Ahead of world leaders gathering for COP26, Canada is at the center of efforts to restore broken trust among poor countries, which could derail the historic United Nations conference, where participants fight climate change. Will try to set a course for collective action.
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is tasked with a German counterpart, Jochen Flasbarth, to help ensure that developed economies eventually make good on a commitment to providing $100 billion in annual climate financing to developing countries. The funding is believed to help those poorer countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and help them prepare for the inevitable climate-change impacts already in place.
The co-leadership reflects on Canada and Germany relatively well. They were asked to take it up by the British government, which will host the COP in Glasgow in November, as they were among the first countries to announce this year that they would boost their contributions to climate-finance funds to achieve it. Will give Close to its promised total. In Canada’s case, that means doubling its commitment to a little over $1 billion on average per year.
But the last-minute scuffle involving Mr Wilkinson – which he elaborated on in an interview this week, before departing for pre-COP meetings in Italy – shows that rich countries (including Canada) have played the ball since then. Funding commitments were first made more than a decade ago.
The annual $100 billion was never going to be enough to meet the needs of the recipients, even taking into account that it is meant to take advantage of additional private investment. Ratified in the Paris Agreement in 2015, the funding was supposed to be a starting point for the developed world. And it should have served as a signal from rich countries to recognize their obligations to nations that have historically done less through emissions to create a climate crisis, but now have a disproportionate amount of consequences. facing from.
Had that responsibility been taken seriously enough, people like Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Flasbarth would now be discussing what would happen next. If the $100 billion target had already been met or exceeded, they would be working toward a higher annual total. If the developed world had cared enough to put in place robust systems to track contributions and allocations, they would be setting what worked and what didn’t, and setting future policies accordingly.
Instead, Canada and Germany are still trying to persuade some countries to substantially increase their contributions to reach the $100 billion annually over the next few years, originally promised by 2020.
There has been some progress recently, including in the United States, though it remains to be seen whether President Joe Biden’s promise to double US funding to $11.4 billion annually by 2024 has passed through Congress. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also emerged as a surprisingly strong advocate. He used the UN speech last week to punish developed countries that have not yet acted.
But Mr Wilkinson and Mr Flasbarth are still running into governments that insist they have already done their fair share, don’t have the fiscal capacity for all their post-COVID-19 spending, or that they don’t want to spend much of their time in their budgetary cycle. are not at the points where they can allocate fresh funds.
What makes things worse, however, is that much of the work for Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Flasbarth has involved trying to understand what has actually been done to date, which Mr. Wilkinson laughs is “not simple”. ” said.
That means aiming for something more up-to-date than the “backward-looking” numbers compiled by the OECD, which are currently the best available, but which only goes back to 2019 (when the organization raised nearly $80 billion). of total reported). And that means finding out whether pledges made by donor countries have actually gone out the door, as well as looking for a double count, with funds flowing from donor countries to development banks and from development banks to recipients. The funds flowing to both countries are counted in the total.
Transparency around the numbers, Mr Wilkinson said, “is critical to the credibility of this exercise.” So the plan is to release a report on where things stand, and next steps, before the COP starts.
But a failure to take stock earlier now threatens to sabotage the development of climate finance policies at the upcoming conference.
By this point, we should have a good discussion of how much money should be allocated specifically for climate adaptation in poor countries. This requires particular attention, because infrastructure in developing countries is increasingly unprepared for weather and natural disasters, and because it is harder to raise private capital for that kind of investment than it is to reduce emissions.
There are all other kinds of conversations that should ideally end in Glasgow as well. How efficiently has the recipient countries spent money so far, and is there a need for mechanisms to better track that spending? Is it a problem that the bulk of the financing has been in the form of loans, and does a specific portion need to be a grant? Are adjustments needed as to which countries count as developing, and who should be expected to donate?
On some of these fronts, Mr Wilkinson anticipates “active discussions” to begin shortly, perhaps even in Italy this week. But it seems unlikely that enough advance work has been done so far for the formulation of detailed plans.
At this point, the best hope is probably that there are enough new commitments toward the $100 billion target to at least begin preliminary talks about next steps – and, crucially, give some credibility to the funding pledge. to allow to achieve.
It doesn’t help that, with low COVID-19 vaccination rates, poor countries currently face additional challenges until sending representatives to COP26.
An even greater problem, still, may be doubts about how seriously they should take any promise made by the wealthy countries in Glasgow, and in what good faith they themselves should participate.
Mr Wilkinson said that one element of his current effort, in addition to bringing more transparency to funding to date, and pressuring allies to increase their share, “is to engage with the developing world to ensure that, To be sure, the developed world is taking very seriously the commitment made in Paris.”
No matter how hard he is working on it, action will speak louder than words. A little more than a month is enough to make up for many years of lost time.
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