COP26: Selling false promises to vulnerable countries

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure”, said climate activist Greta Thunberg. The summit has failed so far to provide developing countries with realistic solutions to fight climate change.

Police and demonstrators at a Extinction Rebellion protest, during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow. Picture date: Wednesday November 3, 2021. ©Getty Images

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is an annual event that brings governments together to discuss and review how climate change is being managed domestically and internationally.

« It should be obvious that we cannot solve the crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place. »

Greta Thunberg

It has been only days since the beginning of COP26 that took place on October 30th in Glasgow. However, the outlook for this event has worsened recently. At the summit, countries must come forward with strengthened obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement ambition of keeping global temperatures under pre-industrial levels by 1.5 ° C.

These unrealistic ambitions are put into question especially after the release of the Giec report in last August 2021. Despite the current collective action to save the earth from climate change, Giec anticipates a 16% increase in emissions by 2030 and 2.7°C warming in 2100.  Much of the blame has been put on developing countries which still rely on fossil fuels.

« The reality is that many poor countries consume very little energy, and they have almost nothing to do with emissions to date. To ask those countries to no longer use fossil fuels while they’re trying to grow their economy is unfair, »

said Vijaya Ramachandran, research fellow at the Center for Global Development.

According to some experts, the expectation that less developed countries should curb carbon at the same rate as wealthy ones is unrealistic and unfair. 

The developing world is in a hard spot, wedged between poverty and climate catastrophe. Poorer countries need to ramp up energy production and fewer tools to reduce emissions. Most of that energy currently comes from coal, which produces a considerable amount of carbon dioxide.

At a coalfield in India’s state of Jharkhand, workers prepare to load coal onto a truck.   ©Getty Images

Even renewable energies like solar and wind that can be considered a partial solution,  take decades for the requisite capacity to be built. They also cannot  provide the power to build roads and forge commodities like iron and cement. 

Developing countries such as  India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and  China, therefore face a conundrum: how to build cities, functioning grids and other infrastructure without causing carbon emissions to spike? A question that COP26 has not reflect on yet.

« On finance they talk up the trillions that could be mobilised outside yet inside they can’t even deliver the $100bn they promised 12 years ago. The fact they had the gall to show up here without the $100bn is staggering. »

Mohamed Adow, director of think tank Power Shift Africa

In addition to that, rich countries have failed to keep up their promises to help vulnerable countries. A key element of the Paris Agreement is its insistence that $100 billion be funneled from rich countries to developing ones each year from 2020 to 2025.  According to a report published by The OECD, the  target of $100bn climate finance – cash from public and private sources provided by the rich world to poor countries, to help them cut emissions and cope with the impacts of extreme weather – would be missed by about $20bn.

Developing countries have said they will commit to lowering their carbon emissions if they find support . The Philippines, for instance, promises to lower its carbon reductions by 75% by 2030, but 72.3% of those reductions are conditional on climate aid. 

Flood water on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 25, 2020. ©Getty Images

Positions on what poor countries expect and able to do and what rich countries are willing to give need to be urgently clarified by the members of COP6 before  the end of this summit on November 12th. In the meanwhile, torn between the need to survive and inability to cope with climate changes, poor countries find themselves on an unclear path.

Author: Narimane DHAOUI

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