The people in countries most vulnerable to climate change are facing widespread devastation from the world’s changing climate. Despite contributing the least to climate change and with limited resources to combat the crisis, climate-vulnerable nations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia and the Pacific, are hit with the heaviest burdens: from cyclones in Bangladesh, to floods in Libya, to wildfires across South America. As global temperatures continue to soar (2023 standing out as the hottest year ever), we confront a future where climate extremes are poised to unleash even more havoc.

The 28th UN climate change conference (COP28) in late 2023 resulted in some productive outcomes, including the launch of the Loss and Damage Fund and a truth-telling Global Stocktake, which made clear that the world must transition away from fossil fuels.

However, a Global Stocktake outcome that merely recognizes challenges without support to address those challenges hardly offers much hope. Studies estimate that developing countries will need trillions of dollars of public and private finance for climate actions by 2030. Climate-vulnerable nations are also disappointed by the insufficient response to climate-related disasters and agree more progress is urgently needed to align with the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degree C (2.7 degree F) target that would prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change. These shortcomings have set the scene for climate negotiations in 2024.

As the world plans for this year’s COP29 — dubbed the “Finance COP” because negotiations for a new climate finance goal will dominate the agenda — there are major opportunities for vulnerable countries to secure the resources and commitments crucial for transitioning to low-emissions economies and building resilience against the impacts of climate change. COP29 needs to be about setting more ambitious climate targets and ensuring that those targets translate into concrete and transparent actions that drive real change.

Priorities for Climate-vulnerable Countries at COP29

Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025), a coalition of experts and thoughts leaders who amplify the voices of climate-vulnerable developing nations in climate negotiations, has released a Call to Action that explains how countries, particularly developed countries, can take concrete action to support climate-vulnerable countries. These actions, which are imperative to rebuilding trust and solidarity throughout 2024 and at COP29, will need a full-scale commitment by nations to be successful. Here are the top priorities from ACT2025’s Call to Action:

Set an Ambitious New Climate Finance Goal

At COP29, countries will negotiate a new climate finance goal, replacing the existing commitment of $100 billion annually until 2025. Success at COP29 hinges on establishing a new goal that is based on the needs of developing countries and addresses the previous goal’s shortcomings. Wealthy countries will need to fulfil their responsibility of playing their role in providing climate-vulnerable countries with a level of support that’s needed to transition to a low-emissions, climate-resilient future.

From the perspective of climate-vulnerable developing countries, here’s what’s needed for the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance:

  • Responsibility and Leadership: Developed countries, which have historical responsibilities and international legal obligations regarding climate change, must take the lead in providing and mobilizing financial resources to support vulnerable countries in their transition to a climate-resilient future aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree C goal.
  • Meeting the needs of the developing world: To effectively implement national climate plans by 2030, developing countries need at least $5.8 trillion in financing. The new goal must reflect these needs and recognize the pivotal role of international public funding.
  • Holistic coverage: Finance is needed to support emissions reductions and the transition to low-emissions economies, adapt to the impacts of climate change and address unavoidable loss and damage. The new goal on climate finance should include quantified sub-goals for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage, encompassing the three pillars of climate action.
  • Ensuring quality finance: Building on lessons from the $100 billion goal (for example, around 70% of finance mobilized was linked to loans), the new framework must prevent further unsustainable debt. Specifically, it should prioritize a greater proportion of grants and highly concessional finance for low-income and climate-vulnerable nations, with financial instruments tailored to match specific needs and investment priorities of each country.
  • Accountability: A strong transparency framework, building on the Paris Agreement’s Enhanced Transparency Framework which guides countries on tracking and reporting mitigation and adaptation progress, is essential to ensure countries follow through on commitments and that there’s transparency and accountability of the funds. 

Deliver and Implement More Ambitious Climate Action Plans

COP29 will be one of the last major opportunities for countries to signal their intention to put together new and enhanced climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), before submitting them in 2025. NDCs to date fall far short of what is required to avert dangerous levels of climate change. It is especially crucial for the Group of 20 countries, responsible for 75% of the world’s emissions, to commit to ramping up the scale and speed of action.

The countries in the G7 and G20 must lead by example and send a loud and clear signal that solidifies 2025 as the year of increased ambition. These countries can do so by submitting strengthened 2030 NDCs consistent with 1.5 degree C pathways and in line with learnings from the Global Stocktake, as well as putting forward ambitious 2035 emissions-reduction targets that will collectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035 relative to 2019 emissions levels.

