The former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental specialists have lauded world leaders for their breakthrough decision to establish a fund for countries like Liberia that have been hit hard by climate change, but they warned that much work must be done to secure needed funds.
By Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh, Assistant Climate Justice Editor with the New Narratives
Negotiators at the COP 28 conference on climate change, held this year in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), made landmark progress when the UAE and Germany each committed the sum of $US100m as startup funding. The European Union pledged $US150 million and the United Kingdom pledged $US50m, raising the total to about $US500 million so far.
The funds will help less developed countries like Liberia deal with the growing damage from climate change. In the last five years, the world has experienced its hottest years on record, with rising sea levels, flooding, heavy rainfall, and wildfires leading to deaths and destruction of livelihoods. Liberia has been heavily impacted with thousands losing their homes to sea rise and widespread disruption to farming and fishing from erratic rainfall and higher temperatures.
Nathaniel Blama, former executive director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), describes the commitment to fund loss and damages as a move in the right direction, but warned that Liberia will need to meet all requirements and deadlines and have clearly defined scientific data on the effects of climate change to stand a chance of benefitting.
Blama said the government has so far come up short of data on short-and long-term climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, as well as evidence for the financial, technological, and human resources needed to implement an appropriate plan for funds.
Nevertheless, whatever Liberia receives is much needed, he said.
“Funding for loss and damage is welcome news because Liberia is one of the vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change and coastal erosion,” Blama said. “Just yesterday, in December, we had rain, and this kind of rain is affecting our roads and our food production.”
Liberia remains vulnerable to climate change from warmer temperatures and increased in annual rainfall affecting agriculture, Blama said. But he said the amount committed so far will only fund the “tip of the iceberg”. He said it will only fund a Secretariat and cannot pay for actual loss and damages to help countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.
“Other countries who are major polluters also need to step up to contribute to that fun,” Blama said.
At last year’s COP 27, held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, loss and damage were not even on the agenda, yet countries ended up adopting a funding mechanism to support developing countries impacted by climate change. After days of tense negotiations, world leaders agreed to establish a transitional committee to make recommendations on how to operationalize new funding arrangements this year.
One of the most contentious issues was the acceptance of the plan by the top most polluting nations, including China which contributes 30%, the United States 15%, India 7 percent, Russia 5% and Japan 4%. All of Africa contributes just 4 percent of global carbon emissions, according to One Campaign data center, but it is among the most affected and vulnerable regions in the world.
Parties at last year’s conference announced that to achieve the global transformation of a low-carbon economy an investment of a staggering $US6 trillion dollars would be needed annually.
While loss and damage in developing countries is already estimated by some studies to be greater than $US400 billion annually – and it’s expected to rise – environmentalists and scientists warned that costs will depend on the effectiveness of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The former Environmental Protection Agency executive director fears that countries like Liberia will not benefit from loss and damage funds, not necessarily because they do not feel the impacts of climate change, but because they have not been able to justify the impact of climate change on their country. Liberia, Blama said, now needs to to begin working with agriculture, mining, and infrastructure sectors to begin laying out the impacts of climate change.
Currently, there is no data clearly showing the impact of climate change per sector, Blama said. What Liberia does have is the Nationally Determined Contribution, (NDC). The NDC emerged from the Paris Agreement under which 191 countries, including Liberia, committed to limit global warming to “below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius. Most scientists now think the 1.5° goal has been passed.
Liberia’s revised NDC includes nine impacted sectors: fisheries, forestry, agriculture, coastal zones, health transportation, industry, waste infrastructures and energy. The Paris Agreement requested countries to develop and submit updated NDCs every five years to the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat.
Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, Liberia’s current Environmental Protection Agency executive director, thanked the government of the UAE and other nations that have so far contributed to the loss and damage fund for making it a priority issue on the agenda at this year’s COP.
“We are particularly glad, as the Liberian delegation, for the solution to it because, had it not been for their (UAE) quick decision to put funds on the table we would have had this situation drag on,” said Tarpeh. “So we want to thank the UAE for making the $US100 million available, which was followed by other nations.”
There had been some controversy over the UAE being made host of the event given the Persian Gulf state’s heavy production of oil. The burning of fossil fuels is the major contributor to the global warming that is causing climate change.
Tarpeh added that least-developed countries could only hope that the operational mechanism is developed to enable countries to have access to that funding as soon as possible and not take another 10 years for it to become available. He said Liberia’s key priority for loss and damage funds remains vulnerable coastal communities that are slowly being washed away by sea erosion.
Tarpeh’s position was backed by Jeremiah Sokan Sr., the National Coordinator of the National Climate Change Secretariat, who said as a least-developed country and an African state Liberia needs “sufficient support” to enhance resilience against the impacts of climate change.
“The country needs adaptation funding for food security and building climate-resilient infrastructure along the coastal belts to curtail coastal erosion induced by sea level rise,” Sokan said. “Seven out of Liberia’s fifteen countries are located on the coastal belt. These counties host 80 percent of Liberia’s economic activities and key infrastructure. The counties have already started experiencing severe, constant threats from aggressive coastal erosion induced by sea level rise.”
Sokan also said the country needs to focus on forest conservation and renewable energy for climate-smart development.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of its Climate, Land and Water Justice Project. Funding was provided by the American Jewish World Service. The funder had no say in the story’s content.