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COP23: U.S., Wealthy Nations Curtail Climate Aid for Developing World

November 20, 2017

by Justin Catanoso

  • The small U.S. delegation sent by President Trump to the COP23 climate summit in Bonn has apparently led a successful effort to obstruct significant, much needed, climate change adaptation financing and loss-and-damage financing for the developing world.
  • Over the past two weeks in Bonn, the U.S. provided cover for the other developed countries, especially coal-producing Australia, tar sands-producer Canada, and the European Union, as they curtailed offering financial climate aid to the world’s developing nations, including island nations whose existence is at risk from rising oceans.
  • One victory: delegates agreed to draft language for Pre-2020 Ambitions, a measure requiring that developed countries be transparent about their current emissions and describe voluntary steps they will take prior to 2020 to further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It is now hoped by some that the issue of adaptation financing and loss-and-damage financing to the developing world will be finally effectively addressed at COP24 in Poland in December 2018.

A platform of climate protest signs on the grounds of the U.N. campus at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Justin Catanoso

BONN, Germany – An anxious uncertainty hung in the air at the start of the 23rd annual United Nations climate summit two weeks ago: what role would the small U.S. negotiating team play in the era of Donald Trump, a climate denier who has forced the United States to become the only country on earth to reject the Paris Agreement?

As the gavel falls ending COP23 on Friday, 17 November, the answer to that question will be apparent for all to see: obstruction. Obstruction by the world’s richest nation and the planet’s second-worst greenhouse gas emitter. For two weeks, the U.S. delegation has, by all accounts, worked to deny developing nations — vulnerable to, and victims of, global warming — the financial pathway they need to adapt to climate change or recover from climate-related losses and damages.

Other wealthy nations, so-called developed countries, struggling with their own economic worries, immigration crises, or controversial energy dilemmas, have apparently followed the U.S. lead and fallen in line. At stake is the wide gap between the billions raised by developing nations and the billions more needed for developing countries to endure and adapt to global warming’s dire impacts — roughly $10.3B billion in cash has been raised so far toward a pledge of $100 billion a year starting in 2020, along with a pledge for access to financing from global banks.

“Every day, the U.S. blocked progress in drafting understandings related to adaptation financing and loss-and-damage financing,” Harjeet Singh, a climate change expert with London-based ActionAid, told Mongabay. “We thought the U.S. would be far more sympathetic after the disasters they faced [with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria]. They now understand what loss and damage is. But we didn’t see their sensitivity level going up.”

Singh, an observer to the discussions, said the cast of U.S. negotiators shuffled throughout COP23. The State Department announced Tuesday, 14 November, that top negotiator Tom Shannon would not travel to Bonn. State Department climate staffer Trigg Talley, who has served under Republican and Democratic administrations, left early. But that didn’t mean that the delegation lacked influence as it sought to deprive the world’s poorest countries — the nations being most impacted by climate change — from receiving help from the world’s richest.

“No permanent work stream has been approved on any finance issue, which means helping the climate victims,” Harjeet said. “Action was repeatedly blocked by the U.S., which led the pack. And the European Union, Canada and Australia hid behind the U.S. and let this happen.”

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Adam Bandt, a Green Party member of the Australian parliament, was unwilling to place all the blame with the United States. He pointed out that a top political priority for his government is the gigantic Adani company open pit Carmichael coal mine and rail project in Queensland, which will export its coal to plants in India serving serving 100 million people. Australians oppose the mine, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull favors using taxpayer funds and money borrowed from China to make it happen. The mine’s coal could produce an estimated 7.7 billion tons of greenhouse gas, and is seen by environmentalists as a “climate bomb.”

“Australia is the chief blocker at this COP,” Bandt said. “On loss-and-damage, on adaptation, on pre-2020 Ambition: Australia has done everything it could to cover up that [carbon] pollution is rising in our country year on year. We are doing everything we can to avoid accountability and thwart further action. It’s incredibly disappointing.”

Global emissions rising again

Those intent on putting a positive spin on COP23 (Conference of the Parties) note that 49 nations, including the United States, have peaked their carbon emissions through greater energy efficiencies, less burning of coal and shifts to renewable energy.

Solar and wind is now on par with natural gas and cheaper than coal, and capacity is being added rapidly by scores of nations, creating thousands of jobs. The scale of renewables, though, is not yet nearly enough to begin tipping the carbon imbalance fueling global warming.

A report released Monday, 13 November, found that after three years of stable carbon emissions globally, 2017 emissions worldwide will be at an all-time high. This year is also expected to join the ranks of hottest years on record.

UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres reminded delegates that carbon emissions must fall by 25 percent by 2020 to have a chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of holding global temperature below a 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) rise by 2100 – an improbable achievement considering the performance by developed nations at this COP, and considering the insufficient voluntary NDC’s (Nationally Determined Contributions) set by the world’s nations.

Australian Green Party parliament member Adam Bandt talking with Anote Tong, former president of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Photo by Justin Catanoso

COP participants underscore the ever-present divide, and tension, between fewer than two dozen developed countries (and leading carbon polluters) and the rest of the world. Anote Tong, former president of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, lives with that tension.

“We continue to focus talks on keeping temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit],” Tong told Mongabay. “It’s not very relevant for countries like mine for whom the science indicates that whatever the rise in global temperatures — even if its zero; even if carbon emissions are cut to zero — we will be under water well before the end of this century.”

Tong stated that politicians, with their short-term vision and re-election concerns, are poorly suited to effectively grapple with a costly, current and future challenge like climate change. He points out that while his country is a primary victim of sea-level rise, it bears little responsibility for the fossil-fuel emissions tied to global warming. And it vitally needs financial assistance.

“Change in our country must be very radical — like rising up above sea level,” Tong said. “If you give me $1 billion, I can maybe survive another 10 years. Our response in principle is to recognize the injustice that is being done and address it. Forget being a political leader. Think like a father. A grandfather. A human being with a moral sense of justice.”

Because Fiji is the host country for COP23 in Bonn, large photos depicting scenes around the Pacific island nation are on display in every venue. But glossy photographs aside, summit negotiators from developed nations still dragged their feet when it came to offering significant financial support to the highly vulnerable island nations. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Victory for Pre-2020 Ambitions

There had been some hope that, because COP23 was led by the Pacific island country of Fiji, a vulnerable nation, that negotiators would be more sympathetic to, and better address, the plight of developing nations’ financial needs. But only one notable victory can be claimed.

With heavy pressure from China and India (the world’s worst and third-worst carbon polluters), delegates agreed to draft language for the so-called Pre-2020 Ambitions. This measure requires that developed countries be transparent about their current emissions and describe what voluntary steps they will take prior to 2020 to further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

China and India, considered developing countries, are both investing heavily in solar energy, and China is closing coal-fired power plants, though primarily to deal with staggering air pollution. Other developing countries are eager for wealthy, industrialized nations to do more, sooner, to curb emissions; the Pre-2020 Ambitions draft lends some pressure to do so.

“The agreement is important for many reasons,” said Singh of ActionAid. “We needed to rebuild some trust. Mutual trust has been lost between developed and developing nations. One of the reasons, of course, was the U.S. threatening to pull out of the Paris Agreement.”

Germany and France came in for their share of criticism as well Wednesday.

French President Marcron with UN General Secretary Guterres. Photo courtesy of the UNFCCC

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel addressed the assembled delegates in the main meeting hall. Both spoke eloquently about the reality of climate change and the need to work harder on solutions. But neither offered any indication of stepping up their carbon-reduction INDC pledges, or in the case of Germany, reiterating its pledge to phase out coal by 2030.

“Mrs. Merkel had one thing to do today,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “She needed to come to Bonn and show she had heard the suffering of the people of the Pacific and around the world and would do the responsible thing and end coal. She did not deliver this.

“The chancellor’s climate leadership credibility was already hanging in the balance, and continues to do so. She talked of trust and reliability, but where is her reliability?”

“If France really wants to remain the guardian of the Paris Agreement,” added Lucille Dufour, policy adviser for Reseau Action Climate in France, “it must bring forth all of its political weight to drive forward progress on key issues like adaptation and loss-and-damage.”

To Germany’s credit, it did on the first day of COP23 pledge 50 million euros to the 240 million euros (roughly US $340 million in total) it has already pledged to the Adaptation Fund, making it the largest contributor. Germany also pledged 50 million euros (roughly US $58 million) to the Least Developed Nations Fund.

But COP23 largely ends in a quandary, with the developed and developing nations in an argument as old as the Kyoto Protocol, as they continue to squabble like shipwrecked passengers in a sinking lifeboat over who should bail and how much — even as the little boat rapidly takes on water. Then as now, according to many COP23 participants, it is the U.S. and the wealthy nations who are delaying doing their fair share of the heavy lifting.

Some COP participants remain hopeful that the issue of adaptation financing and loss-and-damage financing to the developing world will be finally effectively addressed at COP24 in Poland in December 2018.

A reminder of what’s at stake: an inflatable earth stands alone on the UN campus of COP23 in Bonn. Some participants are setting big hopes on seeing major progress at COP24, a little over a year from now in Poland. Photo by Justin Catanoso

 

Originally posted on Mongabay.