It is a measure of the extent of disagreement over funding by the developed world of poor countries to deal with the impacts the climate crisis that the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or COP27 had to be extended beyond today.
The COP27 was to conclude today but with an ambitious agreement over what is known as “loss and damage” or how and how much cash to give a vast majority of countries which is nowhere close to as accountable as the developed world for the deadly greenhouse emissions.
In many ways, the conference has turned out to be a contest between the world’s two largest emitters, the United States and China. While the U.S. also wants China to pay poor countries, the latter does not seem inclined. Washington’s broad argument is that in about a decade Beijing could overtake the former in cumulative emissions and as the world’s second largest economy it also bears financial responsibility. However, China has generally been resisting that characterization, still conveniently benefiting from the U.N. label of it being a developing country.
At the same time, despite being the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases for decades, the U.S. has consistently failed to bear its share of the financial burden and help poor countries. So, while most of the 195 countries that are U.N. members need some form of financing to mitigate losses that are bound to occur as they transition their economies to become less threatening to climate, those who have for decades done the most damage still act coy about offering their share.
Both the U.S. and the European Union (EU) want to expand the number of countries that ought to contribute beyond just the West, especially China which by many parameters does not qualify to be just a developing country. India is still in that in-between stage where it has some of the pretensions of being a developed country even as it largely remains in the developing slot on many parameters.
One major sticking point which held up an agreement today was the use of fossil fuels. The developed world has now been calling for phasing out the most polluting fossil fuel but both India and China do not want it. Rather than “phasing out” India is said to prefer “phasing down” which keeps the option of using fossil fuel for national development open to it.
The transition away from the fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, while equally desired by countries such as India and China, is a very difficult one for most.
As the COP27 negotiations floundered over such issues, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres returned to Sharm El-Sheikh to ensure that a meaningful and concrete agreement emerges. He said it was “crunch time” in the negotiations and “the parties remain divided on a number of significant issues.”
Guterres spoke of a “breakdown in trust” between North and South and between developed and emerging economies. “But this is no time for finger pointing,” he said, adding, “The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction.” He called for a “meaningful climate action” that the world needs.
“Global emissions are their highest level in history and rising,” he said.
He made three specific suggestions. One is to find an “ambitious and credible” agreement on “loss and damage” and financial support to developing countries. “We cannot deny climate justice to those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis and are getting hurt the most,” he said.
Second, he said, is for all parties to address the “huge emissions gap” and in that context he said the target of limiting global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius was not about “keeping a goal alive, it is about keeping people alive.”
“I see the will to keep to the 1.5 goal – but we must ensure that commitment is evident in the COP27 outcome,” he said, adding that the current fossil fuel companies’ expansion is hijacking humanity,” he said.
In this context, he again made the case for renewables, and a global Climate Solidarity Pact with developed countries taking the lead in reducing emissions.
“A pact with developed countries taking the lead in reducing emissions. And a pact to mobilize – together with international financial institutions and the private sector – financial and technical support for emerging economies to accelerate their transition to renewable energy,” he said.
The third point he made was about the delivery of the $100 billion annually in climate finance promised at COP15 in Copenhagen.
He asked the parties to act in consensus to double their investments in adaptation and reform multilateral development banks and international financial institutions.
“They must provide the support developing countries need to embark on a renewable energy and climate-resilient pathway”, he said.