing financial flows. While some other G7 and G20 countries acknowledged the need for increased climate finance, they shared no plans on how they will support increased access to high quality and greater quantity of climate finance. A predictable channel of finance is needed to ensure that climate-vulnerable countries are able to fully contribute to achieving the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

What needs to happen going forward?

During the Summit, climate-vulnerable country after climate-vulnerable country made it clear that their adaptation and loss and damage needs are at a peak. They urgently need richer nations to crack the nut on climate finance and begin to provide scalable, public climate finance. Some also highlighted the necessity of renewing existing financial architecture, including through different finance mechanisms such as debt swaps, to ensure that finance mechanisms support greater climate, social and financial justice. Finally, several countries made it clear that climate finance in the form of grants is a ‘need to have’, not just a ‘nice to have’.

The following proposals can help address some of the concerns with existing climate finance, and can also be found in this Eurodad briefing:

  • All developed countries must state how they will fulfil the US$ 100bn global climate finance goal, particularly G7 and G20 countries. It is crucial that climate-vulnerable countries have access to a stream of scalable and predictable, public climate finance grants.
  • Public climate finance in the form of grants must be prioritised. Loans increase a country’s susceptibility to debt, which reduces their ability to adapt and to address loss and damage, or to invest in public services and social protection.
  • Greater access to climate finance is needed to minimise debt. Minimising the debt burden can be achieved through mandatory debt payments suspension and debt relief in the immediate aftermath of climate disasters, but this must be coupled with access to additional climate finance.
  • Countries must increase finance for adaptation and to address ongoing losses and damages. Vulnerable countries have identified that they urgently need access to adaptation finance, (specifically on water, agriculture, coastal protection and resilience), and to address severe losses and damages. Yet figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that 72 per cent of public and private climate finance currently goes to mitigation.
  • Climate finance must be gender-responsive, so gender analyses must be conducted to determine the differing needs and interests in society, accessibility to finance mechanisms, and power dynamics. Funds should also be disbursed to female-led organisations in local communities.

Climate action needs to be driven by equity and the needs of the most vulnerable. The Leaders’ Summit on Climate is the first US climate diplomacy initiative in a number of years. It has been welcomed by many for bringing together climate laggards and climate-vulnerable countries, demonstrating the strength of the US’s convening power to address multilateral issues beyond UN processes. However, the ‘invite-only’ nature of the Summit is another reminder that the climate agenda is still largely driven by rich, developed countries.

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