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Our thoughts on COP26 – reflections on the Glasgow Climate Pact

Expert comment

Written by Ipek Gençsü, Rathin Roy, Annalisa Prizzon, Yue Cao, Sarah Colenbrander, Anna Locke, Mairi Dupar, Maximiliano Mendez-Parra, Emily Wilkinson, Thomas Tanner, Carmen Leon-Himmelstine, Emilie Tant

Hero image description: UNFCCC COP26 declaration announcement November 13, 2021. Image credit:UNFCCC COP26 declaration announcement November 13, 2021. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 UNclimatechange (https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfccc/)

Throughout the COP26 conference we'll be sharing our views on the developing stories here. To browse all our analysis and research, visit our COP26 webpage.

November 15 - Sarah Colenbrander, Director of Programme, Climate and Sustainability

Moving past the blame game to keep 1.5 alive: reflections on the Glasgow Climate Pact

COP26 is over and uneasy agreement has been reached. There is no sense of triumph as there was after the Paris Agreement was finalised, but there is relief that consensus could be forged at all given tense geopolitical relations and the devastation wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the Glasgow Climate Pact and the frenzy of pledges during the first week clearly signal that a decarbonised future is on its way, they are almost certainly too little too late to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Given the impossible task at hand, people were anticipating failure and pointing the finger of blame long before COP26 began. Western media highlighted the absence of China’s Xi Jinping from the conference and criticised India’s target of reaching carbon neutrality in 2070. Both countries have since been condemned for weakening the language around coal and fossil fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, delegates from developing countries condemned wealthy countries’ failure to provide the annual $100 billion for climate action pledged back in 2009. They also criticised the UK for the delays in distributing vaccines and last-minute changes to quarantine rules. Within the conference itself, the most vulnerable countries were furious at rich countries’ unwillingness to pay for loss and damage caused by climate change, while middle-income countries accused rich countries of carbon colonialism.

So what are the wins within the Glasgow Climate Pact? What are the losses? Where does responsibility lie for the glacial pace of climate action? And how can we accelerate it after COP26?

The wins

The Glasgow Climate Pact has some important breakthroughs. Perhaps the most striking is the commitment to accelerate ‘efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies’ (paragraph 36). As Ipek Gençsü says:

“This is a welcome if overdue recognition of the central role of coal, oil and gas in fuelling climate collapse, and of the way that governments continue to prop up these industries. Of course, it’s not wholly new: G20 governments had pledged to end ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies back in 2009 and they have made negligible progress, continuing to subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of $584 billion a year.

Unfortunately, the text from COP26 does not go far enough. We have no proven means of abatement at scale and governments can continue to claim, falsely, that only few of their subsidies are ‘inefficient’. And through their ongoing support for fossil fuels they not only drive climate collapse, but also numerous other adverse impacts such as air pollution and related health impacts, congestion, and exposure to fuel price volatility. It now falls once again to civil society to hold governments to account on these inadequate pledges. But that, we will.”

Most importantly, the ‘ratchet mechanism’ of the Paris Agreement has proven itself at Glasgow. The requirement that countries submit enhanced climate targets – Nationally Determined Contributions – every five years successfully created a moment where political leaders were held accountable for their climate policies or lack thereof. Thus climate laggards such as Australia and Saudi Arabia felt pressured to show up to COP26 with net-zero targets, however dubious their underlying plans to reach it. If countries deliver their new pledges and targets, warming could be held to 2.1°C.

Moreover, the Glasgow Climate Pact introduces a new ratchet, requesting countries to revisit and strengthen their 2030 targets by the end of 2022 (paragraph 29). This request is a welcome effort to “keep 1.5 alive”, contrasting the scientific consensus that emissions need to fall quickly with the political reality that many wealthy, polluting nations have shown up with inadequate targets. Countries like Australia, Canada, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States might have announced net-zero targets – but they also plan to expand fossil fuel production. Renewed pressure next year will be necessary to raise ambition.

The losses

On other fronts, the Glasgow Climate Pact is disappointing.

One of the core objectives of COP26 was to finally pin down the rulebook for international carbon accounting and trading, governed by Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The design of Article 6 could drive greater climate ambition or enable greenwashing. The details underpinning Article 6 could not be resolved in Paris, and deliberations have since dragged out through COPs in Bonn, Katowice, Madrid and Marrakech. The Glasgow Climate Pact takes a step forward, but Simon Maxwell notes the ongoing risks to a fair, robust global carbon market:

“Glasgow did not go as far as hoped in cleaning up carbon markets, but has given new impetus to the idea of finding least-cost ways internationally to quickly reduce emissions – and carbon trading can help keep us on the path to 1.5°C. Rich countries beware, however: offshoring emission reductions by buying carbon credits abroad means losing the co-benefits of climate action: clean air, better health and faster technical change.

Of course, these negotiations have taken place as the EU plans and US considers introducing border carbon adjustments. These policies risk harming exporters in low-income countries. They should be accompanied by technical and financial support to green supply chains in developing countries. Greener, fairer trade will benefit both poverty reduction and climate action.”

Perhaps expectations for COP26 were too high. Another climate conference could never deliver the deep emission cuts required to limit global warming; that depends on radical new climate policies by the largest emitters. However, given that average temperatures have already increased by 1.1°C since pre-industrial times and that there are no immediate prospects of the rapid decarbonisation necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C, Emily Wilkinson concludes that Glasgow should have pivoted towards a firm financial commitment:

“Small island states face an existential threat from climate change, a tragedy to which the phrase “loss and damage” does not do justice. Nor does the Glasgow Climate Pact offer much justice on loss and damage. While we welcome the commitment to double adaptation finance by 2025, small island states and other highly vulnerable countries are facing climate shocks and stresses beyond their ability to adapt. COP26 should have introduced a new facility to finance loss and damage. Instead, it promised another talk fest. Small island states have already spoken at 26 COPs and counting while temperatures and sea levels have risen. Now they need finance for loss and damage – and they need it fast.”

The scapegoats

The principle of common but differentiated responsibility is at the heart of the UN climate accords. Yet that principle seems to have been forgotten in recent wrangling, with developing countries like China and India accused of lacking climate ambition and developed countries like EU member states accused of not paying up. But these accusations have not always been fair. Let’s look at some of the numbers.

“Developed countries” (as defined within the archaic UNFCCC system) account for less than 13% of the global population and nearly 50% of cumulative emissions. By comparison, India accounts for nearly 18% of the world’s population and just over 3% of cumulative emissions. It currently produces just 7% of annual emissions. Given its widespread poverty and small carbon footprint, India is entitled to a larger share of our remaining carbon budget alongside time and support to eventually reach net-zero. As Rathin Roy suggests below:

“Human development (and biodiversity, for that matter) are sideshows at Glasgow, with good reason. Scapegoats have to be found for the real reason why Glasgow is engaging in a collective delusion and obsessing, Soviet style, with a net zero target rather than an equitable pathway to getting there...

I am interested in the pathway to net zero, presumably for the same reasons as the Prime Minister of India. A pathway that bucks the interests of the global rich and embraces a wider understanding of sustainable development that improves the quality of India’s built environment and agriculture, that safeguards its biodiversity, that does not debauch India’s coastlines forests and oceans, that prioritises lifeline over lifestyle energy.”

China was also scapegoated before the deliberations, especially before the revelation of the US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration. Yes, China is the currently the world’s largest emitter, but its cumulative emissions are less than half those of the US for four times the population. Yes, China is the largest producer of coal, but also of solar panels, wind energy and electric vehicles. Yes, Xi did not attend COP26 in person but he hasn’t left China since January 2020. Yes, China could do more to tackle climate change, but this is true for almost all high- and middle-income countries.

Last, the European Union was widely condemned for not stepping up on climate finance alongside other developed countries. But the EU (and the UK for that matter) does not belong in the same box as Australia, Canada and the United States. It has implemented sweeping decarbonisation policies, successfully cutting emissions by 26% compared to 1990 levels. By comparison, Australia’s emissions have increased 31%, Canada’s by 21% and the United States’ by 2% over the same period. Emissions per person in these three countries range from at least double to nearly triple the G20 average. Moreover, the EU came close to paying its fair share of the $100 billion goal even before its members made new commitments in recent months.

