John Leo Algo

Published: September 27, 2022

“Do not complicate the simple.”

These are the words uttered by an island-nation delegate during a UN climate finance dialogue I attended at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Manila. This dialogue was the third in a series of technical expert meetings to set the new collective quantified goal (NCQG) on climate finance by 2025. 

The simple truth is this: developed countries failed to keep their pledge to deliver USD100 billion by 2020 to developing nations in addressing local impacts. It was largely a political statement that did not truly account for the needs and priorities of vulnerable states and communities. 

This mistake cannot happen again. With global warming likely to reach 1.5°C before 2040, these funding needs would increase exponentially. A recent UN report showed that implementing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from 2020 to 2030 would cost around USD5.8 trillion, or USD580 million per year. 

This is still a conservative estimate, as developing countries have data gaps that reflect on declared adaptation and mitigation needs across socioeconomic sectors. Many of these NDCs are also not aligned with pathways to a 1.5-degree warmer world. 

climate finance
Demonstrators carry banners and loudspeakers in a global strike related to climate change issues. Credit: Getty Images

It is easy to be skeptical about this challenge. After all, if developed countries could not even raise USD100 billion, how can we expect them to mobilize nearly six times that figure?   

Yet this is the challenge that developed and developing nations alike must face together. Without a sufficient new finance goal, developing countries would not only become more vulnerable to the climate crisis, but also have reduced capacities to pursue sustainable development. This would ultimately impact developed nations as well

The third pillar 

As expected, the technical dialogue featured debates on the many details of the NCQG. Questions on its structure, whether to feature loss and damage finance, funding modalities to be counted, and the roles of stakeholders were deliberated among the experts. 

What stood out to me was that the participants were framing their arguments in dichotomies. Developing country versus developed country, loans versus grants, public finance and private finance, governments and businesses. In certain ways, the focus on the roles of governments and the private sector in the dialogue is understandable, as they directly determine the policies and manage the finance that would determine the success of this new goal. 

However, it was concerning that there was a surprisingly lack of even a mention among the participants (aside from me) about the role of civil society in determining the NCQG. Viewing the themes tackled through the lens of the most vulnerable peoples, such as women, youth, and indigenous peoples, was largely forgotten, even by representatives of developing nations. 

cop26 UN climate negotiations
Negotiators in the COP25 plenary in Madrid. Photo: UNFCCC.

We absolutely must iron out the timeframes, reporting formats, and which financial flows would be counted under this new goal, among many other details. A clear overarching strategy in defining and operationalizing the NCQG was missing from the USD100-billion target that ultimately led to the failure to achieve it.

But never forget, never take for granted exactly why we are even setting the NCQG to begin with: to reduce vulnerabilities within high-risk nations, in recognition of the responsibility of developed countries for causing the climate crisis. “Do not complicate the simple” means to anchor setting the NCQG on this history and reality. 

There are several ways that civil society organizations (CSOs) must meaningfully be included and influence the NCQG. These groups have been the ones directly representing and engaging the most vulnerable peoples and the ones whose expertise may help fill in gaps where governments and even businesses fail; their participation in this process is a must.

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Among these is their capacity to pressure both governments and businesses to mobilize public and private finance and hold them accountable for their actions. CSOs can lobby to governments for higher budget allocations for adaptation and mitigation programs or to corporations to divest from coal projects and reinvest in renewable energy, as acknowledged by a representative of Philippine bank Banco de Oro during the dialogue itself.

Civil society groups can also directly lobby at both national and multilateral policymaking bodies for a truly more inclusive NCQG. Among key features should include at least half of the mobilized funding being dedicated to adaptation projects, direct access to grants by most vulnerable groups whose inputs are not properly included in their country’s NDC, and a dedicated fund for climate change education through the Glasgow Work Programme. 

This sector can also help build capacities of investment firms, banks, state agencies, and communities across all the stages of the NCQG. Capacity-building is especially needed for financing adaptation, a more urgent need in developing countries yet faces challenges in quantifying needs and gaps.

It is important that the NCQG is framed to stakeholders that can mobilize finance such that it provides co-benefits aiding bothsustainable development and COVID-19 recovery. Analyzing adaptation and mitigation needs of developing countries cannot be completely separated from their national development goals and pursuit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, these needs and priorities have also been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CSOs play a pivotal role in portraying this narrative to governments, multilateral development banks, national banks, and other institutions managing sources of climate finance. Using this approach can help speed up finance sourcing by fitting climate-related needs within the scope of other existing financing mechanisms that do not explicitly or heavily factor in the climate lens, especially those from the private sector.

We cannot pretend we do not know what is missing, what is at stake, or how much needs to be done. We cannot afford to ignore the cries of the earth and the poor. Addressing the climate crisis is already complex enough. There is no need to think of “us versus them”; we must work together to deal with the gravest existential threat to current and future generations.

“Do not complicated the simple.”