COP28: Rich nations turn to shifting goalposts, once again

COP28: Rich nations turn to shifting goalposts, once again

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If one were to go by the headlines at the end of day one of the speeches by global leaders here at the Climate Change Conference, COP28, in Dubai, it may appear that all was finally falling into place in the preparation to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and that the battle to save the Earth was certain to be won.  

Almost every leader from around the world, whether from a rich or a poor country, from a big emitter or a small one, announced the measures they intend to take. These announcements included a commitment to a double-digit cut in carbon emissions this decade and a subsequent pledge to achieve net-zero emissions. 

Additionally, many of the wealthy nations made promises to invest millions of dollars into various climate initiatives, such as the newly established “loss and damage fund” or the “green climate fund.” 

But if you move away from the headlines and the limelight and pore through the speeches and the documents, the situation begins to appear less bright and positive, even almost catastrophic.   

Certainly, the agreement over the “loss and damage fund” is a very major and creditable achievement, especially for the COP28 host nation, the UAE and the dynamic President of the COP28 Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber.  

But now begins the tough task of funding this fund and let there be no doubt, the money into this fund can only come from the rich nations or their trillion-dollar enterprises.   

The total amount needed for fighting climate impact, which is the objective of the fund, goes into trillions of dollars. Yet, on day one, the total commitments rounded up to only $400 million, with a quarter of that coming from the host nation, which, though relatively rich, is still considered to be a developing nation rather than a developed one.  

Some of the contributions from the richest nations seem laughable in comparison. Consider the $10 million pledged by Japan or even the $75 million by the UK.  

But even these pitiful pledges are still only pledges and one can only hope that they translate into actual money sitting in the account of the fund and being distributed to the countries that need the funds.  

For, often, there is a big gap between what is committed and what is actually given.  

For over 15 years, the rich nations have committed to paying $100 billion each year to help the developing nations deal with climate change. Yet, not for one year has the total fund been anywhere close to the target.   

And in the face of mounting criticism from the developing countries as well as their own civil society organizations, the rich nations began to turn to all sorts of accounting tricks to somehow reach $100 billion a year.  

They began mixing all kinds of funding and loans meant for other purposes and objectives and called it climate finance and often resorting to double counting.  

This was a charge leveled again at UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Dec. 1 by British NGOs accusing him of recycling old commitments to make them sound as new.  

Another trick that the developed nations seem to have mastered is the qualification of countries that deserve aid for climate transition.  

While for long, there were only two categories in this discussion — the developed and developing — in the past few years, the rich nations have split the developing nations further into emerging economies and least developed countries.  

With most of the nations qualifying for an emerging economy tag, the number of countries that deserved the aid, according to the rich world storytelling, had dwindled from over 150 to about 46.  

For over 15 years, the rich nations have committed to paying $100 billion each year to help the developing nations deal with climate change. Yet, not for one year has the total fund been anywhere close to the target.

Ranvir Nayar

But there is little doubt that despite being the third largest economy in the world, India is a poor country, as is Bangladesh, Brazil or Egypt.  

India is home to the world’s largest number of extremely poor people and as many as 400 million Indians struggle to stay away from hunger. The situation is not very different in other ‘emerging’ economies.  

This qualification is crucial as in his speech on Dec. 1 at COP28, French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to shift the onus of the battle to save the planet onto the emerging economies. 

“Emerging countries must phase out carbon, which is our biggest fight. If there’s a top priority, it’s for emerging countries to phase out carbon,” he said in his speech.   

Macron seems to have set his eyes on the developing world, while even the developed nations are far from setting out their own carbon ‘phase out’ deadlines and almost every single rich nation is far from abjuring fossil fuels.  

While Canada and the US continue to open up new areas, even in ecologically fragile zones and nature reserves, for oil and gas drilling, Japan has kicked further down the road its own targets for going off coal as it pledged on Dec. 1 only to not invest in fresh coal-fired power plants from the year 2050.  

The EU recently was forced to dilute its famous campaign to ban sales of fossil fuel-powered cars by 2035, mainly due to strong resistance by its powerful automobile lobby.  

In his speech, which got the warmest response from the audience, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hit the nail on the head when he said, “the planet is tired of climate agreements that were not fulfilled” and that he’s had enough of “eloquent and empty speeches.”  

Time for the leaders of the developed nations to take note and pay heed. There are still 10 days of negotiations left at this COP. Time enough for them to put the theatrics aside and get to what is needed. Drastically cut their own emissions by 2030 and dramatically enhance funding with real money for the developing nations. And immediately. 

  • Ranvir Nayar is the managing editor of Media India Group and founder-director of EIFE. 
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