What is the role of developed economies such as the UK in assisting smaller developing states in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
When projections become daily realities
Unbeknownst to many, we are teetering on what could be referred to as a climate armageddon. The intrinsic threat of climate change to so many different facets of life on this planet makes it particularly unique. Yet, what is especially alarming for certain countries is the simple reality that they are not ready – or, in many instances, not able – to tackle climate change head on. Varied capabilities and acute vulnerabilities will bear unimaginable social and economic stress on countries that did not have a sizable role in contributing to the underlying causes of global climate change.
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) believe their determined efforts to unite nations in addressing climate change have not gained the traction nor the reward that they were intended to. A combination of self-interest, concentration of political and economic power as well as different levels of development have all contributed to SIDS and other states experiencing repeated diplomatic and political disappointments. Perhaps best exemplified by the failure of Copenhagen Agreement (where a combination of political and organisational drawbacks failed to produce a legally binding agreement), financial considerations and technical expertise continue to impede the potential progress made at climate change conferences. This then raises the question: what is the role of countries that have so far remained relatively unscathed from the impacts of global climate change?
What role can the UK play?
To quote British Prime Minister Theresa May “there is a clear moral imperative for developed countries such as the UK to help those around the world who stand to lose the most from the consequences of manmade climate change.” At the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, her government announced a raft of bold and commendable measures to assist countries that are affected by climate change. £160 million will be directed to countries to transition to cleaner/greener energy systems and provide the necessary support to communities already affected by climate change. This commitment is additional to the already sizeable £5.8 billion of funding between 2016-2020. It also follows the Climate Change Act, which was passed in 2008 and serves as the legislative basis for the UK’s approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and responding to climate change.
In directing this noteworthy amount of funding, the UK should provide technical assistance to SIDS on three key elements: first, combining the current social/environmental momentum to spur and enact developments and processes of climate legislation in SIDS; second, through the UK’s expertise in the fields of energy markets and clean growth, government led socio-economic initiatives could be implemented to assist economies struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change; and third, the UK should lead on efforts to adopt stricter and more progressive provisions and policies of climate resilience at international climate conferences and other supranational settings. Thus, climate change offers an opportunity for the UK to revitalise its role as a climate leader and improve its reputation and standing in the global arena.
It would be a mistake to believe that developed nations hold sole responsibility for the problems facing SIDS. Instead, what must be demonstrated is leadership. Leadership that rises above the complexities of climate change and encompasses its different facets including obligation, capabilities, fairness and universal participation. This requires that SIDS look also to their own role and capabilities in developing ecological sustainable development, which reflects their needs and the global requirement.
By utilising financial, technological and diplomatic efforts, the UK must address the needs of SIDS through a pragmatic lens. Addressing these needs should not be viewed as a form of charity or aid. Instead it is an explicit obligation owed to these countries by the UK and the wider international community. Previous multilateral environmental agreements recognise the enormity of the challenge faced. Yet, a concerted global effort needs to focus on an equitable and distributive approach that speaks to the most vulnerable and cements what is a common problem with many shared responsibilities.
Andrew Williamson is currently working in international development and has a keen interest in environmental diplomacy and governance.