Ministerial meeting aims to give developing nations suffering the worst impacts of global warming an opportunity to help set the global political agenda on issues like climate finance
* Developing nations to help set climate diplomacy agenda
* UK criticised for decision to cut overseas aid budget
* As costs of climate change soar, calls for debt relief grow (Updates with quotes from closing of event)
By Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering
March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain highlighted how the poorest who have done the least to cause climate change are suffering the worst of its impacts, and urged rich countries to offer more support at an online ministerial summit on Wednesday.
Climate threats can no longer been seen as an environmental issue but are affecting "the whole economy" in countries around the world, said Alok Sharma, the UK's president for the COP26 U.N. climate talks to be held in Glasgow in November.
He promised to create a task force to improve access to finance to deal with climate threats and better align climate goals and the money needed to achieve them.
Wednesday's virtual meeting brought together governments, development banks and others to work on solutions to the floods, droughts and extreme heat faced by many developing countries, as well as ways to boost energy access, clean air and smart cities.
In a statement, London said the event would be an opportunity for countries on the climate frontline to "help set the international agenda" ahead of the G7 summit in June and the November climate talks.
People in developing nations being hit the hardest by climate change are suffering "a searing injustice", Sharma said.
"Developed countries have a particular responsibility to support the response of communities which are most vulnerable to climate change," he added.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told ministers from about 35 countries, including in Asia, Africa and Latin America, that a lack of finance was creating barriers to meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
"Combined with the challenge of recovering from the pandemic, this threatens to set back progress," he said.
"We need to consider where international systems can do more to deliver urgent climate action."
In an opening session, the head of the Mongolian Sustainable Finance Association, a group formed by Mongolian bankers in part to drive greener finance, urged a range of actions, such as forcing financial institutions to report on climate risks.
"Inaction and indifference is no longer acceptable to us. You have the power, more than anyone else" to drive change," said Nomindari Enkhtur.
The meeting comes amid calls from development organisations for Britain to reverse a decision to cut its foreign aid budget temporarily in response to economic pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.
London has promised the move will not affect 11.6 billion pounds ($15.9 billion) in climate finance it has committed to deliver over the next five years.
But because international development spending and climate aid often overlap or can strengthen each other, cuts to one can lead to setbacks on both fronts, experts said.
That is particularly true as many debt-laden poor nations struggle to respond to the twin COVID-19 and climate crises, with aid cuts likely to undermine already weak resilience to extreme weather and rising seas, researchers and aid workers said.
In a letter ahead of the summit, the heads of nearly 20 groups working on climate change and development warned the cuts would "inevitably harm the most vulnerable in society, pushing huge numbers (back) into poverty" and should be reversed.
Clare Shakya, director of climate change research at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said Britain's aid reduction would undermine its credibility in encouraging other wealthy nations to step up funding for climate action.
"In the middle of a pandemic, to have health or education services under threat because of one donor suddenly disappearing" can throw overall progress off track, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It's incredible that (the UK) could think that isn't a problem," she added.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office noted Britain would double its climate finance over the next five years.
"We stand by this commitment and are pushing other developed countries to follow our lead," it said in emailed comments.
The letter from NGOs also urged Britain to appoint a champion to prioritise efforts to tackle losses and damage caused by climate change, and called for a greater share of climate finance to go to efforts to adapt to climate impacts.
That work currently receives only about a fifth of climate funding for developing countries.
The U.N. chief has called for adaptation efforts - to protect people, cities and infrastructure from climate change - to receive half of international flows.
A paper from the Center for Global Development this month found that almost half of about $79 billion in climate finance provided by wealthy countries in 2018 came from existing aid spending and was not "new and additional", as promised.
Ahead of the meeting, Harjeet Singh, ActionAid's global lead on climate change, said governments could "no longer ignore the soaring costs of the climate crisis in the global south".
He cited the example of Mozambique, which had to borrow from the International Monetary Fund to pay for its response to two powerful cyclones in 2019 and is now struggling to help "hungry and desperate" communities rebuild their lives.
"Urgent debt cancellation to enable countries to recover from the COVID-19 health and economic crisis and build climate resilience is also vital," he said in a statement.
Wednesday's meeting did not yield pledges of fresh finance from the donor countries but instead focused on building consensus on practical actions and solutions to better respond to climate impacts and alleviate fiscal pressure on developing countries.
Ministers also considered ideas to improve the quantity, quality and access to climate finance for vulnerable countries and communities.
Ahead of the event, the UK government announced half a million pounds ($685,000) in funding to develop high-quality voluntary carbon markets, which it said could increase finance flows to where they are most needed.
($1 = 0.7292 pounds) (Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling and Laurie Goering; editing by Laurie Goering and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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