A pile of US dollar bills
Credit: Alexander Schimmeck via Unsplash

Over a decade ago, rich countries promised to give the global south $100 billion each year to help pay for climate action, starting in 2020. This did not transpire. A revised timeline gave them until 2023. But, you guessed it, the target still has not been met – although that hasn’t stopped discussions for a new, more ambitious target to be agreed by next year from getting under way.

Even if the $100 billion had been achieved, experts say, that figure is nowhere near high enough: the real amount needed to meaningfully help countries reduce emissions and withstand the impacts of climate change is closer to the trillions.

It is now well understood that lower-income countries are among the worst affected by climate change, despite having done the least to contribute to it in terms of carbon emissions. Part of their vulnerability is geographic, but it is mostly economic. Countries in the global south do not have adequate resources to protect their populations, or to repair the damage when disaster strikes. A recent analysis by the World Meteorological Organization found that over the past 50 years, 90 per cent of deaths caused by extreme weather events happened in lower-income countries. There have been cases where a climate disaster has wiped out a country’s entire gross domestic product.

In November, world leaders are meeting for the UN climate summit, COP28, in the United Arab Emirates. Tensions are high as global south countries feel increasingly frustrated by the failure of rich countries to step up or fulfil previous pledges. The $100 billion target is a key sticking point, but that is now just the start of their requests.

There are numerous suggestions on the table at COP28 to raise more money, but the big idea of the moment is the so-called Bridgetown Initiative, spearheaded by the government of Barbados. The ambitious plan includes various measures designed to get global south countries a better deal from the global economic system, including debt relief and restructuring, revamping the trade system to better support the green transition, a $100 billion a year fund dedicated to helping lower-income countries recover losses from climate disasters (which is different from the broader remit of the existing $100 billion pledge), and further resources they can draw on for climate action.

No doubt negotiations will be convoluted and progress slow. But at the end of it all, a life in one country can be worth no more or less than a life in another. Climate change is a complex and consuming challenge for all countries. It is only with solidarity and unity that we’ll find a way forward to protect lives everywhere.

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