Climate change: Who should foot the bill?

Posted on 30 November 2023

Mangrove land-sea barriers protect against coastal erosion and contribute to climate protection by retaining CO2
Money makes the world go round. And it can certainly oil the wheels of the international climate talks - or not.

At COP28, arguments about who should foot the bill for reducing emissions and adapting to a destabilised climate will dominate the agenda.

The economics of climate change are paradoxical.

On the one hand, renewable energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels in many sectors and most countries.

But, at the same time, the clean energy transition poses huge upfront costs, and adapting to a changing climate requires enormous investment.

Exactly how much will be needed is disputed.


The UN estimates that developing countries will need around $600 billion a year up to 2030 to finance their emissions plans under the Paris Agreement.

In addition, they are likely to need US$215 billion per year this decade to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Who should pay?

The international climate regime rests on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.

Put simply, this means that those countries which bear most responsibility for causing climate change, and which have the greatest resources, should shoulder more of the burden for addressing it. Fair’s fair. 

At Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries agreed to provide the developing world with $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

While there is no agreed definition of the term, observers agree that this target has not been met. 

At COP28, governments will continue negotiations on a new climate finance goal, with a deadline for agreement in 2024.

At WWF, we have been pushing for that promise to be fulfilled and for an ambitious goal that meets needs, providing at least $600 billion in climate finance between 2020 and 2025, and doubling finance for adaptation.

But this will only be part of the story.

At COP27, discussions began on a Loss and Damage Financial Facility. This will compensate the world’s most vulnerable countries for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions that they have had almost no role in producing.

And African leaders have emphasised the need for COP28 to swiftly put the facility into action.

We are also calling for increased investment in nature-based solutions without which we cannot limit global heating to 1.5°C; and advocating for financial architecture reforms that will reorientate financial flows from governments and multilateral development banks to ensure they align with global goals on climate, nature, and development and support activities that heal rather than harm the planet.

The bottom line is that low-income countries facing catastrophe desperately need finance to respond to climate breakdown.

Despite arguments about who should cover the costs, one thing is certain: allowing the crisis to continue unchecked will only increase costs as extreme weather, warming oceans, floods and droughts wreak ever-greater destruction and hardship on those least able to respond. 

Find out more: