A shift in emphasis to funding ‘justice’ for vulnerable nations has made richer countries uneasy, writes Caroline O’Doherty
COP27, Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 7-18 2022. Mark the dates.
COP26 was still in the throes of petulant penultimate day negotiations but already the Egyptian delegation was graciously accepting its official designation as hosts for the next one.
There was less emphasis on the summit venue, a former tiny fishing village transformed into a vast tourist resort where every rental room has access to a pool and nearby white sands caressed by the warm blue Red Sea.
The oasis-style optics will be trickier than in cold, rainy Glasgow, particularly if, as expected, money once again bedevils the talks.
Climate negotiations have always been fat with figures – tonnes of carbon, percentage reductions, temperatures, timelines.
Dollars and euro don’t fit so well with the ‘it’s all about the science’ narrative.
But while talks president Alok Sharma said the “currency of compromise” would secure a deal, it was cold, hard cash that repeatedly looked the biggest threat to progress.
And that looks set to be the case over the next 12 months, that is until delegates once again pack their suitcases, albeit with linens rather than waterproofs.
What became very clear throughout the two weeks in Glasgow is that developing countries and climate-vulnerable nations, which are often one and the same, are fed up with the posturing and promises of rich states on the question of climate finance.
A pledge made 12 years ago to provide $100bn (€87bn) a year for climate adaptation has yet to be honoured.
Meanwhile, United States climate envoy John Kerry reminded the talks yesterday that trillions of dollars had been spent on fossil fuel subsidies over the past few years.
“That’s the definition of insanity. We are feeding the very problem we are here to try and cure,” he said.
But the fact is the US has been one of the countries stalling on finance.
It’s not only about the $100bn, or the tentative plans to increase that target as soon as it is reached, or the many billions more developing countries want set aside for “loss and damage”.
It’s about the push to have those funds established as permanent, legal structures so that donations effectively become reparations.
Rich nations built their wealth on fossil fuels and, in doing so, imperilled the poor, is the argument.
“We want climate justice, not charity,” said Dr Saleelmul Huq of the Bangladeshi delegation. That’s a shift of emphasis that worries rich nations. Open-ended liability does not sit well with them.
But has there been anything at all to take comfort from in these talks?
They set out with the core task of securing agreement on future action compatible with the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement which is to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees and ideally no higher than 1.5 degrees – keep 1.5 alive as the slogan said.
It was alive but “on life support”, said Friends of the Earth International in their assessment yesterday.
Some positive developments lifted moods during the fortnight, such as diverse groups of countries coming together to commit to cutting global methane emissions by 30pc by 2030, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, end coal burning by 2050, and to stop sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040.
A new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance came into being, with Ireland one of the 11 founding members.
China and the US, the world’s top two carbon-polluting countries, put aside four years of acrimony to announce a kind of mutual support pact to egg each other on in reducing emissions.
Not everyone was impressed that they used COP26 time to work on their relationship.
“This is not the G2,” said Alden Meyer of the Climate Action Network. There are 195 other parties here they need to be talking to.”
COP26 solidified a change in Irish politics too.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney spoke during the fortnight as if they had been taught their first words by Climate Action Minister Eamon Ryan.
So close were the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives in tone and content to the Green Party head of delegation it was like watching ‘’I am Spartacus” re-enacted.
Ryan said he would judge the success or failure of COP26 by the criteria set by his Spanish counterpart, Teresa Ribera, who was looking for solidarity, credibility and ambition.
That meant climate justice, transparency and enhanced emission cutting plans.
Some progress has been made, but all three will need space among the folded linens.
Mr Sharma’s mantra for the talks was: “Paris promised, Glasgow must deliver.”
There is now another panel in the triptych: Egypt must do better.