A new landscape for climate negotiations, another opportunity missed

A critical decade for global climate action is upon us. But as delegates of the Bonn Climate Change Conference – the biggest annual milestone leading up to COP each year – make their way home, a key question remains unanswered: critical for whom? Marginalised and conflict affected communities have remained sidelined from the global policy discussions that directly define their futures.

The Bonn Climate Change Conference 2024. Photo: Harriet Mackaill-Hill/International Alert.

What happened at Bonn?

The Bonn Climate Conference convened members of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss the framework and negotiating agenda for COP29 in Baku in November. The pillars of the New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) on climate finance are still to be worked out and are becoming ever more urgent. But while ostensibly a technical climate-focused gathering, the conference was dominated by complex political considerations, with newly emerging alliances challenging traditional power structures and reshaping the landscape of climate negotiations.

Bonn needed to pave the way for progress at COP, where the main focus needs to be on promoting local ownership of finance mechanisms in recipient countries, and on fair burden sharing. Unfortunately, however, the climate-conflict nexus was not referred to during the official proceedings. A side event on the topic with colleagues from Bangladesh, Sudan and southern Africa produced fruitful discussion and widespread agreement on the urgent need for better conflict sensitivity within climate projects. The calls from partners working in conflict affected settings were clear: all stakeholders, from government to local communities, need to work together, listen to each other, learn from each other and make sure climate finance is accessible, free from oppression, does no harm and understands and engages with local dynamics in fragile settings. Climate finance should not be considered as a favour or a donation but as a moral and legal duty.

But the momentum is not dying down on the topic. The UAE Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace, adopted at COP28 is gaining signatories, currently 93 states, even if concrete commitments are still much awaited. The topic is also gaining traction with multilateral banks and funds such as the GCF, with their recent pledge of $USD100 million for Somalia. In this vein COP29 will hold another day dedicated to peace that will provide a platform for bringing strong recommendations and commitments.

Marginalisation and access

Given the ongoing trends of conflicts around the world and particularly in climate vulnerable countries, the integration of conflict sensitivity should be at the forefront of climate finance structures. Current responses, however, too often emphasise militarised security as a solution to conflict risks. This usually overlooks the fact that investing in peacebuilding can yield long-term financial savings and foster unity through shared experiences.

This includes building mutual trust within and between communities, which must be seen as a crucial piece of the climate puzzle in a world in which trust in governments is eroding. Governments have traditionally been used as the intermediaries for climate finance, but many fragile regions are marginalised by their own governments, meaning the finance will never reach the local level.

In these last critical months before COP29, we must continue to advocate for inclusive, transparent, and effective climate action.

This year is pivotal for climate finance; both the NCQG and the Loss and Damage fund will lay the groundwork for future efforts. For conflict-affected settings, this needs to mean local, fast, flexible, and long-term finance. It also means being grant-based, as loans would only exacerbate the challenges faced by these debt-ridden regions.

Take Kenya, for example. Despite being saddled with significant debt, and many of its communities facing the double burden of conflict and climate change, the country continues to receive more loans, compounding its economic woes. Local participation in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) process is low, and access to climate finance is practically non-existent. Meanwhile, G7 countries continue their business-as-usual approach, leaving vulnerable communities to bear the brunt of climate apathy.

The way ahead

Our recommendations for increasing the quality and quantity of support for conflict-affected settings are not novel. The interconnectedness of climate change with other sectors has become more and more apparent. While substantial funding is pledged towards adaptation and mitigation, COP29 needs to urgently deliver on direct access to finance for local communities, including a fast-track window, with small lump sums available, particularly for conflict-affected local communities.

Every climate adaptation project inherently interacts with local dynamics and, in conflict-affected settings, this means interacting with conflict dynamics. By using a peacebuilding lens, we can maximize co-benefits, extend the reach of climate finance, and enhance project success. In these last critical months before COP29, we must continue to advocate for inclusive, transparent, and effective climate action. The stakes are high, and the lives and futures of the most vulnerable depend on our ability to get this right.