Nessa Trombetta, Editor
The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26) has officially begun✝. There are high expectations for the conference, which is expected to be the most important climate meeting since that which produced the 2015 Paris Agreement. Six years later, global progress has left much to be desired, and despite COP’s past successes, there are factors it is not addressing or giving due attention.
There are surely many factors contributing to climate failures, but the root of the problem actually lies with developed countries, despite assumptions that they are typically more compliant with climate agreements and targets. It is time for them to acknowledge their unique responsibilities in solving the climate crisis by honoring promises and commitments that align with their lofty rhetoric. In 2009, developed Parties pledged to make $100 billion available for developing countries by 2020, to assist them with decarbonization and technological adaptation1. 2020 came and went, and this money did not appear. Developed countries have greater capacity than the less-developed to fulfill their promises, and so it is just to hold them to a higher standard of compliance with international proceedings.
The absence of the promised $100 billion was a blow for developing countries who were struggling with financial capacity in abiding by their Paris Agreement obligations. How are developing countries expected to meet the demands of climate agreements without climate finance? Without finance, they will be unable (and perhaps unwilling, due to the unfair expectation levied upon them by developing countries to stall their development in favor of climate-friendly policies when the industrialization of developed countries themselves is the root cause of today’s climate crisis) to build their capacities. They will remain unable to maintain their mandatory obligation through the Paris Agreement to submit a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) regarding their plans for climate policy. These NDCs are vital for coordination of future climate policy. Developed countries must pay—they have a responsibility as the first major polluters to take their fair portion of action to remediate the damage they caused. International agreements that address this should have a convincing compliance mechanism. This was missing from the Paris Agreement (despite its legality), which resulted in major failures—it is said that countries need to “double or triple” their current national commitments in order to satisfy the 1.5ºC target2. It is unsure if it will be addressed at COP 26 proceedings and within any potential agreements that may arise3✝✝.
Developed countries are not necessarily always suited to satisfy some needs of developing countries, as evidenced by the $100 billion failure above. Private sector investors must be involved instead. Collaboration with enterprise is absolutely vital to supplying capital when needed and they must respond to the call to end the climate crisis. Primarily, they must end carbon lock-in and our economy’s entanglement with the current carbon-dependent system. Private investors can revitalize the markets in ways that developed countries have yet proven unwilling to do. Former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is currently “looking to move trillions of dollars of private capital towards supporting clean technology”—he has mobilized “450 organisations controlling 130 trillion dollars, or around 40% of global private assets” to shift toward clean technology, aimed at achieving a zero-carbon state2. This is an unprecedented move, and it is dearly needed, especially at the particularly slow pace the global community is taking with regards to the climate crisis in general. Given that we cannot slow our emissions at a sufficiently fast rate to achieve the 1.5º target, carbon mitigation is necessary. Better carbon mitigation technologies must be developed to handle the supply as more countries begin rapidly developing in the way of China or India. These can be provided through privately funded research and development and other resources.
International proceedings must stress cooperation with the private sector in order to establish access, however. International organizations must be utilized as a resource to guide the private sector investments in different clean energy technologies. Investors should be able to access NDCs and collaborate with scientists to target their investments wisely. International organizations may grant or facilitate this access through collaborative policy, resulting in optimized stimulation of the industry.
Despite many successes (like a pact to cut 30% of all methane emissions by 2030 and a pledge involving 100 countries $19.2 billion to reverse deforestation), COP 26 will undoubtedly leave gaps in issues it addresses—there is so much to cover at the summit and only two weeks in which to do so1. COP 26 and future international summits on the climate crisis should aim to prioritize the enforcement of developed/capable countries’ commitments, the establishment of convincing compliance mechanisms in international agreements, and utilization of the private sector in negotiations.
✝This piece was composed at the beginning of the COP 26 conference and was meant to reflect on expectations and predictions regarding topics of interest and debate. As a result, some of these reflections may be outdated.
✝✝During the later days of COP 26, this 1.5ºC target was discussed, with major emitters such as the United States and China reaffirming their commitment to keeping global warming averages below this level4. However, this goal suffered a major setback in the final hours of the conference, when India suggested changing wording of COP documents to incorporate a “phase down” instead of a “phase out” for fossil fuels4. It is yet to be seen whether the 1.5ºC target will still be a realistic achievement.
1 Roger Harrabin, “COP 26 Climate Change Summit: So Far, So Good-ish”, BBC, November 4, 2021 https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59150807
2 Stephen Leahy, “Most Countries Aren’t Hitting 2030 Climate Goals, and Everyone Will Pay the Price”, National Geographic, November 5, 2019 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/nations-miss-paris-targets-climate-driven-weather-events-cost-billions
3 Warren Cornwall, “The Paris Climate Act is 5 Years Old. Is It Working?”, American Association for the Advancement of Science”, December 11, 2020
https://www.science.org/content/article/paris-climate-pact-5-years-old-it-working4 Meredith, Sam. “Countries Strike Deal at COP26 Climate Summit after Last-Minute Compromise on Coal.” CNBC, CNBC LLC, 14 Nov. 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/13/cop26-countries-strike-climate-deal-at-un-summit-to-limit-heating.html.