COP26 and the Dubious Promise of Climate Change Relief for Developing Countries

BY VLASITS ESZTER and JAZIR MOHAMMED

(Special thanks to Globus for collaborating with us on this article - see their website here)

Tuvalu's Foreign Minister, Simon Kofe, delivered his speech to the COP26 conference in the sea to symbolise rising sea levels and how developing and low island states are being left behind.


The global south has tremendously suffered from the burden caused by climate change and its effects. Flooding has killed 300,000 in the DRC, mudslides have destroyed vital infrastructure in Sierra Leone, and malnourishment is likely to affect over half a million infants and toddlers in Madagascar. It has been a crucial but neglected imperative for the global community to help third world countries mitigate these natural disasters. COP26 seemed like that opportunity for the international community to actually take a stand on this issue. However, we all know too well that the deal struck has been considered by many to be a failure on several grounds. Nowhere in the deal mentions anything about financing for future loss and damage caused by global warming. The issue was successfully capitulated by richer nations who simply agreed to having a “dialogue” on the issue.


The $100bn target at COP26 is nothing new - it has been agreed since the 2009 COP15 conference at Copenhagen that richer nations would pay that sum towards climate adaptation and mitigation for developing countries. Not only have they failed to deliver on that promise for the past 12 years, 80% of the funds they have put forward are also in the form of loans or private finance, instead of grants. Oxfam’s Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020 estimated only $59.5 billion per year on average in 2017 and 2018 was paid. Worse yet, the true value may be as less as $19-22.5 billion per year given the majority of these funds being interest-based loans, which can impose a danger of developing countries becoming indebted as a consequence of their climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts on top of their other debt and economic instability.


The biggest concern is that the participants of COP26 did not revise/update the target, merely promised to design more projects and contribute more resources to reach it. As we can see from the progress checks showing that the spending regarding this issue struggles with accountability, the target is too broad. In order to pursue it successfully, specific frameworks should be applied, or at the very least a comprehensive set of sub-targets and smaller goals to prevent the gross overreporting and misuse of statistics.


The deadline to reach the target has now been pushed back to 2023, a 3 year delay explained partly by the simple fact that a deficit of this size can only be made up for in years, but the deadline cannot be pushed so far back as to not be in line with the SDG 2030 agenda. The official explanation includes the hindering effect the Covid-19 pandemic and the international focus on financing pandemic response has had on not just the $100 billion target but in essence any climate change focused effort/policy. This narrative, although undeniably grounded, makes it possible for governmental actors to downplay the urgency of issues surrounding climate finance.


Let us now look at the difficulties of developing countries applying for said funds regardless of the amount of resources actually given out. The process itself can take countless forms, but usually it is the country’s responsibility to draw up a comprehensive plan in the hopes of accessing funds for it. Climate change adaptation policies have several strict requirements (centered around a 50/50 ratio of ‘adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’), and if not all of them are met in the case of a request for funds to implement the given policy/project, it is likely to be turned down by the Green Climate Fund, tasked with overseeing climate finance in developing countries. In some cases, the GCF turns down proposals because the given adaptation project can be classified as ‘development’ (as in, development not in a sustainability and climate change context), or more frequently because developing countries are unable to meet the requirements for meticulous data collection that is the standard in research carried out in developed countries. Thus, most of the money contributed does not go to countries most in need (who are largely incapable of meeting the mentioned technicalities), but instead to middle-income countries where return on investment projects can be set up via private financing.


What achievements can be expected from a conference where the highest representation came from fossil fuel lobbyists who vastly outnumbered the delegates from developing countries? Whilst a lot of the attention has been placed towards China and India towards their forced rewording of “phasing down coal”, It is largely the fault of developed nations as to why COP26 has been largely seen as another failure of international cooperation. The only approach taken by such nations has only been to achieve the net zero carbon neutral target and the keeping global emissions below 1.5% C, which the agreed deal does not even explicitly promise, unlike the Paris climate accord. This means there are no steps taken towards the future reduction let alone the erasure of the use of fossil fuels.


To add, there have been actions from G20 countries recently that show strong contrast between promises sworn at conferences and the reality of political and economic interests being prioritized on a national level. The Biden administration has given approval to the largest amount ever (2,500) of drilling sites for natural gas and oil. The EU signed a deal with the South American bloc Mercosur to increase beef exports which is one of the main causes of deforestation in the continent, and also provided €13 billion to 30 new oil and gas projects. Meanwhile here in the UK, this government have been pursuing a deceitful policy of decarbonisation by investing highly into “blue hydrogen” labelling it as more eco-friendly and seeking to tame its emissions by investing into carbon capture and storage methods which are not guaranteed to work at 100% (the best has only been 65%).


Expectations around COP are always extremely high, as it is considered perhaps the most important climate change related event of each year, however, these conferences have a highly complex political and economic background, which is exceptionally apparent when looking at the case of the 100 billion dollar pledge. The clear circumstances prior to this pledge have largely been defined by the failure to provide adequate aid to developing nations and the increasing precarity that they face due to climate change as well as the shortcomings of the global economic system that contribute to their underdevelopment.


The question remains; can effective international cooperation be born to battle the climate crisis, or is any aspiration of this sort inherently flawed because of the power imbalance of countries and the fact that at the end of the day, each one keeps its own best interest in mind? The stark reality is that in today’s highly unequal world, COP26 is just another example of how the interests of global capital have the utmost priority over the interests of the people. Yet again, such short-term profit seeking motives prove an ultimate barrier for the mitigation of climate change let alone proper the development of our societies.


Image - Flickr (World Meteorological Organization)