In practice, this requires swiftly shifting away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy sources to drive down GHG emissions while ensuring the transition is people-centered and inclusive, particularly for marginalized communities and populations.

Opportunities for this shift lie not only in the energy and transportation sectors but also in the agriculture, forest and land-use, and water sectors, all of which are interconnected with climate.

Dedicated work streams in the UN climate talks — such as the Just Transition Work Programme can help in the design of ambitious NDCs, as long as justice and equity are kept at the center of these discussions. While all countries need to work towards these goals, countries with more capacity and resources should lead the charge, tailoring support to fit the unique needs of vulnerable communities.  

Accelerate Adaptation Efforts and Finance

Last year at COP28, countries agreed to a new framework — the UAE Framework for Global Climate Resilience — to support the achievement of the Paris Agreement’s overarching Global Goal on Adaption (GGA). However, the framework does not adequately address the financial support needed — given that developing counties adaptation priorities require $215 billion to $387 billion in finance annually — or the technology development and transfer and capacity building needed by developing countries to respond to climate impacts. Looking ahead to COP29, it is essential that the enactment of the targets proposed by the GGA framework is accelerated to enhance planning and implementation, not only through action but also by sector-specific and quantitative metrics.

ACT2025 provides a valuable go-to guide for understanding global adaptation. It examines COP28 outcomes on adaptation and sets expectations for what is needed in 2024 and at COP29 to ensure adaptation efforts are effective, equitable and in line with the urgent needs of vulnerable developing countries. The paper also goes beyond the UNFCCC and outlines the trends expected in the global adaptation space in 2024. Learn more here.

Additionally, work is currently underway through the UAE-Belém two-year work programme to develop indicators for measuring progress on the adaptation targets agreed under the UAE Framework. In practice, this means that the work programme must be organized effectively, utilizing a range of strategic approaches (such as hosting workshops dedicated to identifying principles and broad categories for indicators) and forming thematic working groups that actively engage diverse stakeholders, from technical experts to community representatives to historically marginalized groups such as women, youth and indigenous populations. Ensuring adaptation indicators align with the specific needs of vulnerable regions, countries, and demographics is critical for effectively measuring progress toward achieving targets.

Build a Sufficient Response Package for Loss and Damage

Following the launch of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP28, the next steps include securing and scaling more funds and establishing transparent and inclusive funding structures that ensure direct access to the fund’s operations. To this end, during the Fund’s initial board meetings this year, it is paramount to ensure the process is transparent, civil society and observers are actively engaged and to be well coordinated with the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, which aims to provide technical assistance to developing countries on addressing loss and damage. Commitments made at COP28 totaled $770.6 million; however, this is a drop in the ocean considering the total amount of finance needed for loss and damage is estimated to reach up to $580 billion annually by 2030 and $1.7 trillion annually by 2050.  

The outcomes of the process must result in accessible scalable finance and institutional frameworks that support vulnerable developing countries in responding to loss and damage without imposing further burdens or exacerbating debt issues. Support through the Loss and Damage Fund should be coherent with other funding efforts (such as disaster risk reduction) and avoid  transaction costs and further fragmenting aid. Progress on this front is essential to achieve a fair outcome at COP29. This also provides an opportunity for the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Seventh Assessment Report (AR7) that will  provide further scientific insights on loss and damage. Climate-vulnerable countries are expecting solidarity and dedicated financial support, and they’ll be looking for a robust, well-funded and expanded Loss and Damage Fund to deliver it.

Getting on Track: An Opportunity to Act Ambitiously

As climate-vulnerable countries grapple with escalating impacts of climate change, the sluggish pace of international politics is glaringly out of step with the urgency of the crisis. Rather than impeding action, political decisions must catalyze a step change in climate action and support at a far greater pace and scale.

Governments and world leaders must seize COP29 as an opportunity to ensure that the most vulnerable countries and communities can build transformative resilience against the changing climate and thrive.

Countries have a lot on their plate this year, including preparing ambitious national climate commitments, accelerating current efforts to achieve existing targets and scaling up funding to address the urgent needs of climate-vulnerable nations. At COP29, collaboration, alignment and trust-building will be crucial ingredients to make progress on all of these aims and deliver a resilient and sustainable future for all.