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Paris COP21: For the Poorest
Nations, Questions of Compensation

By Fred Pearce

30 Nov 2015

Who wins from climate change? Insurance companies, for one — provided they get their premiums right. So when countries most vulnerable to climate change took to the stage in a series of side events on the first day of the Paris climate conference, it was no surprise to see Mike McGavick, the CEO of XL Capital, a Bermuda-based insurance company, on hand to offer his expertise.

And he was welcome. For insurance is top of the shopping list for poor, vulnerable countries keen to push developing nations to indemnify them against disasters they have done little to cause.

McGavick was speaking at a high-level meeting to launch U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Initiative on Resilience, aimed at helping poor nations combat upcoming climate change. "Three out of four humanitarian disasters are now climate-related," Ban Ki-moon said, citing a figure that had risen 50 percent in a decade. "Such disasters can wipe out decades of development." Investing in climate resilience, he said, could "save 23,000 lives a year, and up to $2 billion in asset losses."

Some developed nations said they were keen to help. Germany's development minister, Gerd Muller, promised $1 billion dollars a year to help poor countries adapt to climate change, much of it to provide insurance against extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, to 200 million farmers, mostly in Africa.

The French hosts offered to find $100 million to extend early warning systems for droughts and cyclones. Eighty countries still lack such systems, France said, but by 2020 it promised "global coverage."

And the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, pledged $50 million to, among other things, pay for Dutch engineering companies to help hold back rising tides. With a fifth of his country below sea level, nobody knows better how to do this.

Despite this enthusiasm on public display in Paris, some of the least developed nations — the poorest of the world's poor countries — said there is a backlog of adaptation projects awaiting funding from the

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that three out of four humanitarian disasters are now climate-related.
rich nations most responsible for climate change.

The projects include everything from restoring soils eroded by spreading deserts to protecting small islands from rising sea levels. Jose Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola, chairing a group of 48 African nations vulnerable to climate change, said $5 billion of such projects were on hold for want of cash.

Finance to help developing nations adapt to climate change is potentially the dealbreaker in Paris. Developing nations expect a Green Climate Fund, which would cover adaptation and the cost of moderating their greenhouse gas emissions, to contain $100 billion a year by 2020. If the money is not on the table, they may ditch their promises on emissions — and scupper the deal.

But countries most vulnerable to climate change have demands beyond money. A session of the 20-plus members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, chaired by the Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, said that the consensus target of halting global warming at two degrees was not good enough. The group — whose members include Kenya, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, and Vietnam — wants a 1.5-degree target.

The group of vulnerable nations, representing some 200 million people, has contributed less than 2 percent of global emissions but would suffer 50 percent of climate impacts, said Aquino. These nations are already in the firing line, he noted, pointing to the havoc wrought on his country in 2013 by Hurricane Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall.

Already some Caribbean nations risk losing up to 30 percent of their GDP to climate change, claimed Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. "Paris must avoid making it impossible to stay below 1.5 degrees," he said.

Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-moon's special envoy on climate change, took their side, telling the meeting of vulnerable nations it was vital that the conference "kept open" the option of halting warming at 1.5 degrees. It might seem reasonable in rich nations to aim for two degrees, she said, but warming was likely to be uneven. "Two degrees means four degrees in parts of Africa," she said. It was a matter of "climate justice." Whoever wins from climate change, some are clear losers.

Fred Pearce, a freelance author and journalist based in the U.K., is on assignment in Paris for Yale Environment 360 and will be reporting regularly throughout the climate conference.

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