So how can we move beyond the unhelpful binary of rich versus poor countries? From whom should we demand more? While the blame game may not ultimately be constructive, it’s worth considering alternative explanations for the climate deadlock in order to understand how to break it and move forward.

1) Bronze medal: Australia

Australia accounts for 0.2% of the global population but 1.1% of cumulative emissions. Combined with our massive fossil fuel exports, we are responsible for 5% of global emissions or 25 times our share of population. Yet we showed up at COP26 without more ambitious 2030 targets; only the distant promise of net-zero by 2050 using unproven technologies.

As though our bloated carbon footprint was not enough, the Australian government has also undermined the international climate negotiations for over twenty years. It negotiated a dubious emissions baseline in the last few hours of COP3 in Kyoto (the so-called “Australia clause”), which has repeatedly allowed the government to claim it was exceeding its climate commitments. At COP21, Australia – alone among developed countries – sought to carry over these bogus carbon savings under the new Paris Agreement. Such antics explain the need for a robust framework for Article 6.

2) Silver medal: Saudi Arabia

Only countries that were members of the OECD in 1992 are required to provide climate finance, although many of them have been economically outstripped by booming economies like Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and South Korea. Thus, despite the fact that average incomes in Saudi Arabia are comparable to those of Greece and Portugal, it is classified as a developing country under the UNFCCC.

Unlike some of the countries named above, Saudi Arabia uses its developing country status to obstruct negotiations. Within the UNFCCC system, Saudi Arabia has sought to tie adaptation finance to ‘compensation’ for the loss of oil revenues; exclude or discredit findings from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and battled efforts to mitigate aviation and maritime emissions. During COP26, it was accused of seeking to strip out language around fossil fuel subsidies and safeguarding indigenous rights.

Of course, Saudi Arabia has a vested interest in maintaining a fossil-based global economy, given that it is the world’s second largest oil producer. The world’s largest oil producer has been awarded gold in this race to the bottom.

3) Gold medal: the United States

President Biden has committed to reduce US emissions by 50-52% from 2005 levels in 2030, and successfully introduced a new infrastructure deal that will help meet this target. His administration, particularly Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry, also played a very constructive role at COP26.

But these are recent developments. Climate action by the US has been hostage to domestic politics far more than China or the EU. The Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement and the Clinton administration was unable to get the Kyoto Protocol ratified at all.

This matters because of America’s economic heft and carbon footprint. The United States is home to 4.2% of the global population, but it accounts for 25% of humanity’s cumulative emissions. Despite its outsized contribution to global climate change, the US pays only 4% of its fair share of international climate finance. (Biden’s new commitments are only a marginal improvement.) Moreover, the US is now the largest producer of both oil and gas. It should therefore come as little surprise if countries like Bolivia or Egypt roll their eyes when the US calls for bolder climate action.

But at least for now, the US is back at the table. How can the global community seize this window of opportunity?

What next?

The science is clear. Holding global warming to 1.5°C depends on nearly halving emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010 levels) and then reaching net-zero by mid-century. It doesn’t matter how the US Democrats perform in the mid-terms, whether the Australian Coalition can hold on to swing states in coal mining regions or how Saudi Arabia’s exports perform. The laws of physics and chemistry will not bow to political constraints.

We must therefore chart a mitigation pathway grounded in the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The last fortnight in Glasgow highlighted three immense opportunities for multilateralism to support a just transition.

First, all countries must put in place the foreign policies needed to chart a path away from fossil fuels. During COP26, nearly 40 countries pledged to end international finance for fossil fuels; others joined global initiatives such as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. Implementing these commitments can level the playing field for clean energy and signal the end of the fossil fuel era.

Second, rich countries – particularly major polluters such as Australia, Canada, Norway and the US – need to provide more finance for adaptation, loss and damage. The impacts of climate change are already being felt, primarily by those who have done the least to cause it. The Glasgow Climate Pact urges “developed country Parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation” by 2025 (paragraph 18). Even more strikingly, Scotland broke ranks with developed countries to pledge £2 million for loss and damage, followed by Wallonia committing an additional €1 million. As Yue Cao says:

“Developed countries will need to meet and exceed the current climate finance goal to ensure climate justice and maintain trust in the multilateral climate negotiations. Finance for adaptation, loss and damage is therefore a precondition for the more ambitious near-term pledges and measures needed from developing countries to hold global warming to 1.5 °C. In particular, laggards like Australia, Canada and the US need to pay their fair share of climate finance while all providers could do more to address conflict and fragility, which is often multiplied by climate change impacts.”

Third, rich countries – again, particularly those hooked on fossil fuels themselves – need to support a rapid coal phase-out in low- and middle-income countries. Many rich countries expressed their disappointment at China and India’s last-minute push to weaken the language of the Glasgow Climate Pact from “coal phase-out” to “coal phase-down”. Given their concerns and cumulative emissions, they should support lower-income countries navigate the energy transition.

A highlight of COP26 was the announcement of a huge deal to help South Africa phase out coal, including resources to support affected workers, remediate degraded ecosystems and scale clean energy capacity. Funding is being provided by EU member states, the US and UK. Coal-dependent economies from Colombia to Kazakhstan, India to Indonesia, will be eager to replicate this model, particularly given the domestic health impacts of coal mining and power generation. Such transactions could rapidly deliver the immediate emission cuts necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C and help move beyond the blame game that characterised COP26.

November 12 - Carmen Leon-Himmelstine, Research Fellow and Emilie Tant, Senior Communications Officer in Gender Equality & Social Inclusion

What would an inclusive and fair COP26 have looked like?

While the British government has worked hard towards making COP26 in Glasgow a ‘safe and inclusive summit’ the conference has widely been criticised for being an elitist, patriarchal, and exclusionary space.

‘I think it is just a negotiation… between rich and powerful people.
The voices of indigenous communities haven’t been heard.’
- Andrea Ixchíu

Despite efforts from the COP26 Presidency, UNFCCC and other partners to make the climate summit accessible, many activists who are at the frontline of climate breakdown couldn’t attend at all. Many faced a combination of visa problems, limited access to Covid vaccines, changing travel rules and scarce or expensive accommodation. Media sources particularly highlighted the absence of several climate-vulnerable Pacific Island states including Vanuatu and Kiribati.

A conference for rich white men?

These barriers have led the climate conference to be described as the “whitest and most privileged ever”. While it is unclear if such claims stand up – it is certain that COP26 has been treated as this season’s hot ticket. One where high-flyers must be seen, rather than a crucial moment to avert climate collapse. White actors, billionaires, fashion designers and royals have been among the attendees, not to mention the excessive number of white executives from the oil and gas industry.

Women only serve 24 countries as Heads of State, which accounts for the stark gender imbalance at the World Leader’s Summit. Women have been historically underrepresented in party delegations at previous COPs, but – in a small sign of progress, they made up 49% of registered government delegates this time round. But still, men accounted for 60% of active speakers in the COP26 plenary and spoke for 74% of the time. This is shocking but not surprising, given that, for example, the UK team of politicians and climate negotiators were all men until very recently, in a response to public criticisms.

One exception was Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley – described as a ‘regional rockstar’ after an inspiring opening speech, and the Amazonian activist Txai Suruí who brought attention to the devastating deforestation of the Amazon. Afterwards, Txai shared that she was nervous to speak in a foreign language (English) to a mostly white, male audience.

Or a conference to host land defenders?

One of the most striking successes at COP26 is the emergence of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. While the governments of Costa Rica and Denmark have been rightly celebrated for this new commitment, it is worth reflecting on the origins of this movement.

Indigenous people have a long history of fighting extraction on their territories. For example, the Ogoni Bill of Rights of 1990, led by the Ogoni People, made both the Nigerian government and transnational oil companies liable for the poor environmental and human rights conditions in the Niger Delta. More recently, the Waorani people of the Ecuadorian Amazon won a legal case to prevent oil drilling in their territory. Opposition by Indigenous People contributed to Biden’s executive order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States.

