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Developing economies step up pressure on food crisis climate finance

Widening inequality and environmental devastation undercut chances of meeting sustainable development goals by 2030

The best guess by development economists at the UN General Assembly is that only two of the UN's 17 sustainable development goals will be achieved – both are about children's health.

But targets on climate, nutrition, education, healthcare, gender parity and disease control all look alarmingly elusive for many economies in the global south. And many of those inequities will be brought into sharper focus by the protest marches and special meetings that are part of the New York climate week, timed to coincide with the UN summit.

Such failures can be partly explained by the havoc wreaked by the pandemic and now the economic side-swipes of Russia's war on Ukraine. But experts such as Masood Ahmed, President of the Center for Global Development, argue there are deeper, structural reasons such as lack of investment on agricultural research and development as well as the failure of policy to reduce climate risk.

Ahmed points out that since 2005 the United States has spent US$56 billion on food aid, which has often been a form of subsidy for American farmers who supply the grain, and just $9bn on research and development.

On top of the effect of the droughts in the Sahel and the Horn on Africa, there is the wider damage of higher temperatures on farm productivity across the region. Maize harvests are already down dramatically.

Then there is the three or four-fold increase in fertiliser prices, again linked to Europe's war. Yields are going to fall sharply this year and next after farmers cut back on fertiliser.

That points to the need to expand local production across Africa. Companies in Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya are already ramping up capacity but raising finance, even for something as practical as fertiliser production, has become far harder, constrained by currencies weakening against the dollar and mounting debt burdens.

For many officials in developing economies, the food price surge and climate crisis are umbilically joined. That is adding to presure on the climate finance agenda ahead of the UN COP27 summit in Sharm el Sheikh in November.

Beyond the still-unfulfilled pledge of $100bn a year of climate finance from rich countries to developing economies, there is a wave of legal demands for compensation for direct and indirect evironmental damage. Many fear that the exigencies of the Ukraine war and accompanying energy crisis could block substantive progress on climate.

Against that, there is a strengthening coalition of countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and India pushing for 'Loss and Damage' – compensation to economies suffering measurable climate damage – to be include on the formal agenda of COP27. Expect the US, Britain and the European Union to push back hard against that at the UN this week.

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