Part of: COP26 climate summit
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OPINION: If global warming tops 1.5C, small island nations are staring into the abyss

by Simon Stiell | Government of Grenada
Sunday, 31 October 2021 17:27 GMT

People stand and watch the sunset on Grand Anse Beach in St. George's, Grenada, November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Even with temperature rise of 1.1C, many vulnerable countries, like mine, are already trying to cope with climate change impacts - and we need the money to adapt

Simon Stiell is Grenada's Minister for Climate Resilience and the Environment

I’m not going to pretend I’m not frustrated. It’s hard looking other negotiators in the eye with your back against a wall. Knowing that for them, there is money to be made, and time left in which to make it. It’s frustrating because I am running out of time. My family, and friends, country, and region – we are running out of time.

The ocean is coming for the homes of a village on the North of my island. We are already having to relocate residents as best we can. Our debt levels are rising in tandem with the seas. Our fisherman and farmers aren’t able to get the same catch, or harvest, as they once did.

This is only at 1.1°C of warming. Right now the world is headed for well over 2°C - closer to 3˚C if I’m honest. This is not livable for us.

Every tenth of a degree of warming matters. The IPCC’s latest report has emphasised the massive differences between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming – up to 3m of sea level rise could be avoided if we keep temperature rise to 1.5°C.

This is why we small islands have fought so hard for the 1.5°C limit in the Paris Agreement. If we go beyond that we are just staring into the abyss. 1.5 to stay alive is our reality.

We know our best lever to prevent these impacts is to reduce our emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal – which is why countries coming forward with ambitious targets before and at COP26 in Glasgow is so important. Especially the G20 who – with 75 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 80 percent of global GDP – have a really big role to play to get emissions down.

But it is also important for us as a global community to recognise that many vulnerable countries, like mine, are already trying to cope with the impacts of climate change. And we need the money to adapt. 

LACK OF FINANCE

The main barrier to adaptation is a lack of finance. Climate finance flowing to small islands has not increased, but reduced, by 600 million between 2018 and 2019.

In 2017–18, only an estimated 3% of bilateral climate finance went to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – and the bulk of this finance was in the form of loans and other non-grant instruments.

At the same time, SIDS have been taking on increased debt due to climate impacts. The costs of damages from hurricanes have been in the billions of dollars per event. This takes away national resources from sustainable development and makes us even more vulnerable to climate change.

In 2009, the international community said that by 2020 – there would be a $100 billion a year set aside for vulnerable countries to help them lower their emissions. But this deadline has passed, and we still have not seen this promise fulfilled. Nor will it be for a few more years, not unless things change.

In contrast, the G20 alone has spent at least US3.3 trillion on fossil fuel subsidies - coal, oil and gas and fossil fuel power - in the five years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement.

Now, in 2021, climate change is worse. Our adaptation needs have increased. And this is the critical time where we as an international community really need to invest in new infrastructure and technology to get our emissions down.

$100 billion is far from adequate to pay for both the transformational change needed to decarbonise and to avert catastrophe, as well as the incredible losses that vulnerable countries are already experiencing. We need new and additional financing to address escalating loss and damage, which is only projected to rise as global temperatures increase.

The impacts of a current 2.5-3°C path are beyond what small islands can ever adapt to.

We are slowly but surely being pushed to a cliff edge. I look behind to these major emitters who are forcing us into this ever more precarious position, who have only just begun to experience the kind of wreckage that an unfriendly climate can have on them. In the negotiations I put on a smile, and I use my voice as best I can – deploy my ever so precious “vulnerable perspective”.

But I am frustrated. How much longer are we supposed to wait? What kind of sacrifice are we willing to make? Is it me? Is it my home? Is it my culture?

If the world fails to limit warming to 1.5°C it fails us.