“It’s meek, it’s weak and the 1.5C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said of the agreement that came out of the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow. It summarized the gains from the meeting.
The Glasgow summit came up with three ways to speed up tackling climate change – by changing timetables; tweaking financial arrangements; and allowing greater multilateralism.
However, the headline on the last day of the fortnight-long meeting was dominated by India and China, who played a role in watering down one aspect of the final pact. They objected to the “phase out” of coal (both the countries rely heavily on coal for energy production) in the text of the agreement and replaced it with “phase down” and on ending subsidies on inefficient fossil fuel.
India and China drew criticism for watering down the final pact. But their arguments and actions are not unjustifiable. The criticism of these two countries took the spotlight away from the key weakness of the summit: climate finance.
That developed countries have made grand pledges on climate finance but not delivered was repeatedly raised by developing countries led by India.
The developing countries account for a negligible amount of total greenhouse gas emissions in aggregate or historical terms. Their per capita emission is miniscule compared to the advanced nations. Yet they are the countries that are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
In South Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka rank in the top 30 (the first three countries are in the top 10) among countries most affected by extreme climate events from 1999 to 2018.
Collectively, the GDP per capita of South Asia was only $1,804 in 2020, according to the World Bank. These countries have had to spend significant resources for adaptation. They have had to squeeze the limited finance available internally for addressing climate change directly.
Writing for the Financial Times, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for an end to “empty pledges.” She wrote that the agreement to support the poorest in dealing with losses and damages caused by climate change is far removed from implementation. Bangladesh would need $6 billion a year in climate finance to achieve the “climate prosperity plan.”
Climate finance was a key component of Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s speech too. He called upon the parties to make “Loss and Damage a standalone agenda for negotiations, and support the framework of additional financing for it.” He stressed that the COP26 must ensure adequate support for adaptation in the most vulnerable countries by scaling up financial, technological, and capacity-building resources.
According to Nepal’s Minister of Forests and Environment Ramsahay Prasad Yadav, $47 billion will be needed for adaptation, to ensure that lives, livelihood, and assets are protected from the impacts of climate change. That amounts to about $2 billion a year; a huge amount for a country whose GDP is only about $30 billion in 2021.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also focused on climate finance. Modi stated that India expects developed countries to provide climate finance of $1 trillion at the earliest to meet its net-zero target by 2070. India argued that it needed room to grow. India’s pledge to meet the net-zero target was lauded, but not enough attention was paid to the ‘requests’ it made to the advanced countries to deliver on their pledges on climate finance.
COP26 made limited progress in terms of climate finance. The agreed text commits developed countries to doubling the collective share of adaptation finance within the $100 billion annual targets for 2021-25 and to reach the target as soon as possible. The parties also committed to a process to agree on long-term climate finance beyond 2025.
The advanced nations have a poor record in the implementation of their commitments. They had agreed in 2010 to provide $100 billion in climate finance by 2020. This was reaffirmed in December 2015, when the Paris Climate Agreement was reached. However, as of 2019, only $79 million was mobilized, according to the OECD. This is a small fraction of the $5.8-5.9 trillion that the IPCC report documented as required by developing countries by 2030 to finance less than half of the climate actions listed in their nationally determined contributions to keep global warming in check.
In this context, the main story at the end of COP26 should have been the lack of ambition of the advanced nations, which bear primary responsibility for emissions, and for their non-fulfilment of pledges.
However, the summit found its scapegoats in India and China. They were blamed for insisting on phasing down rather than phasing out of coal, although several other countries such as Japan, Australia, and Saudi Arabia also sought to play down the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels.
This is not to argue that India and China bear no responsibility. However, their responsibility differs from those of advanced nations. They should not be lumped together to question the developing countries of their commitment to climate change.
In either case, the COP26 went beyond the deadline to secure an agreement. So, not all hope is lost. That hope is only just alive, though.