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The world is at a critical juncture in the fight to solve the climate crisis.
President Biden’s recent Leaders Summit on Climate restored some momentum on global climate action, but we are not yet on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the threshold scientists agree will prevent the most dangerous climate impacts. Failure to reach this goal will take a disproportionate toll on developing countries.
Indeed, in recent years vulnerable nations, including small island developing states and least developed countries, have watched their key demands and needs go unanswered by other nations. These vulnerable nations are least responsible for creating the climate change problem, but they are often the most affected by its impacts like sea level rise, floods, droughts and more. It is time for vulnerable countries to be heard ahead of the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow in November 2021. Ensuring that these countries are empowered, mobilized and adequately supported is a matter of climate and economic justice.
The new Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025) consortium will explore ways to rebuild trust and foster cooperation to advance an ambitious and just outcome at COP26 and beyond. The consortium includes local and global organizations based in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. Incorporating diverse perspectives like those represented in the consortium will be critical to bridge differences and reach consensus at the COP26 summit.
Here are five outcomes consortium members believe climate-vulnerable nations need from COP26.
1. Ambitious emissions-reduction targets in line with 1.5°C temperature rise
In April 2021, the United States became the latest major emitter to submit a more ambitious national climate plan (called nationally determined contributions, or NDCs) to the UN. While other countries including Japan and Canada also announced more ambitious targets, current efforts are not nearly enough to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C.
To address this gap, the COP26 decision must not only consider efforts made thus far, but also signal the additional effort needed to strengthen implementation of current NDCs and increase ambition by 2025 (when countries must next submit strengthened NDCs). This COP decision must highlight the essential role of the first global stocktake. The stocktake will assess countries’ current efforts toward the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals on mitigation, adaptation and finance, and will be informed by the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which will provide a comprehensive review of the state of climate action.
As the founder and director of Power Shift Africa, Mohammad Adow, said, “What we need is actual, real action — concrete, near-term action, and not just long-term targets.”
2. Scaled up and accessible finance for vulnerable countries
Developed countries failed to come through with much climate finance at the Leaders Summit on Climate. Now, they must now work even harder and faster to achieve the $100-billion-a-year target they pledged to provide for developing countries by 2020, but have yet to deliver. According to Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, “It isn’t that $100 billion is going to solve everything, but $100 billion promised and not delivered is going to create distrust.”
Developed countries can restore this trust by increasing the number of pledges and replenishing the funds of the UNFCCC’s financial mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund. But the $100 billion is only the baseline of what’s needed. In Paris, Parties agreed to set a new finance target following 2025 that is expected to be more than $100 billion per year. “COP26 should agree as well on the establishment of a clear roadmap, with milestones and a calendar for the negotiation of the new finance goal and its adoption before 2025,” said Maria Laura Rojas Vallejo, co-founder and executive director of Transforma.
Over the years, the debt of vulnerable nations has risen to unsustainable levels, often due to borrowing to cope with more frequent and intense natural disasters induced by climate change. Hence, outside of the negotiations, developed countries must signal solidarity by providing debt relief. With only 2% of climate finance reaching small island states and 14% reaching least-developed countries, enhancing accessibility of climate finance and capacity-building for vulnerable developing countries also remain important goals.
3. More support for adaptation efforts
Climate change mitigation often gets the most attention in climate negotiations, as well as the most investment. But adequately supporting adaptation is equally essential, particularly in vulnerable developing countries that are seeing escalating impacts of climate change.
Mark Bynoe, assistant executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, has seen this firsthand. “The Caribbean … has witnessed severe and extreme weather events such as Hurricane Maria that destroyed 100% of the housing stock in Dominica and Barbuda in 2017, a 1-in-100-year flood that wiped out 62% of Guyana’s GDP in 2005, and hurricane Ivan that destroyed 100% of Grenada’s GDP in 2004.”
Not only will accelerating adaptation efforts reduce negative impacts, it can also give economies a much-needed boost. “Effective adaptation is required to reduce climate vulnerabilities in sectors that are critical for economic development in Africa, such as agriculture, health, urban and ecological systems,” said Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development at Alex-Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike (AEFUNAI) Nigeria. “And all of these have many synergies with sustainable development.”
It is also vital to make sure that adaptation efforts are achieving the outcomes needed to reduce vulnerability and build resilience. Under the Paris Agreement, countries created a global goal on adaptation to strengthen climate resilience, but they’ve yet to agree on how to implement and assess it. At COP26, countries must start developing methodologies and metrics to measure progress. In particular, Parties could mandate the IPCC to explore how country-specific adaptation efforts can be collectively assessed against the global goal.
