Chapter 3

Scotland’s contribution to international climate action

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“Recent COPs have failed to deliver the progress needed on climate finance and commitments to reduce emissions. However, despite not being an official party to the talks, Scotland showed leadership at COP26 and played a vital role in moving on the debate on Loss and Damage. Scotland must continue to champion international climate justice, set a strong example to other Global North countries and do what it can to drive progress.” Prof. Saleemul Huq, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), Bangladesh

Most of the issues arising in the UN climate negotiations centre around questions of equity, historic responsibility and the capability to act.  These are at the heart of climate justice. Long-term tensions between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ country parties to the UN climate framework focus on these questions, therefore they are key to unlocking the global cooperation that is essential to achieving the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5oC. As an industrialised country, indeed one of the prime drivers of industrialisation, Scotland has a historical climate debt to repay.  This debt continues to grow and will do so until Scotland achieves net zero, under current plans, in 2045. Therefore, the primary action the Scottish Government can take to contribute to international climate justice is to fairly and swiftly reduce its emissions and meet its climate targets.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change requires high-income countries to contribute to low-emissions development and help fund adaptation measures in low-income countries. Adequate provision, or lack thereof, of climate finance is a highly contentious issue.

A pledge from the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 to mobilise £100bn a year in ‘climate finance’ by 2020, while wholly inadequate, has yet to be achieved. Global South parties are fighting for a new long-term goal for finance that is based on what is needed and owed, rather than what is politically expedient.  A breakthrough agreement at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh saw the creation of a specific fund to address Loss and Damage caused by rising temperatures, however there are legitimate fears that it will not be adequately resourced.

What is Loss and Damage?

The ‘losses and damages’ of climate change refer to the impacts – both economic, such as damage to infrastructure, and non-economic, such as loss of culture – which can no longer be avoided by reducing our emissions or adapting to global temperature increases.  These impacts affect both humans and the natural environment. 

Damage from climate change includes impacts such as loss of life, loss of land, loss of income, loss of traditional knowledge and culture, or loss of personal possessions.  These losses may be from floods, droughts, storms, or processes such as desertification, sea-level rises or the spread of tropical diseases.

The devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022 affected around 33 million people and estimates put losses at $43bn.  That is $43bn for one event in one country.  More widely, Oxfam estimates that funding requirements for UN humanitarian appeals linked to extreme weather are eight times higher than they were 20 years ago, and over the past five years nearly half of appeal requirements have gone unmet.  Funding for emergency humanitarian response is piecemeal and inadequate, as is broader support to address loss and damage, such as rebuilding homes and vital infrastructure.

Estimates of the kind of sums needed and owed are very large indeed, with a report by the UNFCCC Secretariat citing an estimate of almost $6trillion per year by 2030. Analysis using the ‘Fair Shares’ methodology, which is rooted in the science of carbon budgets and the principles of equity under the UNFCCC, shows that if the UK was to reduce its own emissions to zero by 2030, it would still be responsible for an estimated total of £1 trillion in support for developing countries. Given that the UK has committed to net-zero by 2050, its financial obligations are considerably greater. Scotland is responsible for a portion of the UK’s Fair Share, both in terms of mitigation and finance. Given its more ambitious mitigation targets of 75% by 2030 and net-zero by 2045, its climate finance obligations will be slightly less than the UKs on a proportional basis.

Although Official Development Assistance (ODA) is a reserved matter, the Scottish Government created the Climate Justice Fund (CJF) in 2012, initially to support communities in four countries in Eastern Africa to adapt to the changing climate, with a focus on water projects.  Importantly, this Fund was additional to the Scottish Government’s International Development Fund.  The intention was that the CJF would also be additional to UK ODA spending, but the UK Government unhelpfully includes all Scottish Government international spending – whether on climate justice, international development or humanitarian response, as part of UK ODA spend. At the same time, the UK Government has also reduced ODA from the internationally agreed target of 0.7% of Gross National Income to 0.5%, and in 2022 nearly a third of the aid budget was spent supporting refugees within the UK.

All rich, industrialised countries must meet their international climate finance obligations, and respond to spiralling losses and damages, without simply rebadging their existing – and often already insufficient – international development assistance.  They have a duty to identify new sources of finance, over and above their existing ODA commitments, to avoid robbing crucial anti-poverty projects, including funding for schools and hospitals, as well as humanitarian projects, to fund action to address the additional challenges created by the climate crisis. Unless new finance is identified and committed to address losses and damages, wider development gains – both past and those sought in future – will be undermined. The identification of additional funding would also avoid the redirection of funds from other domestic priorities, such as funding for crucial public services.

The Scottish Government commitment to the CJF is now worth £36m over the course of this Parliament, following the trebling of the Fund during COP26. At those Glasgow talks, the Scottish Government also became the first national government to commit funding to address loss and damage, with a £2m allocation from the CJF.  A further £5m was allocated to loss and damage from the wider CJF during COP27.

Version 1.0: September 2023

The contents of this document will be updated on a regular basis.