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Warm Words Won't Beat Climate Change - But a New Global Finance Deal Still Could

24/07/2015 15:09 BST | Updated 24/07/2016 10:59 BST

Visiting Kenya last weekend, Barack Obama stirred hearts and minds with his words on the country's potential to become a development success story. Gracing a summit on African entrepreneurship, the President rightly celebrates the efforts of the inspirational men and women working to bring prosperity to the country and the wider continent.

Kenya is one of WWF-UK's focus countries, where we support work to protect and restore nature as the basis for peoples' livelihoods and well-being. We know very well that Kenya, and developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, need far more than warm words - they need predictable and reliable funding for their efforts to lift their people out of extreme poverty.

These efforts are threatened by challenges often not of their making. Climate change and its impacts - increasingly being felt today across the world - is one such challenge. The World Bank has repeatedly warned of the threat that climate change poses to poverty eradication. Conversely, the New Climate Economy panel has highlighted the opportunities that the low-carbon transition offers developing countries to end extreme poverty and achieve broadly-based prosperity, while protecting the climate.

Obama's visit to Kenya comes at a critical juncture. It closely follows the UN's Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, comes ahead of a UN summit in New York in September to agree the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, and in the run-up to COP21 climate change talks in Paris in December.

As WWF has been pointing out for some time, sustainable development and climate change are inextricably linked and need an integrated approach. Our latest report Twin Tracks, jointly produced with CARE International, clearly shows the substantial synergies between the UN negotiations currently underway on post-2015 development and UNFCCC. It highlights opportunities for mutual support towards sustainable outcomes on climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable energy and agriculture.

Coinciding with Obama's visit, Kenya has published its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) as part of the UN climate process on the run-up to Paris. This outlines how Kenya will look to achieve a 30 percent cut in green house gas emissions than would otherwise be emitted over ten years from 2020, off the back of a deal in Paris. Combining steps to both reduce emissions and address the impact of unavoidable rises in temperature, a range of measures - from the expansion of renewable energy to ensuring at least 10 percent of the country is covered by trees - will be used to achieve the reductions.

Developing countries, including Kenya, justly argue that they need support from the international community, and especially from those countries with historic responsibility for past CO2 emissions, to respond to climate change. Even today, Kenya's carbon dioxide emissions per head of population are just one sixth of the global average.

They rightly stress that the international community has pledged to provide this support: at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, the rich world committed to provide at least $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

They stand a long way from meeting this commitment. Less than $20 billion a year in public finance is flowing to developing countries to help them take action on climate change. The vast majority of these funds are dedicated to mitigating emissions, rather than also helping them adapt to a warming world. This needs to change and money to follow commitments.

Looking ahead, the issue of finance is unsurprisingly central in securing agreement in Paris: there will be no new climate treaty if those countries most impacted, and with the least means to adapt to its effects, are left behind. A deal will also rely on agreement on sharing the technologies necessary for low-carbon development.

These issues are not new; resolve is what is lacking, as we can see from the agreement struck at the Financing for Development summit. Addis Ababa resulted in fewer concrete commitments than many would have liked. This includes little progress towards meeting the long-standing official development assistance target.

The agreement is nonetheless a significant step towards financing the sustainable development agenda. It brings together national governments, business, philanthropy and development partners, and aims to bolster traditional aid with other funding streams. It is also critical in bridging the finance shortfall otherwise faced which creates an opening within the Paris agreement for bolder ambition on climate finance - ambition that would inject much-needed trust into the climate talks.

Without doubt, momentum within and without the UN climate process is building. Bilateral climate agreements between the US and, respectively, China and Brazil, have, ahead of the Paris talks, helped address long-standing rifts between the industrialised world and major developing countries. The Pope's recent encyclical on climate change has added even more moral weight to the scales. Investors are voting against fossil fuels with their asset allocations and $310 billion investment in clean energy in 2014 alone. This progress and growing momentum will continue apace, regardless of what happens in Paris.

But the UN climate process remains the primary means to ensure equity in a world of international, globalised markets. Obama's visit to Kenya will give him first-hand insights into the challenges that Kenya and other developing countries face as they seek a more sustainable path to security, growth and prosperity in the face of growing climate impacts. This should certainly serve as a reminder of the need for him and his peers - including the United Kingdom - to honour their promises on climate finance. They too will be left behind if they fail.