COP26: Rich countries shift goalposts with new climate finance target

Meaningful climate action must be financed, but wealthy countries aren’t pulling their weight
Photo: IAEA Imagebank
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As the next United Nations Climate Change Conference kicks off, Canadian climate organizations are voicing their concerns about rich countries’ reluctance and unreliability in supporting the Global South as the climate crisis deepens.

“The success of COP26 lies in the ability of rich countries like Canada to close the unfair finance gap,” said Eddy Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager with the Climate Action Network, at an online event hosted by his organization on October 25.

Just the day before, a joint Climate Finance Delivery Plan was released. The plan, whose development was led by the governments of Canada and Germany, addresses how developed countries will get back on track to meet their goal of providing $100 billion a year in climate financing for developing countries.

In 2009 developed countries committed to meet this goal by 2020. Over a decade later, with their failure clear, they have moved the goal post. The newly released plan estimates they will hit their target in 2023.

“I personally thank them for their honesty,” Pérez said of the developed countries’ admission of failure. But he was not optimistic about the new plan.

“By pushing the target to 2023, we will only see the results of climate finance flows in 2025, the year when this commitment comes to an end and we start talking about the post-2025 goal.”

‘Unfair and inequitable’

Climate action by rich countries has been a story of denial, delay, and deception, according to Harjeet Singh, senior advisor on climate impacts with Climate Action Network International. The same can be said for climate finance.

“The impacts of climate change are everywhere. We have seen wildfires in Canada, the U.S., Turkey. We have seen devastating floods in Western Europe, China and India. But it’s the poor and vulnerable countries that do not have resources to deal with these impacts. Before they recover from the previous disaster, the other one hits them and hits them harder,” Singh said.

But he pointed out that before putting money on the table, developed countries often expect developing countries to step up in terms of their emissions reduction targets, which is “absolutely unfair and inequitable.”

For Pérez, a key question is this: Does the plan show how urgent it is for rich nations to massively scale up climate financing to help developing countries transition, adapt and pay for losses and damages?

“The clear response coming from this document is no. Rich nations are saying that the world needs to wait for them, needs to wait for Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, and France, and all of those countries who have decided not to step up their climate finance pledges to close the $100-billion gap in 2021.”

He added that for the past 12 years the flow of climate financing has been opaque, with accounting disparities by contributor countries, problems with funding accessibility and growing reliance on giving loans, which has contributed to unsustainable debt burdens in developing countries. The funding should be given as grants, and developed countries should not have to be concerned with getting money back, let alone asking for interest to be paid.

“This delivery plan was an opportunity for them to address these concerns, and it didn’t.”

Singh said that $100 billion is the bare minimum required to unlock the trillions that will be needed for the climate transition. “But if $100 billion itself is not real, and we are just busy with dodgy accounting, it’s not going to help us make that transition.”

Incremental change is not enough

According to Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal minister of environment and climate change (who was replaced one day later when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Steven Guilbeault to the position), Canada doubled its climate finance commitment earlier this year.

He hopes that the new plan can instill confidence and trust that developed countries will deliver on their promises to the developing world. Canada will continue to be a constructive player to this end internationally, he said.

But Pérez is skeptical. “On paper, the federal government has enhanced its performance. But the government’s inability to drastically reduce emissions at the domestic level hurts Canada’s international credibility. Canada continues to support the colonial extraction of natural resources, which goes against global climate goals and reconciliation.”

Incremental change is not enough, said Aliya Hirji, climate justice organizer with Climate Strike Canada. Only drastic, ambitious action worldwide will suffice.

“A lot of young people, including myself, grew up thinking that the UN is a place where world leaders work together in the interests of the people,” she said. “COP26 is sponsored by polluters, and has many barriers for marginalized people, and is starting to fall out of touch with reality. It's hard for us as young people to still have hope.”

“Before I was born my life was on the line, and world leaders delayed, delayed and delayed. How many more young people who are at risk or haven’t been born yet will be failed by COP 26?”

Canada’s emissions have risen most among all the G7 countries, pointed out Dale Marshall, national climate program manager at Environmental Defence.

The federal government has also fuelled the climate crisis by pouring billions into the oil and gas sector through subsidies and public financing. Last year alone, those subsidies and public financing totalled $18 billion, again the highest in the G7 countries.

“Canada must acknowledge the inadequacy of current efforts and use COP26 as a relevant opportunity to show it’s ready for nothing less than a rapid, fair, just, inclusive alignment of all climate policies, with a 1.5 C–compatible future in light of equity, solidarity, and reconciliation,” said Pérez.

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