02 April 2024

Interview with Jimena Leiva Roesch

Jimena Leiva Roesch

Director of Global Initiatives for the International Peace Institute and also Head of the Climate Peace and Sustainable Development Team

On 7 March, PSI spoke to Jimena Leiva Roesch, who serves as the Director of global initiatives for the International Peace Institute (IPI) and also Head of the Climate Peace and Sustainable Development team. We learned about her work in and outside of the UN environment to develop sustainable climate financing and support the most vulnerable states. Leiva Roesch emphasises the difficulties that result from the lack of discussion space for these topics in the UN environment and reiterates that climate change should have a space in the UN Security Council in accordance with the UN charter. She also describes some of the recent or possible future developments in this field and her personal motivations to work on these topics.

Could you please Introduce yourself for our readers, and explain the underlying motivation for your work?

I am currently the Director of global initiatives for the International Peace Institute and also Head of the Climate Peace and Sustainable Development team. Our team has developed a model in which we support the most vulnerable states and countries with their climate diplomacy engagements. These states have amazing leaders already and they know their local climate much better than us. We provide them the tools to support the capacity building processes and access to scientists, so that they are able to deal with the asymmetric power in negotiations such as Conference of the Parties (COP).

We try to balance the playing field by providing a lot of knowledge and helping them building up their position. We strengthen their core message so that their voices are better heard and become more influential in the process. The best case scenario to describe this work is the loss and damage fund, for which we worked very closely with the Maldives in the lead up to the Egypt COP two years ago. There was strong resistance from the Global North to having this fund, but together with the Maldives and the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) we pushed hard for compromise that included a new fund. To do this, we participated in negotiations and held track two meetings with countries from south and north. Even though there was a lot of silent diplomacy, this effort made developed countries come around to the idea that they would be okay with having a fund on loss and damage, which had been a very important request by developing countries for a long, long time.

What will the consequences be from the negotiation process of the Loss and Damage Fund and the choice between a stand-alone fund and a World Bank fund?

I was part of the transitional committee last year and I was the advisor for the Maldives throughout the year. We had an option between the stand alone fund and a fiduciary fund within the World Bank framework. The 24 countries assigning the fund chose the World Bank option because it allows use of all the tools available to the bank, such as access to capital. It is not a tiny fund and for this reason we needed to use a wide range of financial tools, including capital markets and other innovative sources. The standalone option instead would have given the group more independence, but it could have taken a lot more time and different legal aspects would not have allowed this type of fund to go to markets and reach the scale that we need to address loss and damage.

What are the biggest hurdles for mobilizing climate financing and what can be done to address them?

I'm sure you've heard a lot of the grievances of small countries in accessing the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other funds, and even though it's getting better on the GCF side, it basically takes enormous resources to complete an application. It's just such a burdensome process for many small countries like the Dominican Republic. They say that it took them two or three years to fill out the documentation. This is the first and most common issue. The second one is maladaptation. Are the projects that you're actually proposing to fund really going to address the problem? There are projects that are being funded that are not the ideal ones. Then the third problem is the balance between mitigation and adaptation. At the Glasgow COP, we said that we were going to double the funds for adaptation. But what does doubling mean if it's only a very small figure compared to what is spent on mitigation? Mitigation can be more easily leveraged and funded through a mix of public and private sector initiatives, whereas adaptation and loss and damage need much more public funds as the case for business here is less. A lot of countries, particularly middle income , are incurring in debt because they receive climate funds through loans and not grants. This sparked a great discussion in the loss and damage space about how we can provide financing that will not create more debt in developing countries. There has to be a recognition that mitigation can be primarily funded through private funds and other more dynamic sources, whereas adaptation and loss and damage will have to be funded through public non-debt financing.

During your recent speech at the UN Security Council, you mentioned the grievances of developing countries that are strongly affected by climate change and suggested setting up a provisional UN body dedicated to this. How do you envision this happening?

