- With the post-pandemic economic pressures and the war in Ukraine, western governments have been largely reneging on their carbon reduction commitments.
- A recent UN Environment Programme report laid it out in black and white: the world currently does not have a credible pathway to limit warming to 1.5º C.
- At COP27, more promises will be made, but the strident activism of the developing world will be stonewalled by a small group of rich and influential countries.
- Given the enormity of the challenge we face with climate change, the author outlines three demands we must make of COP27.
Floods and droughts have become more severe than ever. The catastrophic floods in Pakistan and the crippling drought in the Horn of Africa have affected millions of families in already impoverished parts of the world. Low-lying coastal areas around the world and several small island developing states have suffered from incessant erosion, increased frequency of catastrophic natural disasters, and communities there seem to continually live on the brink.
These events have highlighted the conversation on ‘loss and damage’, which essentially is one seeking reparations to those parts of the world that have been at the receiving end of the disastrous effects of climate change from the industrialised world that is responsible for historical carbon emissions. But accepting historical responsibility is a thorny issue. Industrialised countries now do not want to accept binding responsibility for ‘loss and damage’ in climate-vulnerable countries, most of which are in the developing world.
Amid all this, the COP27 climate talks kick off in Egypt in under a week’s time. Developing countries, China and a few allies in the West, are going to COP27 demanding a financing mechanism to address loss and damage. They are going to be disappointed if previous COPs are anything to go by.
With the post-pandemic economic pressures and the war in Ukraine, western governments have been largely reneging on their carbon reduction commitments. The UN Environment Programme’s recent ‘Emissions Gap Report’ laid it out in black and white: the world currently does not have a credible pathway to limit warming to 1.5º C.
This is not surprising. Short-term imperatives trump concerns over the protracted effects of the climate crisis and, naturally, domestic economic concerns prevail over climate-induced disasters in faraway lands. This has meant that fossil fuel extraction continues unabated and climate finance promises remain unmet.
The inaction has clearly left developing country policymakers such as Lee White, Gabon’s minister for environment, exasperated. White has been quoted saying: “It’s a horrible thing to say but until more people in developed nations are dying because of the climate crisis, it’s not going to change.”
COP27 is likely to be no different from the last round. More promises will be made, but the world will be found wanting on action. Strident activism of the developing world will be stonewalled by a small group of rich and influential countries.
So what should we demand from COP27?
* From all parties: Acceptance that ‘net zero’ is not an equal responsibility – the concept of differentiated responsibility is an old one in climate negotiations.
The new wave of ‘net zero’ targets have in some sense seen overzealous posturing by large poor countries such as India and Nigeria, among others. Their ‘net zero’ declarations were either short of detail, or made wildly optimistic promises that did not take into account their development needs. On the other hand, the ‘net zero’ pledges made by the developed world seems to depend overly on unproven technologies such as carbon capture.
Given the stark disparity in available resources between countries, it needs to be acknowledged that the path to ‘net zero’ for the world needs to be led by industrialised developed countries. Their pledges need to be accelerated, and we need to see greater application of resources towards finding appropriate solutions.
* From development partners and international financial institutions: Make climate finance easier to access. Climate finance available for adaptation and mitigation, and to a lesser extent, as compensation for catastrophic damage (a soft ‘loss and damage’ reparation), will keep increasing steadily, though nowhere near the pace at which it is required. And much of the climate finance required to switch to renewable energy or to implement changes to production methods has to be from private finance and long-term debt.
But accessing these funds remains a bureaucratic rigmarole. Given the urgency of the issue, surely these funds could be made easier to access? I would argue in favour of simplifying procedures, rather than offering a convoluted (and sometimes, self-serving) process of technical assistance provision to help access these funds. In fact, paying for ‘loss and damage’ could be an option that cuts through the bureaucracy and simplifies matters for all concerned.
* From the climate-vulnerable developing world: Climate finance and technology transfers may or may not materialise in adequate measure. But there is no time to lose.
If, say, climate-vulnerable countries do get a flood of additional financing, do they have the absorptive capacity to put those funds to good use? Are their domestic economic policies striking the right balance between furthering development and minimising damage to the environment? Are they sufficiently decentralised in order that large urban centres and sub-national governments can take the lead in designing and implementing policies that demonstrate ambition and innovation in tackling the climate crisis? Are economists and policymakers thinking seriously about progressive carbon taxes?
In summary, there is no substitute to strengthening internal governance processes, and demonstrating commitment through domestic policy.
This is an ambitious agenda. But given the enormity of the challenge we face with climate change, it is time to move past the rhetoric. We’ve got our work cut out.
Suvojit Chattopadhyay is based in Nairobi and works on governance and green economy projects in Africa. Twitter: @suvojitc.
This article was first published on Science: The Wire.