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We begin doing things differently. With these words, Mr. Simon Stiell, the newly appointed Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change) addresses the audience at the open ceremony of the COP27, the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties hosted by Egypt in Sharm-El Sheik.
What is the meaning of a ‘new era’ and what does ‘doing things differently mean?
Speaking from the same stage, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottly, pointed out that we have a huge global governance problem which affects financing the way to net zero; according to Prime Minister Mottley, ‘the world looks still too much like it did when it was part of an imperialistic empire’ and the Bretton Woods institutions, such as the IMF, World Bank and the other multilateral development banks, that shall play a crucial role to deliver climate finance on the ground, have been created when most of the countries attending COP were not born yet and, therefore, these institutions lack of representative governance to respond the current needs of the countries born in the last decades.
It is not a coincidence that both Executive Secretary Stiell and Prime Minister Mottley come from Climate Vulnerable Countries, Grenada and Barbados, small island states of the Caribbean deeply exposed to the adverse effects of climate change. According to several scientific studies,
the emissions generated by the 10% richest part of the world in the last 25 years accounted for over half of the emissions added to the atmosphere.
However, most of the risks associated with climate change disproportionately affect the poorest countries, that lack efficient infrastructures to tackle climate catastrophes generated by the temperature increase, from hurricanes to sea level rise, and extreme drought.
With the Glasgow Climate Pact, the previous COP reached a final agreement for the completion of the Paris Rulebook, a complex set of decisions for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which is the cornerstone text for tackling climate change at the international level.
The Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in 2015 and composed of 29 articles, contains the main principles to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5° C, but needs operational rules and implementation procedures to deliver effective results. It comes as no surprise that the operationalization of the Paris Agreement is the main challenge the international climate community has to face now. From how financing the transition to net zero emission, to climate adaptation we know that opposite interests have been on the ground since the beginning of climate negotiations. However, as the Executive Secretary said, times have changed. If we want to give effective meaning to the Paris Agreement, there shall be a change of attitude in climate negotiations, that shall be inspired by cooperation and inclusivity. It is estimated that not more than 15% of the 100 billion $ climate finance fund flows to the ground, meaning that it is extremely difficult to obtain finance for climate adaptation or mitigation projects, especially in the least developed countries, mainly due to bureaucratic obstacles, lack of capacity structure in the host counties and access barriers which prevent small projects to be admitted for funding. While Oil & Gas companies made 200 Billion $ profit in the last 2 months, developing countries lack energy partnerships to cover their energy needs. In this scenario, the global south is not expected to stay passive and follow the dictates of the most powerful actors. For example, emerging countries are pushing to establish a climate mitigation trust financed with the skyrocketing profits of large emitting companies. Thus,
what is the cost we are available to pay for changes? The Paris Agreement 1.5°C target is recognised as unrealistic with the current emission growth; if we have to play together and be aligned on the same goals, we need to make all the actors, both state and non-state ones, accountable. Being aligned means that the private sector, including energy companies and financial institutions, is called to act accordingly, otherwise, the existing gaps will stay, as well as the climate issues. Removing the inequalities which are affecting wide areas of the world and billions of people is a necessary step if we want to properly address the climate crisis.
In this direction, it seems encouraging the decision to put in the COP27 agenda the item regarding ‘matters related to funding arrangements for responding to Loss & Damage’. Loss & Damage is a highly debated issue which refers to efforts to ‘avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts, especially in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change (UNFCCC Decision 3/CP. 18). However, the discussions on these funding arrangements on Loss & Damage matters will rely on a cooperation approach and do not expressly involve the terms liability or compensation, which are not deemed acceptable words for the high-polluting countries.
A non-postponable call to action
Global problems, from climate change to migration and energy supply, are all interconnected and need a non-postponable call to action. It might be too early to say that times have really changed, but we all need to be aware that continuing to replicate the injustices of the past decades, where a small part of the world exploits the majority of the limited natural resources for profit purposes, will bring tremendous negative consequences for all.
1 Taconet, N., Méjean, A. & Guivarch, C. Influence of climate change impacts and mitigation costs on inequality between countries. Climatic Change 160, 15–34 (2020); Gore, T. Confronting carbon inequality. Oxfam (2020).