COP26: A New Chapter for Climate Financing & the untold story of developing countries
Written by: Wiley McGowan, Edited by: Jumana Khafagi
Between October 31st and November 13th 2021, diplomats from over 200 countries attended the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26). The negotiations ended on November 13th, when 197 countries agreed on the "Glasgow Climate Pact" (The Economist, 2021). The conference outcomes are highly contested as there is a stark divide between those who believe COP26 falls short in instilling positive change, and those who are hopeful and support its efforts. Famous youth climate activist Greta Thunberg "slammed the deal" on Twitter (Washington Post, 2021). In her tweet Thunberg wrote, “The #COP26 is over. Here's a brief summary: Blah, blah, blah”. At the same time, some delegates from vulnerable nations defended COP26, labelling it as "real progress" (Washington Post, 2021). This begs the question: will COP26 be an integral step towards solving the world's climate crisis? Is it a marker of progression from previous climate conferences such as COP21 or is it another form of window dressing, delaying any real change? One of the fundamental failures of COP26 was the issue of climate relief financing. Developed countries again failed to fulfill their promises made to developing countries in providing any real support in fighting the climate crisis.
One of the central issues plaguing developing countries is the unequal distribution of the adverse effects of climate change. There are significant discrepancies in who contributes the most to the climate crisis and who bears the actual brunt of these adverse effects. One example among many is the fact that wealthy developed nations have historically contributed the highest levels of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (Washington Post, 2021). Developing nations urged that the COP26 agreement create a fund, or "facility", to help them combat the crisis, the details to be worked out in the years to come (NPR, 2021). However, these efforts failed and "wealthier countries, including the U.S., did not support it" (NPR, 2021). This means that there will be no enforced relief financing for the already present negative impacts of climate change in developing countries, such as rising sea levels and storms (Washington Post, 2021).
Instead, an alternate plan called the "Glasgow dialogue" was proposed stipulating that a chain of communication be opened between developing and developed countries to discuss the logistics of loss and damage funding (NPR, 2021). This "dialogue" serves as another way for developed countries to push off the inevitable and necessary act of climate financing. There needs to be a fundamental shift globally in burden-sharing. Currently, developing countries are disproportionately experiencing the negative effects of global warming, through the effects on already vulnerable populations as a result of natural disasters and exaserbated social inequalities. Developed countries must at least provide financial compensation to nations suffering the most as a consequence of their actions. Being that this is truly a global problem and we are "all in this together", then we should be managing this crisis together and not simply passing the responsibility to developing nations. Climate financing should signify an investment for our future and not be viewed as a cost. These are the kinds of issues and questions that should have been discussed at COP26.
Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and climate expert at Columbia University, criticized the efforts of developed nations as “they could not even come up with the meagre $100 billion per year after twelve years of promising" (Washington Post, 2021). This climate financing initiative was meant to assist vulnerable developing countries in reducing their emissions as well as substituting primary energy sources with renewable energy, cleaner transportation, and other sustainable projects (NPR, 2021). The funding was also supposed to be put towards projects which would help vulnerable communities protect themselves from the negative impacts of climate change (NPR, 2021). However, in 2019, wealthier countries only provided approximately $80 billion in climate finance - falling short of their promise (NPR, 2021). Moreover, much of that funding was in the form of loans instead of grants, placing another strain on the efforts of developing countries as they struggle to repay these conditional loans (NPR, 2021). The shortcomings of developed countries in fulfilling their financial promises, alongside the frustration of many delegates and advocates, is a key reason as to why COP26 should have included binding mechanisms for climate financing. The failure of developed countries to aid developing countries, once again, speaks to the broader systemic issue of accountability.
Why did this failure of climate financing occur? One explanation is the fact that developed countries yield far too much influence and power in international forums. A similar manifestation of this can be seen in the influence of coal lobbyists on discussions. COP26 marks the first UN climate deal where the need to move away from coal power and subsidies for fossil fuels is explicitly mentioned (Washington Post, 2021). With no current mechanisms in place to hold countries accountable for their contributions to climate change, how can we expect developed countries to uphold their commitments and ensure that their "promises" come to fruition? This could mark a new chapter in climate discussion and a step towards renewable energy which we have not seen before. Yet, countries such as Saudi Arabia, amongst other top fossil-fuel-producing countries, hindered any true discussion as they continued to use watered down language during negotiations, brushing over the topic of fossil fuel reduction (Washington Post, 2021). The alteration of even a few words in the document, such as "stop burning unabated coal", leaves spaces and gaps for coal lobbyists to continue to pursue their detrimental operations (Washington Post, 2021). The use of significantly "weakened" and "watered down" wording in the final draft of COP26 due to the influential opinions of coal lobbyists highlights the skewed priorities of the Conference. If the goal is to please and accommodate coal lobbyists who are responsible for fueling climate change, then what is the point of having climate discussions? Developing countries endured another meaningless discussion round as most of their pleas for climate justice went unanswered (NPR, 2021). This is extremely worrisome as developing countries have made minuscule contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions compared to developed nations such as the US and China (NPR, 2021). Given that developing countries are already experiencing the harmful effects of the actions of developed countries, and these wealthy nations are reluctant to provide substantial financial aid, there needs to be a system of accountability to ensure that perpetrators of climate change cannot sway the negotiations in their favour.
Will COP26 prove to be instrumental in the global efforts to halt the climate crisis? Thus far, the signs point to no. This is not to say that there are no positive elements included in the final draft. In the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21), a quintessential target was established to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees- Celsius and COP26 upheld that commitment (Washington Post, 2021). However, the failure to provide climate funding marks the continuation of a bleak chapter for already vulnerable and struggling developing countries.
This failure, alongside the influence of coal lobbyists during negotiations, signifies a potentially more detrimental problem plaguing the internal workings of the UN, and more broadly, the international system. To clarify, if the fossil fuel lobbyists present at COP26 were a country they would be the biggest with 503 delegates– two dozen more than the largest country delegation (Global Witness, 2021). The youth protests of over 100,000 people on the streets of Glasgow during negotiations marked an outcry for climate action, not just promises and ineffective talks. There need to be methods of accountability for all countries with the means to support developing countries to ensure that promises made are actually fulfilled. Developed countries must alter their approach to the climate crisis and stop passing off the burden to developing countries who simply do not have the means to combat the crisis independently. Despite its shortcomings, COP26 can serve as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Perhaps it will be the final nail in the coffin, forcing policymakers to open their eyes and realize that these "promises" from developed countries are empty words without an accountability mechanism. Thes lessons learned from the shortcomings of COP26 will be critical in future international conferences, such as The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting which takes place between 17-21 January 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. This meeting serves as the next opportunity to discuss climate financing and I believe that international leaders need to bring up the issue of accountability mechanisms.
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