Yet despite this legacy, indigenous land defenders have struggled at COP26. For example, Mitzy Violeta and Ita Mendoza from the Mixteca region of Oaxaca in southern Mexico were attending COP for the first time as accredited observers. When talking to them to get more insights about the experiences of female indigenous environmentalists at COP, they lamented it was a space designed for English speakers with few multi-lingual signs or language support. Ita observed that most of many side and panel events did not offer simultaneous translation, limiting their ability to take part, something noted by other South American activists invited to speak.

Mitzy noted the exclusion of indigenous perspectives:

‘… when we are here, we are only able to come and listen, because that is what it says in our name badges - that we are only observers. This means someone who only looks, who cannot give an opinion, who cannot make decisions.’

Activists from the Global South, especially indigenous peoples, have been at the front line of the environmental protests and resistance movements. Yet, indigenous peoples’ delegates reported feeling a pressure to ‘perform indigeneity’ if they wanted to be heard at COP26. As Ita says:

‘We come dressed in a sweatshirt that says: Defenders of the Earth, and not all of the time we wear our typical indigenous costumes. If people here see you, as they think an indigenous person looks like, they treat you better. But it becomes a racist space when you don’t wear the typical costume … So, [it’s like] if you don't go [dressed] with this stereotype of what an indigenous person looks like in COP, they won't treat you well.’

What would an inclusive and intersectional COP process look like?

Gender justice goes hand in hand with climate action. We know that women are more likely to confront the physical impacts of climate breakdown, and that the climate crisis increases women and girls’ exposure to gender-based violence or child marriage.

We also know that drivers of, and vulnerabilities to, climate change, fall starkly along racial lines. Industrialisation and current living standards in the Global North has been fed by slavery, colonialism and exploitative (some argue racialised) capitalism, creating a vast historical carbon debt within and between countries. Those facing the most severe climate impacts are vulnerable partially because of a history of extraction and conquest. The most vulnerable within these countries are low-income and other marginalised groups.

But, global leaders remain blind to the role of patriarchy, racism and neo-colonialism in the climate crisis, precluding a fair and just planetary future for all. This means rethinking the negotiations process, requiring those in the Global North to recognise the expertise and leadership of the ‘first adapters’. All countries should ensure a gender balance and represent marginalised communities (such as indigenous peoples) in their delegations, rather than relegating them to observer status.

What would a fair COP outcome look like?

Rich countries jointly committed to mobilise $100 billion a year for climate action by 2020, but they have collectively fallen short. Many of the worst per capita emitters – settler colonies such as Australia, Canada and the United States – all contributed less than 20% of their fair share to the climate finance goal, a stark example of climate injustice.

Negotiations over the new climate finance goal commenced at COP26, but still the draft decision text on the table is not sufficient. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift about climate finance within the multilateral climate negotiations. Given the human and economic cost of ecological collapse, negotiators must focus both on achieving 1.5°C (to avoid any further loss and damage) and securing climate reparations for those at the front lines of climate injustice. Moreover, those reparations should reflect responsibility for cumulative greenhouse gas emissions rather than willingness to pay. The science has been clear for thirty years; rich countries that have chosen not to decarbonise should be held to account for the catastrophe that they are fuelling.

Ultimately, the fight to avert planetary breakdown is intersectional. We cannot achieve climate justice without actively listening to the voices of women and marginalised communities, particularly those defending their lands from environmental degradation. By hearing about their needs and priorities, we can learn about how to prevent, mitigate and adapt in the face of our climate emergency – particularly learning from indigenous peoples, who protect 80% of the biodiversity left in the world.

To hear more on the climate negotiations from a Majority World perspective, follow the Third World Network and Futuros Indigenas.

November 11 - Emily Wilkinson, Senior Research Fellow and Thomas Tanner, Research Associate, in Global Risks & Resilience

The current proposal on “Loss and Damage” is a Russian doll. What more do we need from this COP – and the next?

As we reach the last day of COP26, the “Loss and Damage” negotiations intensify. There remains a glimmer of hope that developing countries will get their way and see a ‘Glasgow Facility’ set up to help them cope with the devastating effects of climate change; but there’s strong opposition from the United States, and the current proposal will likely get watered down in the last few hours of deliberations. Still, COP26 has made some headway on this thorny issue – which has made little substantial progress since 2013.

We explain why small island developing states (SIDS) and other countries at the frontlines of climate change have pushed so hard to get this far, the key disputes over loss and damage at COP26 – and what needs to happen next.

What is “loss and damage” in the UN climate negotiations?

Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change are being outpaced by the speed and scale of impacts. From the melting of Arctic ice to salinisation in the Bay of Bengal, the devastating impacts of climate change are already here. In 2017, the tiny island of Dominica was hit by the strongest tropical cyclone on record in the Atlantic, wiping out assets worth 226% of GDP. Every year when hurricane season comes around, islanders are terrified of another Hurricane Maria - or worse. And they may be right – the latest IPCC report warns that the next 20 years will see global temperatures reaching 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels leading to more intense tropical cyclones.

Within the climate negotiations, ‘Loss and Damage’ (L&D) refers to the effects of climate change where adaptation is insufficient or no longer possible. Indeed, we may already be moving into what Prof Saleemul Huq calls the ‘third era’ of climate action, when neither mitigation or adaptation will be enough to prevent human suffering, loss of livelihoods, homes and cultural heritage

Why is loss and damage a key issue at COP26?

Loss and damage was integrated into the climate accords at COP19 in 2013, when the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) was set up to enhance ‘understanding, action and support’ on a range of measures for ‘averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate chance’ - from early warning systems to risk insurance. But support does not constitute a financial commitment and there has been little progress on loss and damage financing within the UNFCCC system since.

The UK President laid some groundwork before COP26, adding ;’Loss and Damage’ to the title of the traditional ‘Adaptation Day’, hosting a Presidency event promoting dialogue on loss and damage, and releasing a discussion paper setting out a range of measures for dealing with loss and damage.

In the opening COP26 plenary, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley underscored the plight of small island developing states, noting that “failure to provide enough critical funding to small island nations is measured in lives and livelihoods in our communities. This is immoral, and it is unjust”. Loss and damage has become a rallying call of activists seeking climate justice for the actions of wealthy, polluting nations that will have devastating consequences for young people and future generations in small islands and poorer countries.

Between the speeches at the World Leaders’ Summit, demands from protestors at the gates of the COP26 venue and the insistence of negotiators from the SIDS and LDCs, L&D has moved even further up the agenda at COP26.

What progress has been made on loss and damage at COP26?

On the first day of COP26, the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced £1 million in support of communities and to address loss and damage. These resources will go to Climate Justice Resilience Fund, which supports women, youth and Indigenous Peoples on the front lines of climate change. This is small sum, but significant in two ways: firstly, it breaks the resistance of the richer nations to explicitly pledge money to tackle loss and damage in poorer nations; and secondly, its operationalisation appears to bypass the UN system completely.

Another ‘win’ for developing countries was the agreement reached on the functions of the newly established Santiago Network on Loss and Damage. The Santiago Network will coordinate technical assistance to developing countries, including on accessing finance to help prepare for extreme weather events. The Network is expected to be operationalised at the next COP (which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt) and the UK, US and other developed countries are broadly in favour of creating a technical facility to help developing countries access the technical and financial assistance they need.

But for many, this does not go far enough. The proposal on the table right now is to set up a facility to provide technical assistance, which will in turn help countries access finance for technical assistance. A negotiator from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) likened this to a layered “Russian Doll”. Instead, AOSIS wants to see a ‘Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility’ set up under the UNFCCC that provides new financial support directly to developing countries – as only Scotland has done so far. Costa Rican negotiator, Pascal Girot, echoed this, stating that loss and damage support needs to “build on, rather than replicate existing networks… and address the multi problems associated with slow-onset events, displacement, and need for different kinds of finance including insurance.”

