After 11 days of climate talks that have included progress on protecting forests, phasing out coal and transitioning to electric cars, the future of our planet has boiled down to one key thing: who’s going to pay for the mess we’re in?
On Thursday afternoon, the eve of the final day of COP26, huge gaps remain between what different countries want on key issues, including how ambitious the world should be in slashing greenhouse gas emissions, all part of what climate folks call “mitigation.”
In what has been the fiercest opposition to the summit’s draft agreement published Wednesday, Bolivia’s chief negotiator Diego Pacheco said his country and 21 other allied nations – including major emitters like China, India and Saudi Arabia – would oppose the entire section on climate change mitigation.
China, India and Saudi Arabia are all part of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group Pacheco was speaking for. None have replied to CNN’s request for comment on their stance.
That section contains all of the agreement’s language around reducing emissions, including the recognition that the world should aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists say is necessary to avert the worst climate impacts. The countries’ biggest point of contention, Pacheco said, was urging everyone to ratchet up their ambitions on emissions by the end of 2022, for COP27.
He argued developing nations should not have the same targets as rich ones who have had a greater historical role in the climate crisis. And he accused rich nations of trying to “transfer responsibility” to the Global South.
“History matters and history is very important to understand and to put in the context in the discussion on ambition,” he said. He added that it would be impossible for many countries in the group to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.
The issue at the heart of this sentiment is money. He made clear that making such a transition would be impossible if rich nations didn’t start paying their fair share – including for developing countries to adapt to the impacts of the crisis. Developing nations have repeatedly complained about so-called climate finance this week, and it and has emerged as the biggest sticking point stalling the talks.
Catherine Abreu, founder of the non-profit Destination Zero, which works on climate justice issues, said that Bolivia’s announcement was essentially a negotiation tactic and the underlying issue was more to do with demands for more funds.
“The draft of the text was so mitigation focused, so I think that announcement was a play,” Abreau told CNN, saying that the countries’ message meant other parts of the agreement would “get held hostage.”
The suggestion to delete the mitigation section “is clearly a punch in the face of people suffering from the climate crisis,” said Teresa Anderson, a spokesperson for Climate Action Network.
Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission’s vice president, ridiculed the call as illogical, saying there’s “no amount of money on the planet” that could develop adaptation to withstand the extreme temperature rise that would come if mitigation were scrapped.
Rich world still short in funding promise
In a conference that is trying desperately to close gaps, the most important gap is really the one between what humans are willing to do and what’s actually required to avert catastrophic climate change.
A report published this week by Climate Action Tracker found that even with all the pledges made at COP26, the world is on track for 2.4 degrees of warming. Closing that gap will require deep and sustained cuts to greenhouse gas emissions over this decade, the latest UN climate science report showed.
But that costs money, and there is good reason for developing nations to be dissatisfied.
More developing countries are on the frontlines of climate change than wealthy ones, and they collectively have had a much smaller role in creating this crisis.
And the money already promised hasn’t even flowed in full.
Rich countries agreed more than 10 years ago to transfer $100 billion a year to developing nations to help their transformation to low-carbon economies and to adapt to the climate crisis. Adaptation can involve anything from building sea walls to prevent flooding, to moving communities back from the coast and retrofitting homes to netter withstand extreme weather events.
Not only has the rich world failed to deliver the $100 billion by the 2020 deadline, developing nations say it’s nowhere near enough in the first place. They also want a 50-50 split between mitigation – measures to reduce emissions – and adaptation. Far more money has flowed to measures focused on cutting emissions.
Anger against the US brews
On top of the money for adaptation, developing countries want new systems to pay for “loss and damage,” which essentially involves wealthy countries being held financially liable for the impacts of the climate crisis. It’s the idea behind the concept of climate reparations.