I've been following the Security Council’s work on climate since 2012, when I was part of the delegation that represented Guatemala as an elected member to the Council. In 2011 Germany had been able to approve the first and only presidential statement on climate. Since then, there’s been significant pushback by a few permanent members.

However, discussions on how to include climate as a separate agenda item continues today.  What I propose, is to use Article 34 of the Charter, that states: “The Security Council may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, in order to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security.” The Council could under the charter investigate the clear security implications of climate change.

Nevertheless, one of the main problems is that China and Russia argue that the Council has no mandate to work on climate-related topics. Article 34 is at odds with this statement. The whole argument that the Council does not have a mandate makes little sense now in 2024, as we sadly approach the 1.5C threshold. What we were suggesting, was to create a body that would include all UNSC members, because this is part of the problem: there are the friends of climate and other ad hoc groups, but they don’t include everyone. The Council will have to compartmentalize as they've done on other issues and bring Russia and China into this group in order to really assess how climate is indeed a threat to peace and security.

What would you say are realistic developments and what could happen within the climate and security space at the Security Council in the medium or long term?

There is a vacuum right now because the Council is only examining issues on a case by case basis.  But what is going to happen when climate change is going to cause immense human mobility? Because we know that this is coming. How are we going to deal with that? How are we going to understand the material principles in which territory is not linked with sovereignty? And where do we have these discussions? They are not happening in the UNFCCC, nor in the UNGA. We need to have a body that starts looking at these issues in a serious manner, particularly as we know that wet bulb and slow onset effects of sea level rise will force populations to move. 

You mentioned that as the President of the negotiations the UAE had as prerogative to include climate, peace and security in the discussions. do you see the upcoming COP presidency of Azerbaijan also taking such a clear perspective on keeping this a priority or is it going to fade away?

These initiatives  are not part nor connected to of the official process. They don't lead up to any policy making. They don't add up to anything substantive, because they are very much ad hoc and parallel to the negotiations. Something else would need to happen for that wall to break. And the agenda is already incredibly full. It doesn't seem like that is the right space to have this conversation.

What are the biggest challenges when negotiating over topics related to climate change adaptation?

One of the biggest issues right now is how you interpret differentiation and common but differentiated responsibility. Some small countries often feel sandwiched between developed countries and emerging economies. Even though we do have the Paris Agreement, the current climate regime is not set up for incentivizing ambition but for the opposite. If a developing country gives money for example, it is seen as a betrayal by some. When the UAE pledged 100 million to the Loss and Damage Fund, it was not celebrated by some in the G77 and China group.

There are a lot of other developing countries willing to give, but they are afraid because it seems like a betrayal to the loyalty of the G77, and this hurts small countries. The climate regime is not set up for building positive incentives and ambition upwards. It is of course important to understand and to respect historic responsibility, but at the same time we need to create a new narrative in which emerging economies feel emboldened and empowered to give more and to do more. Not because they must, but because they can. For this, the rules of the game need to change and emerging economies will also need to have a greater say in global economic trade and in peace and security. It is all connected.

There is still a very big invisible line between the Global North and the Global South and between the responsibility of who needs to finance. The developed countries need to pay and they need to report to an independent financial body. That is also part of the problem. There is no trust right now. Developing countries say: how can we trust what you report in the OECD if it's not an independent institution? So the biggest issue in the United Nations is an issue of trust. We have to strengthen current  accountability mechanisms within the UNFCCC, in which the reporting of financing is done by an independent body that developing countries have a sense of respect of or a sense of connection with. Reporting of both mitigation and finance has to be corrected to create a more accountable system. Developed countries need to give more and emerging economies need to give as well. Right now we just have to climb, we have to propose taxes that do not disproportionally effect the poor or smallest of nations, we have to propose a transfer of subsidies away from harmful agriculture subsidies towards small food systems and phase out fossil fuels. These are all really complicated decisions in a pivotal political electoral year. The results of this year’s elections are going to be hugely important on how we will address the next five years.

