The rich world empty climate promises

CAPE TOWN – The pandemic wreaked havoc on African economies, hampering GDP growth and straining government budgets. The war in Ukraine now threatens to make things much worse, including by disrupting food supplies and compounding inflationary pressures. But when these shocks pass, many African countries will still be struggling with the effects of climate change – and with the advanced economies’ failure to keep their commitments to help the continent cope.

Despite having contributed the least to global warming, Africa is the continent most vulnerable to its effects – a reality that has become impossible to ignore, as extreme weather events exacerbate food insecurity and destroy livelihoods. But most African countries lacked the fiscal space to invest adequately in adaptation even before the pandemic. Now, many are on the brink of debt distress.

Climate action was a key topic at the recent spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But somehow the world’s enduring failure to fulfill its climate-finance commitments – beginning with the $100 billion the developed economies pledged to deliver to their developing counterparts every year from 2020 to 2025 – did not get the attention it deserved.

In 2019 – a decade after that pledge was made – rich countries claimed they were approaching the target, having mobilized $79.6 billion. But even this rather disappointing figure is controversial, with many believing that the numbers are inflated or that some money is counted twice. In reality, the accumulated deficit of various climate-related promises since 2009 is probably already approaching $1 trillion – and that figure is set to keep growing. It is now estimated that annual contributions will not reach $100 billion until 2023.

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First published by Project Syndicate