SDG 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

This discussion paper provides an overview from a chapter in the 2019 Spotlight Report titled, “Climate finance support to developing countries imperative for ambitious climate action” by Indrajit Bose, Third World Network (TWN). The 2019 Spotlight Report is available for download at

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)), which governments adopted in September 2015, has been described as a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision”. Since 2015, the Civil Society Reflection Group (CSRG) has been monitoring how governments and international organizations have been implementing the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.

In his assessment of progress on SDG 13 – taking urgent action to combat climate change— Indrajit Bose, from the Third World Network, reminds us that Cyclone Idai, which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March is just the most recent example of the catastrophic impacts of climate change on developing countries. He calls on developed countries, which are largely responsible for causing climate change, to stand by their commitments to provide the promised finance so that developing countries can implement mitigation and adaptation measures to ensure their survival.

Global temperatures could rise by 1.5 in just 11 years

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special Report in 2018, if temperatures increase at the current level, global warming could reach 1.5 °C in just 11 years, heralding sea-level rises, and temperatures in the Tropics seeing up to 3°C warming. We are already beginning to see the implications of this—water shortages and food insecurity are leading to civil unrest (Sudan/South Sudan) and millions of climate refugees in Africa, and this will only intensify. Indrajit Bose insists that:

  • Developed countries must recognize that sustainable development supports and enables the fundamental societal and systems transitions and transformations that help limit global warming to 1.5°C.

A history of empty promises

Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, developed countries have reluctantly acknowledged their responsibility for creating climate change and its effects on developing countries. Some have pledged billions of dollars to support developing countries’ measures to adapt and mitigate the effects but sadly these are mainly empty promises. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), which was established in 1992 experienced an aggregate 37% decrease in its seventh replenishment compared to GEF’s sixth replenishment since 1992.

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2010, developed countries again committed themselves to addressing the needs of developing countries, and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was launched to a big fanfare in 2011. The GCF took four years to operationalise and at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, governments agreed to mobilise US$100 billion a year by 2020 for the GCF. It was decided that there would be a floor 50% of funds for adaption for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and African States. The funds earmarked for mitigation are to support developing countries reduce emissions from energy generation and access.

The funds and pledges from developed countries fell well below expectations. Actual contributions amounted to US$33 billion in 2015 and US$ 38 billion in 2016, with an additional US$10.3 billion in pledges between 2015 and 2018. Of these pledges, US$10.2 billion were agreements between the governments and the GCF, and as such do not reflect the amount likely to be received.

For example, the United States said it intended to pay US$ 3 billion, but so far has only paid $1 billion. Under the Trump Administration, the US will certainly not pay more, particularly as he is likely to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and at the June 2019 G20, tried – unsuccessfully – to persuade others to follow his lead. Given exchange rate fluctuations, in July 2018, the GCF Secretariat said it was only likely to receive US$ 7.2 billion of the overall pledges.

Demands for climate justice

The question now is whether developed countries will be prepared to make their agreed commitments for the GCF’s first formal replenishment in 2019. They are trying to insist that they will only replenish funds to match finance that developing countries have accessed from other sources. In another sleight of hand, developed countries wanted to link their voting rights to the funds they agreed to put in – the GCF Board at present has 24 members, composed of an equal number of members from developing and developed countries. What might be the implications of a shift like this?

Indrajit Bose emphasises that developed countries:

  • Must fulfil their obligations on climate finance to deliver climate justice for developing countries and future generations.
  • Must recognise there is a critical need to help developing countries increase capacity to implement low-emissions and climate-resilient projects and programmes.
  • Must stick to the Paris Agreement to agree to a new collective quantified finance goal before 2025 to take developing countries’ needs into account.
  • Financial support should be channelled through institutions such as the GCF to help developing countries to transform their energy programmes.

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