Who do COP killers really hurt?

The developing world has been able to extract a sonorous chorus of mea culpas regarding the failure to provide $100bn by 2020

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When developed world representatives are joined by big finance and fossil fuel industry interests at a COP of all places, you can expect a pretty good show.

And Glasgow was entertaining, in its way.

First, there was the fiasco of developed countries inflating their climate finance contributions, and then tacitly admitting to it.

Then, top polluters China and India announced net zero pledges ten and twenty years, respectively, behind target. But at least a target had been set for the next generation.  

Then there was the spectacle of the world’s financiers, worth assets of $130 trillion, pledging to invest in green technologies.

Of course, the downside to such blingy pledges for Bangladesh and other LDCs is that money for mitigation is well and good, but money for adaptation is crucial. And it is not likely that bank or fund managers will be of much use with that.  

Oh and in the meantime, as the world trundles along towards net zero, the big banks and funds are free to continue investing in dirty energy. 

Even with the last-minute drama that has become the norm at COPs, Glasgow was not a futile exercise – COPs never are.

The developing world has been able to extract a sonorous chorus of mea culpas regarding the failure to provide $100bn by 2020.

It has managed to announce to the world that the climate finance accounts were inflated.

It has managed to get concerns about access to finance, and about loss and damage, on paper. This will lay the groundwork for further work at future COPs.

Securing a lengthy mention about loss and damage in the Glasgow agreement was a success for vulnerable communities. But it is just the beginning.

Indeed, as we go to press, there are reports that G77 plus China are pushing for a loss and damage fund.

And although commitments on the environment could have been stronger, COP veteran and internationally-acclaimed scientist Professor Saleemul Huq is hopeful about “the African COP” next year.

“We can build on what we’ve achieved here, hopefully in more favorable conditions,” he said.   

Common Ground

The grand production and tawdry drama of big negotiations aside, there was a deeper need here that was missed.

For LDCs hoping for a fair deal, the overarching desire was for trust to be rebuilt.

One young Bangladeshi expert at COP26, speaking about developed countries, put it this way: “You’re late, you’ve brought less than you’ve pledged, you’re telling us to be happy with $100bn – when the real costs of adaptation are much higher – quite simply, the trust has been lost.”

Rebuilding trust between the developing and developed world was as important at this COP as getting the pledges acted upon. That has not quite happened.

The Glasgow negotiations followed predictable patterns – starting with old claims about developing countries lacking the capacity to implement projects.

Those accusations were duly rubbished by Bangladeshi observers in Glasgow, emboldened by the country’s successful investment in capacity-building and governance.

“This kind of talk no longer works. Bangladesh has planned and implemented better community-led multi-stakeholder projects than many developed countries,” a young Bangladeshi COP26 observer said.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon put her thumb on a core issue at stake: that providing climate finance for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage is a case of paying reparations.

Kiss of death

The revelation that the largest delegation at COP26 represented, directly and indirectly, the fossil fuel industry rang the proverbial alarm bells.

The fossil fuel contingent outnumbered the delegations of Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines, Mozambique, the Bahamas, Bangladesh and Pakistan – combined, according to Global Witness, the organization that analyzed the delegate list.

The implications for transitioning out of fossil fuel dependency was clear – it would be resisted.

LDC negotiators weren’t rankled by bluster or hard language. What rankled was the cushioning of a weak agreement in language so soft it would lull polluters into indolence. 

The weakest language of all, or so it seems because of the urgency of the crisis it is meant to mollify, is the watered-down language on phasing out fossil fuels.

The way things are going, COP26 will have none of the moral strength of the Paris Agreement.

The verb “shall” in the context of Article 9 of the Paris Agreement, which deals with climate finance, gave the Paris agreement its moral force. It laid a legal obligation upon the developed world.

The developed world failed in that obligation and copped a plea, admitting to a lesser crime to avoid being held accountable for a more serious one: they feigned negligence in their obligations to vulnerable communities.

But that is not what happened here. The developed world and its allies have deliberately snuffed out the spirit of a previous COP and stifled this one.

The soft language regarding fossil fuel use means that the 1.5 degree Celsius target of the Paris Agreement is in jeopardy. And with it, so is our planet

Who will the COP killers really hurt, if they don’t come to a compromise?

The five million extra people that die every year due to climate change.

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