Three key challenges ahead for loss and damage

1) Ensuring that the Santiago Network captures diverse voices and views.
The “call for submissions” issued by the COP26 decision on the Santiago Network is aimed at national governments. But a broad range of “organisations, bodies networks and experts” (as noted in the decision) will need to be engaged to ensure a fair, transparent outcome. What, then, can be learned from other related international processes about what works best? And how can this new initiative harness knowledge and resources in related disaster risk management and humanitarian communities? Widening participation beyond the narrow confines of the climate change community will be important, given the spectrum of loss and damages identified.

2) Focus on the most vulnerable, and least served by conventional financing mechanisms.

The national processes that drive inequality and exclusion within a country are often the same processes used to determine how adaptation finance is used. This is not good enough. Compensation or reparations must be centred in climate justice, delivering assistance to those least responsible for climate change who have experienced its irreplaceable losses and damages already. Other multilateral funds have not done a good job at this. The Glasgow Facility must buck the trend, enabling citizens and communities to monitor and evaluate the use of loss and damage funds.

3) Securing new finance for loss and damage from the countries most responsible for climate change.

Most importantly, more finance is needed to deal with the adverse consequences of climate change in developing countries. This needs to be additional to the $100 billion promised (but not received) for mitigation and adaptation by 2020. The money should come from the wealthy, polluting nations. It should be easy to access and use, and targeted at the most climate vulnerable communities in the world.

Find out more about our work to support Small Island Developing States

November 10 - Maximiliano Mendez-Parra, Senior Research Fellow, International Economic Development Group

Building robust carbon markets: when should countries act alone and together?

One of the key sticking points at COP26 is Article 6. Article 6 is intended to provide the rulebook for international cooperation on climate change mitigation, governing the creation of an international framework for carbon accounting (to enable emission trading across borders) and a central mechanism for the sale and purchase of carbon credits. The design of Article 6 could drive greater ambition or allow countries to avoid climate change mitigation by selling bogus credits.

In the last few days, negotiations about Article 6 have been escalated from the technical to the political realm. The process will now be guided by two ministers who are supposed to represent the developed and developing country blocs, Espen Barth Eide of Norway and Grace Fu of Singapore. (Singapore’s status as a “developing country” under the UNFCCC is another question all together –see Yue’s blog below.)

One of the key disputes with Article 6 is over “corresponding adjustments” in paragraph 6.4. Negotiators are trying to resolve how can the UN system can prevent double counting, i.e. how countries should adjust their own emission inventories when they have sold carbon credits to another country.

These deliberations echo a longstanding concern for climate policymakers: carbon leakage. Carbon leakage occurs when businesses shift their activities to avoid any economic costs associated with climate policies, moving to countries with no or lower environmental standards.

Indeed, COP26 takes place as two of the world’s largest economies – the EU and US – are considering a major new policy to tackle carbon leakage: carbon border adjustment mechanisms (CBAMs). This controversial measure has fuelled geopolitical tensions in the lead-up to the climate negotiations, but is incentivising much more aggressive mitigation plans.

What is a carbon border adjustment mechanism and why is it controversial?

A CBAM is a carbon price for imports. The CBAM helps to equalise costs between domestic producers operating under a carbon price and importers from other origins with less stringent environmental regulation. The aim is to ensure that everyone supplying a particular market needs to internalise the costs of climate change, preventing carbon leakage across jurisdictions.

The EU announced the introduction of its CBAM in July, to be applied on the extra-EU imports to cement, aluminium, iron and steel, fertilisers and electricity. “The CBAM will apply to direct emissions of greenhouse gases emitted during the production process of the products covered”[1]. The EU CBAM does not apply, at least during the transitional phase, either down the value chain or on the so-called ‘indirect’ emissions (i.e. emissions from the electricity used to produced the good). There are also rumours that the US will introduce a levy on high-carbon imports.

The proposed CBAMs have angered trade partners because it will raise the costs of their products, reducing their competitiveness. It also punishes more efficient producers located outside the EU. Moreover, the CBAMs are likely to affect EU consumers and users who will have to pay higher prices for these products. Within COP26 plenaries, many developing countries have referred to “unilateral” and “coercive” measures, widely understood to be the CBAM.

Do carbon border adjustments prevent leakage and cut emissions?

However, there is still the question of whether CBAMs, at least as how the EU is applying them, are effective in avoiding leakage and, consequently, contributing to the reduction in the emissions generated in the production of those traded products. At the end of the day, efficiency and distribution can be addressed with adequate compensation mechanisms. In fact, it may be argued that the severity and urgency of the climate emergency may require the adoption of desperate measures that carry costs as well as (climate) benefits.

But the effectiveness of CBAMs in addressing leakage depends on how important is the domestic markets in the respective producer countries. If an export market is small, producers will not invest in low-carbon measures to meet its standards. This is exemplified by looking to China.

China is critical because it accounts for over half of the world’s production of steel, cement, and aluminium. However, China is not among the top ten exporters of aluminium or cement. While it is the largest exporter of steel, its domestic demand accounts for 95% of its the total production and exports to the EU just represents 0.7% of total production. It is therefore hard to understand how the CBAM applied by the EU will incentivise emission reductions in its targeted industries in China, where decarbonisation of these sectors is most urgent.

Fundamentally, a CBAM targets the emissions generated for products traded and not the whole production. Even in the hypothetical case of CBAMs applied worldwide across all products and services, they will target exclusively a third of the global output. The other two thirds will still depend on other necessary actions to decarbonised production that are still largely absent.

How will carbon border adjustment mechanisms affect COP26?

The prospect of CBAMs has frustrated trade partners – but is also thought to be stimulating new climate commitments in countries that have been slow to step up. These measures have therefore helped to ratchet up climate ambition even as they have angered Parties to the UN climate convention. However, themselves, CBAMs will be largely ineffective in addressing the core of the fundamental climate challenge.

The challenge for COP26 is to create robust mechanisms, particularly concerning carbon accounting, trading and pricing, to secure a fast and decisive worldwide transition towards net-zero emissions in production and in transport. A global agreement on this front could not only be more effective than a CBAM, but will also avoid any of the associated costs in terms of efficiency and global welfare. Article 6 might not sound very exciting, but it is key to delivering the Paris Agreement.

November 9 - Mairi Dupar, Research Fellow, Global Risks & Resilience

COP26 underscores the need for a gear shift towards inclusive decision-making

A gear shift in the politics and culture of how decisions are made – over our economies, our natural resources and our environment – will be vital to averting climate chaos. That was the message of the hundreds of thousands of people in Glasgow and around the globe at the weekend’s march for climate justice, led by young women from all over the world.

Today is Gender Day at COP26. But for me, this moment of celebrating women’s contributions to climate action is a launch pad for a bigger discussion -- how we can make space for and engender the talents of all people to collaborate in tackling the climate emergency.

Gender matters, diversity matters

The empowerment of women and girls matters greatly in the context of climate change. In the aggregate, women are an average of 7% behind men on measures of development across health, education and economic security worldwide. (The global average masks a much larger gender gap of well over 15% in regions such as south Asia).

In part because of this development gap, women are disproportionately impacted by disasters – whether those caused by climate hazards or other shocks like Covid-19.

What’s more, if climate actions are designed without specific attention to women’s needs, they risk widening the gender gap. In our newly-launched guide to Advancing gender equality and climate action, my co-authors and I describe how a ‘gender blind’ forest conservation project led to income gains for men, but ongoing hardship for women and girls because it was not designed with local cultural dynamics in mind. We’ve therefore been working hard with partners to document practical ways to assess gender-differentiated needs and to design and manage climate projects better, in response.

That’s why gender counts. But more broadly, it’s vital to recognise diversity in people’s needs and their capacities to contribute to climate solutions as recognised in the Locally-Led Adaptation Principles and the newly minted Adaptation Research Alliance, to which ODI proudly belongs. This includes promoting capacity, voice and influence for young people, people living with disabilities, indigenous peoples, ethnic and sexual minorities in climate action.

