More climate, flood financing needed: U.N. Samoa

The United Nations’ country head in Samoa says the country needs more international funding to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change and is helping to lead a charge to make it a possibility.

The U.N.’s Resident Coordinator in Samoa, Simona Marinescu, told the Samoa Observer that the recent flooding – damage from which has been estimated to hit $10 million – reflected the realities of climate change. 

“I do believe the extreme weather is intensified by climate change,” she said in an interview with the Samoa Observer conducted earlier this month after damaging floods. 

“There is a lot of work for Samoa to improve [its] infrastructure and have an effective flood management system.”

Flood mitigation measures were overwhelmed, businesses were inundated and infrastructure such as a newly-constructed road at Moamoa was damaged. 

Ms. Marinescu noted that there were “extensive” measures underway to help flood proof the country under the Green Climate Fund (G.C.F.) programme and community-level projects.

(Initiatives financed by the fund include the 25-year, USD$65 million Vaisigano Catchment Project, which is focused on infrastructure initiatives,  but has also provided life-saving emergency equipment).

But Ms. Marinescu says that more money should be allocated to help build the country’s future resilience to floods, something which Samoa and other island states are currently lobbying the United Nations for.

At issue are the extent of concessional loans, grants, and other financing countries such as Samoa and Vanuatu can access under current United Nations policy.

Under current rules, as a country’s income classification level increases, its ability to access such financing decreases - a graded system of financing designed to ensure low-income countries’ continuing access to aid.

But Samoa is no longer designated as a “least developed country”.

From 2006, the country’s increasing wealth led to recommendations that Samoa be graduated from the category on the basis of increasing measures of its prosperity. 

But a series of natural disasters delayed Samoa’s eventual “graduation” from the category until 2014. (Only six countries have left the category since its creation in the 1970s, most recently Vanuatu, which had its progression made official only earlier this month).

But such “graduations” have immediate and negative effects on a country’s ability to cheap financing to fund new infrastructure, from the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. 

“Once countries develop past mid-income their access to concessional financing declines,” Ms. Marinescu said. 

“But for small island states that's not [reflective of the challenges of climate change]: they continue through all these disasters and their access is not as is needed.”

For Ms. Marinescu and others involved in an effort to change the current grading system to benefit an alliance of smaller island states, it reflects a paradox of climate change. 

Countries such as Samoa have been advancing the cause of making the transition toward renewable energy.

They have also contributed negligible amounts of the pollution that is driving changes to the climate - and yet they are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change’s effects, such as through rising sea levels. 

“[Small island states] continue to walk their concerns to the Paris climate agreement whereas the rest of the world does not seem to be advancing so well, unfortunately,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“I work with a Government that is highly committed to the climate agenda and is lobbying to convince other countries that their commitments to the Paris agreement should not be optional.

“If that does not continue the 1.5 degree global warming target will not be met and there will be critical consequences on the quality.” 

But Ms. Marinescu says that work is underway on a project requesting that the United Nations’ Secretary-General develop more concessional financing for island states that are disproportionately affected by climate change despite their incomes rising. 

“That’s a topic of very high interest for the U.N.,” Ms. Marinescu said. 

“The alliance of the small island states has requested the United Nations’ Secretary-General to develop concessional financing beyond [their graduation from lower economic classifications]. 

“Small island states continue through all these disasters but their access [to finance] is not as is needed.”

Accordingly, the states will this year advance work started in Samoa to develop a more sophisticated measure of a country’s economic classification. 

The goal is for a classification system that offsets a nation’s continuing vulnerability to ongoing climate change-related damages from simple measures of its economic output. 

The work is expected to be completed some time in 2021 with the aim of securing U.N. endorsement by the end of the same year. 

“We are advancing quite well,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“It’s a work in progress that’s aimed to ensure that the most vulnerable countries will be able to access financial instruments at a very low cost. 

“That [means] concessional financing; more money for infrastructure; more money for food security; more money for livelihoods.”

The U.N. Secretary-General has given his approval for developing a proposed new measure, which, upon completion, plans to be presented to the General Assembly next September. 

“We are very optimistic that the General Assembly will give a positive resolution next September,” she said.

“I’m very proud that the work started in Samoa [... and] Canada and Australia [have shown they are] willing to support and lobby in that regard.

“As we look for those technical solutions our islands continue to be hit by the effects of climate change. I saw the damage in downtown Apia. 

“There is no time to spend on intellectual exercises. These countries need solutions. They need immediate solutions.”

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