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Governments should ‘tax billionaires’ to fund climate adaptation, says former Irish president

Former Irish President Mary Robinson says governments should stop making empty commitments to increase funding for climate adaptation © Niall Carson/Getty Images
Former Irish President Mary Robinson says governments should stop making empty commitments to increase funding for climate adaptation © Niall Carson/Getty Images

Mary Robinson calls for ‘new forms of finance’ to meet the £1.3tn global climate adaptation needs over the next decade

Companies making “billions from fossil fuels”, the aviation and maritime industries and “billionaires” should be taxed to fund climate adaptation measures, said former Irish President Mary Robinson during an event at UK think-tank Chatham House.

She called for “new forms of finance” for climate adaptation and insisted governments should focus on “implementation” and stop making empty commitments to increase funding.

Robinson was joined on stage in London by former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who urged the EU, OECD member states and other developed countries to contribute more climate adaptation finance. 

“There is no time to engage in political discussions; we have to take actions first,” said Ki-moon, highlighting that £1.3tn will need to be invested in climate adaptation globally over the next decade. 

Data from the Global Center on Adaptation shows global climate finance doubled to $1.3tn a year in 2021–22, compared with $653bn in 2019–20. However, finance for global adaptation dropped from 7 per cent of this total in 2019–20 to 5 per cent in 2021–22.

Wealthy nations have a “moral” obligation to support developing countries who have already begun to see the effects of “global boiling”, Ki-moon said.

Pragmatism versus defeatism

Robinson also urged governments of wealthy economies to focus on “co-operation” and “long-view leadership” to relieve the effects of climate change, and cautioned against “nationalism prevailing over co-operation” and “populist decision making”.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted on pursuing a “pragmatic” approach to net zero. His decision to water down a series of net zero policies, including a ban on internal combustion engine cars and gas boilers, has been roundly criticised by campaigners.

Ed Matthew, campaigns director at UK climate change think-tank E3G, described the UK government’s attitude towards net zero as an attempt to “take up a populist position on the environment”.

“[This] short-term political perspective has backfired completely,” he told Sustainable Views, pointing to massive losses for the Conservative party in last week’s local elections.

It was going much better before the fossil fuel lobby got in. Their influence is being felt as it has been at recent COPs

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland

Sunak’s instance on pragmatism is “the language of defeatism” and could be “the language of the fossil fuel industry”, said Matthew. Ministers are “speaking on their behalf”.

Businesses and investors instead need “more smart regulation” and “regulatory certainty”, he added

Influence of the fossil fuel lobby 

Robinson was highly critical of the involvement of fossil fuel lobbyists in international environmental negotiations, including in recent UN meetings aimed at developing a global plastics treaty

“It was going much better before the fossil fuel lobby got in,” she said. “Their influence is being felt as it has been at recent COPs.” 

The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition of environmental non-profits found 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists were granted admission to COP28 in Dubai in 2023, compared with 636 at COP27 in Egypt and 503 at COP26 in Glasgow.

Robinson said the fossil fuel lobby spends $4bn annually on “changing the narrative” around the dangers of continued fossil fuel production.

A service from the Financial Times