A broader view

In this spirit, I want to devote some column space to perspectives from colleagues in Asia-Pacific and Latin American civil society, on the question: why is social inclusion so fundamental to the success of climate-smart investments? Here’s what some of them have said:

Recognise the leadership of local women and young people who have initiated action to deal with combined climate and Covid-19 risks in low-income communities around the world. The pandemic is striking people who are already climate-vulnerable and disadvantaged the hardest. But they are also at the forefront of self-help efforts to recover.

As Jannatul Mouwa highlights in her CDKN blog, women have stepped up to lead community responses to flooding in Satkhira, Bangladesh. Her women’s group harnessed their organisational skills in 2009 when devastating Cyclone Aila caused mass casualties.

By the time Super-Cyclone Amphan and Covid-19 happened simultaneously in 2020, the group had developed extensive local networks and know-how to reach the most affected communities with food relief and Covid hygiene supplies. Jannatul’s story is just one of many similar ones in the Voices from the frontline stories that CDKN and ICCCAD have collected from 50 low-income communities worldwide, highlighting women’s and young people’s leadership and resilience in the face of adversity.

Some of the most innovative decision-making processes to make space for youth voices are emerging from the Pacific region. The Marshall Islands, an atoll nation facing existential threats from climate change, together with Ireland, initiated the Kwon-Gesh pledge, which urges governments to enable youth engagement in climate-related decision-making from local to national levels.

Young people of the Marshall Islands like Selina Leem are vocal about supporting her government’s 100% renewable energy pledge to stop black-outs and “to free up government resources to help the people achieve priorities like health and education.”

Give women confidence and they become highly effective climate champions and climate-resilient producers – says my colleague Aastha Bhusal, who works in rural Nepal. In many contexts (far beyond Nepal), women haven’t traditionally had the cultural permission to speak up in public and voice their knowledge. Aastha’s work with LI-BIRD is empowering women with the realisation that they have vast practical experience in crop production and animal husbandry in changing climate conditions. This knowledge is now improving the design of government investments. Climate investments work better when women are given opportunities to articulate their views and actively shape programmes.

(Watch Aastha Bhusal talk about the dividends from empowering women for climate action in Nepal, Wednesday 10 November at 13:30 (UTC) at the UNFCCC Capacity Hub online.)

Recognise the specific concerns and contributions of diverse social groups in national and global climate conversations, including women and girls. Maria José Huamani’s experience proves this point. She’s a representative of the Afro-Peruvian Working Group on Climate Change, which is a platform for dialogue in Peru.

She says this open dialogue and the development of joint climate actions between government and civil society has been a game changer for her personally and for the 70 Afro-Peruvian organisations participating in the Working Group:

“Many Afro-Peruvians are day to day living the negative impacts of climate change, mainly the rural population and their livelihoods. Afro-Peruvian organisations realise the importance and have re-evaluated their relationship with the environment.

[The dialogue has] allowed us to make visible the diverse and severe limitations that Afro-Peruvians face. These are the basis for development of intercultural public policies such as the National Policy of Afro-Peruvian People which is currently under development in my country.”

Now Maria José and the Working Group have a seat on Peru’s National Commission on Climate Change, too. She adds,

“This is the first time that Afro-Peruvian people have been informed, consulted and asked to participate in the development of climate change public policies. We want to keep being involved in this process!”

(Watch Maria José Huamani talk more about her quest for climate resilient development solutions for Afro-Peruvians, Wednesday 10 November at 13:30 (UTC) at the UNFCCC Capacity Hub online.)

Diverse women and all people who have been marginalised from environmental and economic decision-making are showing that, when given a chance, they can not only help themselves but can help consolidate sustainable development solutions for their societies. More inclusive programme design and decision-making processes for climate action offer ‘everything to gain’ – for everyone.

COP26 did not open in an inclusive way. Analysis by the UNFCCC team revealed that, while 51% of registered government delegates were men, they accounted for 60% of active speakers in the plenary and spoke for 74% of the time. Few of the plenary speakers would represent low-income, indigenous or other marginalised groups. But the weekend marches showed a deep groundswell of climate ambition and action from communities around the world, including those at the frontlines of climate change. In the last few days of COP26, let’s make sure that their voices are heard and their experiences inform negotiations.

November 8 - Anna Locke, Principal Research Fellow, Climate & Sustainability

Moving nature from the periphery into the heart of COP26

On the face of things, this is the first time that nature and biodiversity have achieved real prominence at a climate COP.

Following a strong focus on forests and land use during the World Leaders’ Summit, COP26 included a dedicated Nature Day on the weekend. In between these two moments, a series of declarations and commitments were released:

There has been a palpable sense of relief from civil society and UN agencies that nature is no longer at the margins of the debate on climate change. Given the obvious synergies in terms of sequestering carbon and enhancing the resilience of people and ecosystems, it has taken far too long to make these linkages. Humanity was already on the verge of crossing critical planetary boundaries as the Paris Agreement was signed, yet greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss have only continued.

But is COP26 actually bringing together nature and climate within negotiations among Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and will this be reflected in the official text?

The daily bulletins from the International Institute for Sustainable Development and Third World Network suggest that nature continues to be relegated to side events and the preamble of any new climate accords, rather than integrated into deliberations. This is unsurprising, although disappointing given the tremendous potential of nature-based solutions to deliver for people and the planet.

Yet the first week in Glasgow gave me cautious optimism and some ideas about how we can integrate the climate and nature agendas within international negotiations and ensure that the numerous pledges made actually bear fruit.

1) Align the three environmental conventions

The UN system needs to align the three environmental conventions on climate change, biodiversity and desertification much more closely. The conventions need to forge a pathway towards net-zero emissions that is grounded in protecting and restoring ecosystems.

There are steps in the right direction. Both the Kunming Declaration at the biodiversity COP and the statements made at COP26 have common threads on nature and land use, including reforming public finance to agriculture for more positive environmental outcomes and emphasising the centrality of land rights, particularly of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

But more can be done – conventions can crib from each other where there is better treatment of particular themes, approaches can be made more consistent – leading to a race to the top. And the UN architecture needs to work together to find solutions: scientists from the IPCC and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) should work together on the links between climate and biodiversity. An institution like UNEP could play a role in coordinating and convening the multiple UN organisations that influence environmental governance, activities and scientific evidence across climate and nature.

2) Ensure that the implementation of Article 6 enables nature-based solutions

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is intended to provide much of the ‘rulebook’ for climate action, particularly carbon accounting and trading. Having failed to land on sufficiently detailed and robust text at COP21 in Paris, negotiations over Article 6 have dragged out over four subsequent COPs and there is much pressure on Glasgow to deliver.

Robust carbon markets could generate substantial new resources to finance the conservation and restoration of carbon-rich ecosystems like forests and wetlands. Biodiverse countries like Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have long held out hope that carbon finance could lead to alternative income streams to logging and agriculture, thereby slowing and ultimately reversing the greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss associated with deforestation. But to date, carbon credits from such schemes have often lacked environmental integrity.

COP26 President Alok Sharma has just appointed two environmental ministers to steer Article 6 towards agreement —Singapore’s Grace Fu and Norway’s Espen Barth Eide. They will need to ensure that deliberations acknowledge the role of nature in sequestering and storing carbon dioxide, and that the new frameworks for carbon markets empower their conservation at scale. Above all, mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that funds from the carbon markets go to the right people and places in good time.

3) Continued advocacy and engagement by civil society

The biggest thing that can give these conventions ambition and teeth is what former President Obama calls “power and participation” of people outside the negotiating chambers of COP26. And this is growing.

I was at the Fridays for Future event in Glasgow last week, which brimmed with energy and passion – and a growing sense of anger from the participants that their future is being sacrificed to longstanding over-consumption of the planet’s natural resources. There were primary school children in the crowd, and climate activists from all over the world on stage sharing their stories, honouring those who had lost their lives defending nature and voicing solutions.