You have worked on natural resources and their relation to conflict as well. Some of the issues with increased demand for minerals and materials are linked to very unsustainable practices of mining. Could you comment a little bit about your work in this space and where you see developments going in the future?

The need for this type of like minerals is only going to increase. For this reason, we are starting to engage with a few developing countries to explore a set of standards and principles that could help providing a framework. It's a really complicated situation because if you look at where these minerals are and where they're processed, the whole supply chain is not very sustainable. It will not be easy to fix this issue, but we have to do it because we cannot just continue with fossil fuels and the transition to clean energy cannot be dirty. Perhaps the biodiversity COP that is going to happen in Colombia this year will be a space in which we can talk about biodiversity and critical minerals and how we can create a better framework for critical minerals, but this topic is still an emerging issue.

Could you reflect on your own efforts and the global community’s effort to include youth into climate adaptation processes?

In the Security Council there is a youth resolution, and so we started studying how youth entered the Security Council agenda and the climate space. The topic kind of emerged within the Council itself, whereas the climate and peace field emerged from the outside. They have very different trajectories in terms of how they have entered the peace and security agenda. The youth agenda is very strong in the climate space and it is only going to grow stronger through all the different international groupings and also thanks to national movements within the countries themselves. But it really depends on how youth want to take the conversation and their own involvement onwards.

A lot will also depend on what leader gets elected in the US what happens in in Europe. Part of the issue that we identified with youth is the fact that it is very hard for them to continue working on this because it is often for free. When they try to apply for grants, they don’t have the necessary experience, so it is very important to provide youth with something like a ladder they can hold on to. All my team is part of the youth. I am the older one, but the rest, aside from one other person, are under 30, so we are also doing our part in mentoring.

What are the reasons for which we could be optimistic about international climate change adaptation processes?

I am very optimistic, because human ingenuity and innovation can solve this and this is what I said to the Council. The most amazing, bustling multilateralism spirit exists in the climate community. It is dynamic, energetic and collaborative. Despite everything the news reports, if you live it, you actually sense that spirit of multilateralism that is incredibly powerful. There are moments where you can actually see multilateralism work. When we adopted the loss and damage fund, during that last meeting in Dubai, where all of us accepted the outcome, that moment proves that multilateralism works when we put our heads together. We can solve this. The climate emergency is solvable. We are not in an airplane that is crashing automatically. We are not there yet. In these next years between now and 2030, we just have to really adapt and find the needed solutions that will exponentially shift things around.


About this series:

In recent years, PSI has conducted interviews with climate security practitioners. Find below an overview of interviews conducted between 2023 and 2024.

Catherine Wong: Conflict affected countries face substantial difficulties in accessing climate finance. In our interview with Catherine Wong, Global Team Leader for Climate and Security Risk at the UNDP, we found that climate financing mechanisms need to be designed differently to prioritize conflict-affected and fragile contexts. However, she also stressed that recognition of climate security challenges is growing and that there is much more demand for UNDP support.

Christina Wegelein: In recent years, the inclusion of security consequences into climate considerations has broken into the mainstream, as is apparent by its increasing presence at climate summits. In our interview with Christina Wegelein, Head of Germany’s Climate Security Unit, we found that the growth of climate security is the result of consistent advocacy efforts by a wide range of actors. However, its advancement is as important on the ground as in Dubai’s conference centres.

Christophe Hodder: Somalia has in recent years been ravaged by the effects of a multi-year drought driving food insecurity and conflict across the Horn of Africa and pushing millions to migrate to urban settings in search of food and safety. PSI recently sat down with the Climate and Environment Advisor for the UN in Somalia, Christophe Hodder. We asked him about his work and the environmental challenges that Somalia will face in the coming years.

Photo credit: Russ Allison Loar/Flickr