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No glee in Glasgow as climate talks hit a cash wall

India expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in finance-related agenda items
Last Updated : 13 November 2021, 21:10 IST

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Even before the world sat down in Glasgow to work out a deal for saving the earth, the scientists who put up a global warming guardrail of 1.5 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrial revolution days gave up. Sceptical about governments' action to slow down the pace of global warming despite promises, they expect the world to be warmer by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 — way above the target set in the Paris accord — turning the world into a dangerous place to live.

The naysayers are a group of researchers from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which, in August, came out with a report concluding that fossil fuel emissions were driving unprecedented planetary changes, threatening both people and ecosystems that humans relied on for food and other resources. Approved by 195 governments, the IPCC report, which made clear that the world was running out of time to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, figured prominently in climate negotiations in the last two weeks.

But the outcome is exactly what the IPCC researchers anticipated in a survey (by Nature) they had participated in their personal capacity. Even as the Glasgow talks began with a hope after several countries, including India, made ambitious emission cut commitments, the end was all too familiar with access to climate finance sticking out like a sore thumb.

"We express our disappointment at the lack of significant progress in climate finance-related agenda items," said Richa Sharma, an additional secretary in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest and one of India's negotiators.

As countries were unable to wrap up the negotiations in time, the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change also ran into overtime like some of its predecessors. Without a common ground on three critical issues — cash, coal and timing to take up the emission cuts — the COP president released a new draft on Saturday taking the concerns of the fossil fuel industry into account as the draft outcome document called on the nations to accelerate "efforts towards the phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies".

The last-minute draft allows exploiting coal (and other fossil fuels) if one has the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies instead of phasing out fossil fuels in an equitable way as proposed by India.

New Delhi and several other countries in the developing and least developed world were cagey about having a global agreement to limit the use of the cheapest source of energy without any alternatives. There is no assurance on the supply of CCS technologies that are in the nascent stage. Despite the pledges on a coal-free world, the idea of phasing out fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas)in an equitable way was given a silent burial.

"Developing countries are "entitled" to use fossil fuels. Countries with little historical responsibility for climate change have the right to their fair share of the global carbon budget and are entitled to the responsible use of fossil fuels," said Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav at the concluding plenary as the rich nations once again had their ways.

Over the past 170 years, the US, Canada, Japan and much of Western Europe used so much fossil fuel that they are now responsible for 50% of all the planet-warming greenhouse gases despite accounting for just 12% of the global population. The earth became warmer by 1.1 degrees C in those years and the carbon space shrunk.

But when developing nations like India, whose per capita emission is 15 times less than that of the US, seeks climate justice and an equitable distribution of the remaining carbon budget, such demands are met with empty promises at UN meets and trade barriers behind closed doors. The trend continued in Glasgow. Notwithstanding the wording of the outcome document, the two-week-long talks chaired by UK Minister Alok Sharma left little to celebrate for the developing world.

Climate finance

A decade ago, rich nations agreed to make $100 billion available annually by 2020 for the developing world to cope with the dangerous consequences of climate change and adapt to a climate-resilient way of life. But much to the chagrin of climate victims, the industrialised nations dished out a pittance as additional resources and reclassified the existing "developmental aids" as "climate finance". They also pushed the 2020 deadline by another five years and didn’t show any intent of relaxing the proprietary barriers around climate-friendly technologies that the Global South needs. What the developing world received in Glasgow was a “deep regret” in the final text instead of “regret” as proposed originally.

The rich received what they wanted — a start on the carbon market as per Article 6 of the Paris agreement. “Article 6 of the Paris agreement needs to be finalised in the interest of the planet, not in the interest of companies. But the discussions inside the room don’t seem to have a reality of the world outside,” environmentalist Sunita Narain, who heads the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi, told DH.

In a report published ahead of COP26, the CSE worked out that between 1990 and 2019, the highest-income countries were responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions. Wealthy nations also failed to abide by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international law to reduce emissions by an average of 5% from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. They neither did their bit to clean up the air after enjoying the benefits of industrial revolution for more than a century nor loosened the purse strings to aid poorer countries that need to walk on the path of development.

Climate justice

While the Paris accord calls for limiting temperature to “well below” 2°C and ideally no more than 1.5°C, by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times, the draft agreement in Glasgow notes that the lower threshold “would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” and resolves to aim for that target.

In doing so, it calls for the world to cut carbon dioxide emission by 45% in 2030 compared with 2010 levels, and to add no additional carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by mid-century. So far, the rich world is not on track for that. In addition, the 2050 deadline for carbon-neutrality is not acceptable to countries like China and India, which have a billion plus aspiring population and would continue to depend on fossil fuel for economic growth.

“Finance and technology transfer from developed to developing countries are fundamental. The world cannot wait any longer for this critical finance to save itself from climate change and accompanying environmental degradation,” said Bhupender Yadav.

China has now set a net-zero target of 2060 while Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged 2070 as India’s deadline. India also promised to take up additional emission cuts by 2030 and make the economy cleaner and greener. But the flow of funds and technologies are critical not as aid or donation but as a rightful need of the developing world for the sake of climate justice.

"India has made it clear that it is ready to walk the extra mile in combating climate change but also reminded the developed world that they have historically precipitated the current crisis and have progressed at the cost of global environment. India has asked the world to do its bit,” he added.

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Published 13 November 2021, 17:55 IST

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