Supported by good evidence and monitoring, safety for climate activists and a rising tide of urgency, these voices will continue to grow louder. By putting constant pressure on governments, corporates and financial institutions, citizens can ensure that humanity collectively steps up to the plate on nature – and keep them there. That means moving nature into the heart of the climate negotiations and away from the periphery of COP26.

November 7 - Sarah Colenbrander, Director of Programme, Climate and Sustainability

The intertwined history of Glasgow and the climate crisis

Glasgow is an apt choice as host of COP26. The city’s history is deeply entwined with imperial expansion, agricultural transformation and the industrial revolution, forces that laid the foundations for the climate crisis we face today. In the week ahead, the negotiators camped out beside the River Clyde will determine our common future.

Should the +40,000 people travelling to the conference or protests choose, they can find traces of Glasgow’s global history throughout the city. Many will walk to the conference along Jamaica St or Tobago St, named for the colonies that produced cotton, sugar and tobacco for Glaswegian merchants to sell. The merchants too are honoured with eponymous street names throughout the city, including slave-owners such as Andrew Buchanan and James Cochran. Their immense wealth has no doubt been passed down to their descendants, while the Caribbean islands that generated it have won their independence but now face an existential threat from climate change.

My own route takes me along the River Clyde to the Scottish Exhibition Centre, where COP26 is being held. At one point, a fifth of all ships were being built on the banks of the Clyde, and a hefty share of the world’s locomotives too. James Watt – a proud Glaswegian from 1756 – had dramatically improved the steam engine, making these mighty industries possible. Steam power in these forms enabled the mass transportation of goods and people, fuelling economic production and human migration (voluntary and involuntary) at ever greater scale.

Vast fortunes were made from shipping, railroads and the commodities and manufacturing industries they supported, allowing wealthy families to finance magnificent buildings across Glasgow. Meanwhile, millions of people around the world died building these transport networks and working in the plantations. The decisions of Glaswegian businessmen (they were overwhelmingly men) have shaped human demographics and settlements all over the world, from the large Afro-Caribbean population who can trace their ancestry to the slave trade to the emergence of Chicago, which started as a transport hub for railways and canals to serve James Watt’s steam engine. Those steam engines were fuelled by coal; aspirations for COP26 include consigning coal to history.

Just north of the COP26 venue is Minerva St, where a lost delegate or protestor will see some classic examples of Glasgow’s tenements. These sandstone apartment blocks were built to house the thousands of people moving to Glasgow after being evicted during the Highland Clearances or seeking employment in Glasgow’s booming textiles industry. Although often desirable homes today, many of the tenements were then characterised by overcrowding and disease as several families would share a single tap and latrine outside. Electricity was generated and homes were heated with coal, producing choking air pollution that blanketed the city for months on end.

Decades later, the city remains marked by deprivation to the extent that researchers have identified the “Glasgow effect”: Glaswegians have lower life expectancy than other residents of the United Kingdom, beyond the excess mortality that can be explained by income, diet, smoking or other factors. The city’s poorest residents tend to live in low-quality, inefficient housing which is expensive to heat and concentrated on low-lying land prone to flooding.

In short, Glasgow’s history has hugely influenced current carbon footprints and climate vulnerabilities, both within the city and across the world. Yet despite the tangible evidence in the streets around the conference, that sense of history is missing at COP26.

A short history of climate announcements:

The UK Presidency has coordinated a series of dramatic announcements during the first week of the conference:

Such high-profile commitments are important because they send a clear signal to firms and governments about the direction of travel. But clearly such announcements have not been not sufficient to drive change at the pace and scale needed, given that greenhouse gas emissions are already rebounding after the Covid-19 pandemic. Here’s the tricky thing. In the end, science doesn’t care about media coverage, electoral cycles or shareholder returns. Memorable oratory and positive headlines will not persuade oceans to sequester additional carbon dioxide or sea levels to slow their rise. Holding global warming depends on achieving rather than pledging net-zero emissions. Holding global warming to 1.5°C depends on doing so quickly, with emission cuts frontloaded into the next decade.

The need for a robust rulebook for climate action:

The second week of COP26 is therefore critically important. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, negotiators have continued to grapple with the rulebook for its delivery. Two elements are particularly contentious: Article 6 which governs carbon trading across national borders and the Enhanced Transparency Framework which ensures robust reporting systems. Both will be necessary to ensure the environmental integrity of emission reductions, so that countries cannot double count or misrepresent their progress towards their climate commitments.

However, there is a need for more granular and nuanced accountability for emission reductions, taking into account the weight of history. The battlegrounds at COP26 have largely been drawn between developed and developing countries. But a walk through Glasgow demonstrates there are many low-income families in so-called “developed countries”. Anyone who has spent time in Beijing, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Riyadh or Sao Paolo will know that there are also pockets of obscene wealth within “developing countries”, as defined within the UNFCCC system.

COP26 therefore needs to go beyond the rich / poor country schism that has dominated deliberations to date. Recent research commissioned by Oxfam finds that:

“The richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015. The richest one percent were responsible for 15% of emissions during this time – more than all the citizens of the EU and more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity (7 percent)”.

The reckless carbon consumption of the world’s elite has been starkly displayed at COP26. Jeff Bezos, for example, flew to Scotland on a private jet to lecture the world about climate action, having recently enjoyed a fossil fuel-powered jaunt into space. He was beaten into space by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, while Elon Musk has chosen to offer space flights to others instead. Even ignoring the carbon footprint of these joy rides (many times the lifetime emissions of a person in the bottom billion), each billionaire’s investment in the space race almost certainly outstrips the annual GDP of the Maldives. The island nation is currently home to half a million people, but will be all but underwater this century if humanity does not hold warming to 1.5°C.

Billionaires’ space jaunts offer useful caricatures, but there are pervasive carbon inequalities within the halls of COP26 too. Oil companies such as BP and Chevron will represented at the conference, despite their efforts to mislead the public about the causes of climate change. Net-zero pledges from the governments of Australia, Norway and Saudi Arabia have been welcomed, though these high-income countries all have plans to expand fossil fuel production over the next thirty years. In the absence of climate credible commitments and action, leaders in such companies and countries should not be given a platform at the COPs; rewarded with plum posts in multilateral organisations; or allowed to accept donations from the industries that are wantonly, knowingly, writing off our planet.

The history of Glasgow shows that we cannot expect the powerful countries, businesses and individuals who benefit from the status quo to embrace change, even if human lives hang in the balance. In its first week, COP26 has provided a platform for the promises of powerful polluters. In its second week, it must deliver an effective rulebook so that they can be held to account. The decisions made in Glasgow will once again shape the world.

November 5 - Yue Cao, Senior Research Officer, Global Risks & Resilience

Negotiating the New Climate Finance Goal: who will be the new contributors and recipients from 2025?

Parties have begun deliberations over the new global goal on climate finance, which will replace the $100 billion target from 2025. Two critical debates have emerged in the negotiating halls of COP26.

Who will provide climate finance after 2025?

The first debate concerns the ‘contributor base’. The current negotiating architecture established by the UNFCCC (the Convention) in 1990 dictates that only ‘developed countries’ as defined in Annex II of the Convention are required to pay for climate finance. However, the world has dramatically changed since then.

Several high-income nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Singapore and South Korea, are large producers or financiers of fossil fuels, contributing to substantial greenhouse gas emissions – but do not currently have any obligations for climate finance. By contrast, middle-income countries like China, and to a lesser degree Brazil have become important providers of international aid, though it is unclear if their financial flows are climate compatible. Other Parties to the Convention are already voluntarily providing climate finance, including Chile, South Korea and several eastern European countries.

How will the new climate finance goal account for such new realities?

Back in 2015, the US attempted to include the language of parties in a position to do so in connection with the $100 billion target in the Paris Agreement, to indicate that a broader range of countries must also contribute to the goal. This was fiercely opposed by non-Annex II countries, many of which are considered to be high-income countries today. In the end, the Agreement adopted the vague language of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries to account for the possibility of countries’ upwards socio-economic development trajectories and graduation from a developing country’s status, and included the provision that ‘Other Parties are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily’ in Article 9.2.

