Dubai, 3 December 2023222 civil society groups from 55 countries have sent an open letter calling on world leaders to transform international public finance to tackle climate change and deliver a just energy transition.

Expert representatives of signatory groups will be available for a press conference at COP28 on 3 December at 12h30 to 13h00 in Press Conference Room 2, Zone B6, Building 77. The press conference will be livestreamed here

The letter, signed by the Bretton Woods Project, Oil Change International, Debt Justice, Power Shift Africa, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, and Climate Action Network International, urges heads of state to use COP28 to overhaul global monetary, trade, tax, and debt rules, as well as international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Released ahead of COP28’s Finance Day on 4 December, when major public finance announcements are expected, the letter warns the current global financial architecture is perpetuating fossil fuel production, locking climate-vulnerable countries into debt, and delaying a just energy transition.

When it comes to funding a just transition to 100% renewable energy systems, the gap between what climate-vulnerable countries have and what they need is vast. Phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewables in developing countries will cost an estimated $1.7 trillion a year, and rich countries’ ‘fair share’ of all climate costs in the Global South is calculated at almost $6 trillion a year. Both estimates dwarf the $100 billion a year in climate finance long promised by high-income countries to low-income ones.

The letter states that public money should be used to fund proven climate solutions and prioritise community-led renewable energy, rather than fossil fuels; development banks should be more accountable and democratic; and large scale debt cancellation must be secured.

Finance-related discussions on the table at COP28 include: new pledges to the Loss and Damage fund; sessions on Climate Resilient Debt Clauses, IMF Special Drawing Rights and innovation; and the launch of a new taxation taskforce, led by France and Kenya. Barbados, Kenya and Colombia are among the countries calling for financial system reform.

Representatives from signatories of the CSO declaration provided the following comments upon its release:

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director of CAN-International said: “Rich countries have returned to COP28 with a decades-old excuse: ‘we can’t afford it.’ But there is no shortage of public money available – it’s just poorly distributed, flowing to fossil fuels and the super-rich instead of shared priorities. We need rich countries to pay their fair share for the climate and debt crises and support proposals for democratic control of our global financial rules and institutions. This will benefit all of us, freeing up trillions in public funding to build a renewable future where everyone can meet their needs.”

Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate justice activist said: “Our world is addicted to fossil fuels, and we need a fundamental overhaul of the financial system to phase out fossil fuels and phase in renewables. For decades, the big oil and gas companies have been saying fossil fuels will bring development to poor communities in the Global South. Yet, 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone still don’t have basic access to electricity. Frontline communities are losing their livelihoods, and increasingly their lives, as a result of a climate crisis caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Polluters must pay, and people must be prioritized over profit.”

Jessica Bwali,  Global Campaigner at Tearfund, said: “For people in poverty around the world, how public finance is spent could mean the difference between life and death. Either money goes to dirty fossil fuels and contributes to more drought, flooding and suffering; or it ushers in a clean energy transition and a safer, brighter future. Communities on the frontline of the climate crisis can’t afford any more delays. Four out of five people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity today and this affects health services, education and livelihood opportunities. In Zambia, we use hydroelectric power, but we still suffer massive power cuts because of droughts. The Kariba dam, for example, relies on a flow of water and when there is no water, the power supply dips.  Many people suffer abject poverty because of this. Securing the loss and damage fund for people living in poverty was a good start for the Climate Talks here in Dubai. The urgent challenge now is to make sure that wealthy nations genuinely stump up the cash, and that public finance benefits people on the frontlines of climate change.”

Beyrra Triasdian, Renewable Energy Researcher, Trend Asia said: “We deserve a life in a better world without having to worry about future debt. With the current global financial architecture, which is heavily geared toward the profits of developed countries, transactions labelled as “just energy transition” are loaded with false solutions that are not oriented toward the needs of people in developing countries. Community-scale renewable energy will be able to overcome the problem of energy scarcity in rural areas while also ensuring climate justice. Instead of focusing on energy centralization, which prolongs the use of fossil fuels and is clearly harmful to people at the grassroots level, financial assistance for community-based independent power producers will fulfil social justice by promoting energy democratisation and resilience.”

Bronwen Tucker, Public Finance co-lead at Oil Change International, said: “Rich countries and corporations hold almost all decision-making power in our global financial architecture. The result of this is a $2 trillion per year net transfer from low income countries to their high income peers, even when aid and climate finance are included. This set-up is blocking many countries from taking climate action and prolonging the fossil fuel era. We need a fast, fair, full, and funded phase out of fossil fuels — and it will not be possible unless we rewrite the rules for public finance.”


View the full text of the letter available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic here.

Photo by Ezra Damara/Katadata