Furthermore, to allow adaptation funding to reach parity with mitigation, nations should increase adaptation finance, which currently accounts for 21% of total climate finance. Developed nations should also commit to scale up grant-based and flexible finance.
4. Increased action and support for loss and damage
Loss and damage due to climate impacts that can’t be adapted to are an existential threat for vulnerable countries, who face rising sea levels and increasingly severe weather events, forced migration, and loss of productive agricultural land. In the past, this issue has sometimes been linked to contentious debates about whether developed countries should compensate climate-vulnerable countries for the impacts they face. A constructive path forward on loss and damage is essential to address the reality that vulnerable countries are facing. It is an issue that can’t be ignored.
Huq used last year’s super cyclone Amphan as an example. “More than 3 million people were successfully warned and went to shelters, because Bangladesh has one of the best — if not the best — early-warning system for cyclones … But nevertheless, the cyclone hit, caused a lot of damage, and there are thousands of people who are still living in slums and embankments, who cannot go home because their homes were destroyed. Their lives were not destroyed, but their livelihoods have been destroyed. And so the loss and damage from human-induced climate change is a reality now. It’s something that has to be dealt with … it’s beyond the limits of adaptation.”
Adequately supporting adaptation is equally essential, particularly in vulnerable developing countries that are seeing escalating impacts of climate change.
A major outcome at COP25 was establishment of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage to spur the technical assistance countries need to cope with unavoidable climate damages. Developing countries are now calling for the network’s effective operationalization so it can provide climate-vulnerable countries with approaches to respond to loss and damage from climate impacts, as well as explore ways to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Displacement that was created under the Paris Agreement. Those countries are also calling for more streamlined approaches to make funding available for loss and damage.
5. Finalized rules and architecture for the Paris Agreement
Although the Paris Agreement was signed five years ago, some details of the Paris Rulebook — the Agreement’s implementation guidelines— have yet to be finalized. “As important as the work is on the ground … the only way we can scale it up and make a difference is if actually we have very clear rules,” said veteran climate negotiator Tony La Viña, director of the Energy Collaboratory at the Manila Observatory in the Philippines.
At COP26, countries can further strengthen the Paris Agreement by coming to consensus on carbon market mechanisms under Article 6. The rules should ensure a portion of the proceeds from carbon markets go to fund adaptation and that carbon trading will go beyond just offsetting emissions and truly lead to more ambitious action.
It also means securing a clear common end-date for countries’ emissions-reduction targets (e.g., all countries adopting 2035 targets in 2025, and similarly for commitments made every five years after that). In doing so, countries need to make sure that the length of their pledges does not lock in low ambition for too long, but rather aligns with the fastest scale and pace expected under the Paris Agreement’s five-year ambition cycle. COP26 must also launch the first global stocktake, the Agreement’s mechanism to assess collective progress toward global temperature goals, with clear guidance and in an efficient and effective manner.
Looking forward to COP26 and beyond
The road to COP26 in Glasgow is paved with many opportunities to step up ambition, move the needle on climate finance, and resolve the outstanding issues highlighted above.
Several international dialogues in the coming months will help set the stage for COP26, and therefore could be pivotal in advancing these issues. The Petersberg Climate Dialogue — hosted by Germany and the UK COP Presidency in early May 2021 — will allow ministers to reflect upon these issues and signal ways to resolve them by Glasgow. A three-week June 2021 UNFCCC intersessional negotiation period comes next, where negotiators will meet informally to strengthen technical foundations needed to facilitate political decisions later this year. Outside of the UNFCCC process, the G7 summit and G20 meetings will provide an opportunity to show further leadership and solidarity before the UN General Assembly in September 2021.
In the meantime, the ACT2025 consortium will mobilize a wide range of stakeholders to design options, test ideas, and identify ways to deliver a just and ambitious outcome at COP26 and beyond. As Bynoe said, “we cannot be involved in tokenism and platitudes.” No meaningful climate deals will happen at future COPs without the backing of vulnerable countries.
It was written by Yamide Dagnet Director, Climate Negotiation; Jemima Marie Mendoza Research Analyst II, Climate Program, World Resources Institute; and Molly Bergen Communications Manager, Climate Program, World Resources Institute.