As negotiations on the new global goal began this week at COP26, developed countries are again pushing to expand the contributor base. This is despite the fact that many are not paying their fair share of climate finance and have collectively missed the target of $100 billion by 2020. Noteworthy so far is the attempt of Turkey to get itself removed from the list of Annex I countries (the list of industrialized countries and economies in transition from 1990), so that it becomes eligible to receive climate finance. However, the COP26 President announced that Turkey had withdrawn this request on Day 1. South Africa, in turn, has warned developed countries not to propose language such as ‘those in a position do so’, since such language does not exist in the Paris Agreement.

Who will receive climate finance after 2025?

The second debate concerns the recipients of climate finance. Embedding perspectives of climate justice, the Convention requires that climate finance, in particular adaptation finance, goes to those countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Article 4.4). Yet the Convention never defined the term ‘particularly vulnerable’, which has given rise to the current deliberations on which countries should be included.

The Paris Agreement considers the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to be countries most in need of support. However, the UNFCCC agreement also included African nations among the most vulnerable countries. This explains why the Green Climate Fund, which serves both the Convention and the Paris Agreement, was able to commit 25% of its resources for adaptation in African States in addition to LDCs and SIDS.

In light of this, the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) proposed an agenda item at COP26 to consider the special circumstances of Africa. While this item did not end up being included, the AGN’s position paper on the new climate finance goal has included the same request. However, other regions are likely to oppose this, on the basis that Africa is a diverse continent. Botswana, Gabon and South Africa, for example, are all upper-middle income countries and therefore arguably require less international adaptation finance than lower-income countries such as Bolivia, the Philippines or Tajikstan – which are neither classified Least Developed Countries nor Small Island Developing States.

Ultimately, debates about who provides and who receives climate finance are trapped in the outdated UNFCCC architecture. The categories of "developed" and "developing" countries as defined in the 1990s are not fit for purpose. But crafting a new language will be difficult given the fundamental tension that richer countries want to give less and poor countries want to receive more. The danger is that this deadlock will undermine progress towards climate action.

November 4 - Sam Pickard, Research Associate, Climate & Sustainability

Closing coal plants today – and airports tomorrow?

For a long time, we’ve been among those calling for an end to coal power generation and advocating for the use of renewable energy to raise living standards instead. So it was extremely welcome to hear the Sri Lankan president declaring his country would build no more coal plants as part of a broader declaration by 46 countries to phase out the dirtiest fossil fuel. This is a big step for coal-dependent emerging economies like Indonesia and Viet Nam, made possible by the falling costs of renewables and sustained campaigning by an enormous range of stakeholders. Kudos to them all.

One of the challenges with phasing out coal relates not to the black rock itself, but to the infrastructure that supports it. This focus on coal power plants (rather than just coal) was why I was so heartened by President Rajapaksa’s speech. To most people, infrastructure is boring and in the background. Even in the environmental world, it’s often the new electric car that steals the headlines rather than roads that it runs on. This is a problem because once infrastructure is built it is usually long-lasting and difficult to change the way it is used. In short, plotting the right pathway to net-zero in 2050 means paying closer attention to infrastructure decisions today.

It is a big field, so let’s focus on COP 26’s own carbon footprint: overwhelmingly caused by aviation emissions. Flying to participate in a (hopefully successful) international climate change conference may be the most justifiable reason to emit the tonnes of CO2 that each air passenger flight creates, but almost all other aviation undoubtedly has a negative impact on our climate. If it were a country, aviation would have been the 6th largest source of CO2 emissions in 2019, but, like international shipping, has largely managed to avoid any limits on the emissions it creates. Just as we are starting to see outlines of how emissions from our homes, businesses and cities might start to fall to meet the budget required to limit global heating to 1.5 °C, the aviation industry’s own strategy for tackling climate change will see emissions increase. Don’t believe the technophiles: for all the talk of so-called ‘sustainable aviation fuels’ and electric planes, the runway to 2050 will be mainly fuelled with kerosene from crude oil.

Without the option of mitigating how we power our planes, we need to scrutinize what is empowering them to take off in the first place. This last year we’ve been working with a group of NGOs to look at the climate impacts that airports facilitate. Although most airport GHG reporting places the responsibility for emissions on the companies that own the planes, there would be no flights without somewhere to take off and land . And the more opportunities there are to take off and land, the more flights you’ll have (this is the logic of generated or induced demand).

With this group of NGOs, we therefore built the Airport Tracker – an interactive map of the CO2 emissions from the world’s 1300 biggest passenger airports. Visualising the sheer inequality of the sector is breath-taking, as are some of the findings in our accompanying report:

  • Just 20 airports were responsible for more than one quarter of the sector’s global emissions.
  • 44 airports created more CO2 in the year than an average coal-fired power station.
  • Two-thirds of all air passenger CO2 emissions were created by flights from just 100 airports, almost all of which are in the Asia-Pacific, North America and Europe.

Given that less than 1% of the global population is likely responsible for more than half of all the sector’s climate impact, building new airport capacity in richer countries is the opposite of climate justice.

To preserve space in the climate budget for countries where it would genuinely advance inclusive social and economic development goals, we have to find alternatives to expanding airport capacity elsewhere. Similar to the arguments we were making against coal nearly a decade ago, there are alternatives to flying that provide the same service at much lower cost to our climate. For better or worse, the pandemic has taught many of us that it is not necessary to physically travel great distances for business meetings or shopping trips. The UK Prime Minister aside, many are also aware that high-speed rail is a perfectly good alternative to short-haul flights.

However, attending virtual meetings and travelling by train in the future requires governments to make bold infrastructure choices today. We know this is possible: China built 25,000 km of high-speed rail in the last decade and as it decarbonises its electricity grid, the already low carbon footprint of rail will continue to fall, mitigating decades of GHG emissions. On the other hand, its aggressive airport expansion plans will increase GHG emissions for decades to come. This is a clear illustration of the importance of thinking not only about our energy use, but about the decisions that shape our energy use in decades to come.

So it’s great that we’re committing to phase out fossil fuel power generation. Once everyone’s flown home from COP26, can we please talk about aviation infrastructure?

November 3 - Annalisa Prizzon, Senior Research Fellow, Development & Public Finance

Getting the money where it’s needed: the launch of the Task force on Access to Climate Finance

At the opening plenary of COP26, countries from Antigua and Barbuda (representing the Alliance of Small Island States) to Gabon (Africa Group of Negotiators) to Bhutan (Least Developed Countries) all flagged that developed countries have missed their target of $100 billion a year by 2020 for climate action to developing countries – and will not fulfil their pledge until 2023 at earliest.

While global leaders are negotiating how much money developed countries should commit to climate action, we also need solutions on how developing countries can better access climate finance. This is the mission of the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance, which will launch its principles and recommendations today. We at ODI and the Centre for Global Development have had the privilege of supporting the Taskforce as it prepared these principles and recommendations.

Our review of the evidence underscored that the climate finance architecture is exceptionally complex and highly fragmented. The proliferation of funding channels, each with their own accreditation and approval processes, creates barriers to access. Particularly for lower-income countries that have less capacity to navigate these tricky procedures and that are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Moreover, climate finance tends to be disbursed primarily for individual projects rather than to support comprehensive programmes that can drive systemic change within countries. There are notable exceptions, such as the work of the Climate Investment Funds. But most recipient countries struggle with the short-term allocation of climate finance. There is an urgent need for greater national ownership and donor coordination to channel climate finance effectively to the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States at the frontlines of climate change.

The climate community must learn from the principles for development effectiveness, articulated first in the Paris Declaration Aid Effectiveness and more recently in the Nairobi Outcome Document. Key tenets relevant to the climate community include the use of country systems, programmatic rather than project-based approaches, alignment with national priorities, predictability of funds and coordination between development partners.

Improving access to climate finance for the most vulnerable countries will become imperative as countries negotiate the "new collective quantified goal" on climate finance, which replaces the annual $100 billion commitment from 2025. Negotiations on this topic will be under agenda item 8e in the COP26 agenda and will have a dedicated contact group co-chaired by Finland and South Africa. More on this in the coming days – watch this space!

November 2 - Rathin Roy, Managing Director

India sets a net zero target by 2070

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that India would target net zero carbon emissions by 2070 is pragmatic, in a COP otherwise marked by bluster and artifice. The pressure is to grandstand for the climate herd who are fixated on announcements that carry very little credibility, as many rich countries have repeatedly reneged on solemn commitments. The Prime Minister of the host country has reneged on a bipartisan commitment to maintain foreign aid allocations at 0.7% of GDP. The United States is re-entering a room its previous President walked out of, reneging on the commitments made by his predecessor. Germany’s commitment to closing its nuclear plants has delayed its coal phase-out to 2038, although a 1.5°C pathway demands developed countries to decarbonise their electricity much faster.

On October 21, India had quite correctly pointed out that the pathway to net zero was far more important than the target itself. How much carbon would a country have put into the atmosphere before achieving net zero should have been the focus of this COP. But that would not suit the denizens of the countries which have already pumped shockingly high amounts of carbon into the air of this common planet, and continued doing so until technologies enabled them to maintain their luxurious lifestyles sustainably. Mobilisation of adequate climate finance is essential to secure sustainable pathways to prosperity, has been abject failure, and there are glaring inequities in contributions as our fair share report points out.

But no one listened. There is a global tribe of climate warriors who have incessantly demanded a zero emissions date from India, without taking into account either India’s development needs or their own historical footprint. So now you have it for what it is worth. Please welcome India’s new net-zero target. It pays court to the bald fact that ultimately, average global temperatures will continue to rise until humanity collectively reaches net-zero emissions.

The new pledge also implies India's per capita cumulative emissions will only ever be a fraction of all OECD countries. But India made this commitment a long time ago at the Heiligendamm 2008 G7 summit. Unlike the United States or the United Kingdom, India, despite the change of political party in power, has not broken any commitments to action in the global public interest. Its per capita emissions today are only half the global average. It accounts for only 3% of cumulative emissions despite accounting for 17% of the world's population. India’s new commitments further recognise that every unit of greenhouse gas count, and it has therefore included strong 2030 targets. For instance, half of India's energy to come from renewables and the carbon intensity of GDP to fall by 45%. These are more ambitious commitments than more polluting nations, such as Australia, have pledged. But to hear the sneering tone of many a climate warrior, India is doing too little too late and is somehow a major culprit in the Glasgow COP being about as action oriented as a Five Year Plan in the former Soviet Union.

But I would ask the sneerers to pause for a minute and pay just a little attention to what the Indian Prime Minister also said, both in Glasgow, and in Rome, about the importance of human development for resilience to climate-related impacts: extreme heatwaves, heavy rainfall, severe flooding, catastrophic storms, rising sea levels and more, as outlined in our recent review.

Human development (and biodiversity, for that matter) are sideshows at Glasgow, with good reason. Scapegoats have to be found for the real reason why Glasgow is engaging in a collective delusion and obsessing, Soviet style, with a net zero target rather than an equitable pathway to getting there. At its worst, climate action is only acceptable to global elites if it perpetuates inequalities in wealth creation and consumption between and within geographies that has been firmly in place since 1945. Any attempt to rebalance these and thereby ensure that net zero is also poverty zero and inequality reducing – a reasonable proposition if we do indeed share a common planet – has for long now been off the table, since rapid advances in clean energy technologies allowed people to enjoy lifestyles of luxury while doffing the cap to sustainability. Why bother with public transport or clean water for slums as long as Elon Musk can produce fancy electric cars to drive rich kids to fancy private schools and use his profits to fund exciting adventures to outer space?

There is no need for school buses now – poor kids can just walk to the nearest state school if there is one, no carbon footprint there. When these climate warriors depart Glasgow, it will be after Diwali, the most polluted time in India’s cities. Net-zero advocates should be speaking to this crisis: renewable energy, regenerative agricultural practices and better waste management could address this environmental killer and climate change simultaneously. Instead, India’s cities will be polluted and cleaned by manual scavengers, because net zero is not concerned with slums while their carbon footprint is negligible.

But I care about these things, which is why I care about sustainability. Every open cast coal mine in Jharkhand jeopardises the health and well-being of thousands of Indian children, securing only freedom from starvation and destitution, not the prosperity of their futures. Every unsustainable agricultural practice disempowers farmers, destroys the commons, and causes India to slip even further in the hunger index. Every slum in Mumbai is testimony to the hollowness of the Gilded age in that city. Every development failure on agriculture, the built environment, water, and biodiversity exacerbates India’s carbon footprint and has a direct negative impact on the lives and prosperity of younger Indians.

So, unlike the climate warriors focused on their future instead of India’s present, I am interested in the pathway to net zero, presumably for the same reasons as the Prime Minister of India. A pathway that bucks the interests of the global rich and embraces a wider understanding of sustainable development that improves the quality of India’s built environment and agriculture, that safeguards its biodiversity, that does not debauch India’s coastlines forests and oceans, that prioritises lifeline over lifestyle energy. Such foundations will get India to net zero even faster than 2070. For a just society is a sustainable society. India’s quest is to find the pathway that will deliver prosperity to those whose futures we are trying to protect from climate change, not to Elon Musk and his wannabe clones among India’s rich.

November 1 - Ipek Gencsu, Research Fellow, Climate & Sustainability

Starting COP with a strong message: vulnerable countries call on major economies to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2023

On the opening night of COP26, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of countries whose survival depends on limiting global heating to maximum 1.5°C, called on all major economies to end their subsidies to fossil fuels by 2023. Currently, G20 governments subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of $584 billion a year. With levels of fossil fuel production and related emissions far above what they need to be to keep global warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C, the speed of decarbonisation we need requires urgently shifting all public finance away from their production and use. After all, Article 2.1c of the Paris Agreement commits to aligning finance flows with climate goals.

G20 governments had pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies back in 2009, but offered no concrete plans or timeline. G7 countries committed to do so by 2025, allowing further support for laying down the infrastructure that will result in decades more of fossil fuels. However, most countries have so far shown very little progress on tackling fossil fuel subsidies domestically.

Recent years have finally seen progress on this agenda outside UNFCCC forums. Just yesterday at their annual Summit, G20 members committed to ending their international financing for unabated coal. This follows a suite of similar announcements in recent months from individual G20 member countries and the G7 as a bloc. Multilateral Development Banks have also made progress, several of them committing to end finance for coal, and the European Investment Bank even pledging to end finance for all unabated fossil fuel projects. While there is a long way to go, a cascade of commitments to ending international finance for fossil fuels has begun.

However, the call from AOSIS during the COP26 plenary yesterday – endorsed by the UN Secretary-General today – reveals even further scrutiny on fossil fuel subsidies. Decisions made within the UNFCCC have to date avoided such commitments: the Paris Agreement does not even mention fossil fuels, let alone the massive financial support they receive from governments. Requiring major economies to phase out fossil fuel subsidies would be a landmark decision at Glasgow.

Fortunately, the UNFCCC has robust evidence available to monitor progress towards such a commitment. Currently, progress towards the $100 billion climate finance goal has been primarily measured through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) database alongside countries’ Biennial Reports to the UNFCCC. The OECD also has a database on fossil fuel subsidies, which could similarly be used to monitor progress towards their phase-out, and which has recently broadened its coverage, partly building on the methodology developed by ODI, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and Oil Change International (OCI).

Countries now know that a phase-out of fossil fuel finance – in all its forms and through all government arms – is essential to meet our climate goals. Reforming these subsidies will also unlock numerous co-benefits: limiting exposure to energy price shocks, reduced air pollution, and freed-up government resources that can be used to improve people’s lives. Whether or not AOSIS drives through a relevant decision at COP26, governments must now put together robust plans to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, ensuring an orderly transition for the consumers as well as workers and communities involved in the industries that will be affected, to create a level playing field for cleaner technologies and to unlock the benefits for their people.