What is the cost of equitable global climate action?

What’s happening? Wealthy countries are set to achieve the $100bn climate finance target to help developing nations by 2023, three years later than the pledged goal. A delivery plan from Germany and Canada, which was commissioned by the UK before the COP26 talks, analysed data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and found that developed countries did not meet the $100bn commitment last year, but it will almost certainly be met and exceeded by 2023. As much as $117bn is scheduled to be delivered by 2025 to help developing nations reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. (Climate Home News)

What is climate finance? Saving the planet costs money, and unfortunately not all nations experiencing the effects of climate change can afford to take action to adapt to or mitigate them. To account for this, at the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting, or COP15, 23 wealthy UN nations pledged to raise the amount of finance they were delivering to poorer nations collectively to $100bn a year by 2020. Their support also accounts for the fact richer nations were able to develop rapidly through the use of fossil fuels, making them largely responsible for the crisis we face today.

Last week, the OECD reported that they missed this goal, and the UK has instead released a “delivery plan” for the target to be met in 2023. This delay will have material repercussions on countries not be able to afford the immediate action that the climate crisis demands.

Unfortunately, problems with the delivery of climate finance aren’t just limited to missed deadlines.

Strings attached – Historically, climate finance has been delivered through grants or loans. By offering loans rather than grants, some of the biggest contributors, such as Japan and France, are able to report large amounts of “finance” when in reality the true value of contributions is less than half that reported. This is particularly concerning as studies have shown the $100bn target isn’t even enough to meet the needs of developing nations to begin with.

This reliance on loans also exacerbates debt for future generations. The Jubilee Debt Campaign highlighted this week that lower-income nations currently spend five times as much on debt as they do on climate action.

Another issue is how the finance comes into use – some nations provide finance with stipulations, which may not be practical for the country they are providing it to. For example, some finance is set to fund projects that then can be used to generate revenue but, as Jan Kowalzig, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam notes, “maintaining food or water security or protecting people from extreme disasters usually does not offer profit-making at all”.

Finance for the people, but which people? Climate finance and support for poorer nations is a key priority for COP26, but beyond the allocation of funds, there needs to be more consideration about the most effective ways to pair finance with environmental recovery supported by social recovery.

In the most literal sense, this will mean, as Kowalzig says, providing security and protection for populations at risk so they may in turn work toward a greener and cleaner future. But there are also specific disenfranchised parts of society that are isolated and overlooked when it comes to aid – the largest demographic being women.

Women, who, in the developing world, work largely in agriculture or unpaid caregiving, and face direct climate threats to their livelihoods and the security of their families. They are also a large portion of the unbanked population, lacking access to mechanisms to grow their work and provide funds to mitigate the material effects of climate change. Despite this, the gender-specific effects of climate change are often overlooked, women’s voices are not heard at the top levels of climate science and climate politics and their expertise from grassroots work in conservation, crisis relief , resource management and care is ignored. Advocates across the world have criticised COP26 for its poor representation of women among attending delegates.

Alongside women, there are other communities that typically receive little support and few platforms for their needs, such as Indigenous populations who are credited as the world’s best conservationists and who hold a wealth of climate knowledge.

What now, COP? When it comes to ensuring equity in climate action, delegates at COP26 have their work cut out for them. Beyond just deciding how much money and support to allocate where, they must decide what form that finance will take, what projects they should specifically decide to enfranchise and what effect their support will have on future generations working towards long-term sustainable climate goals.

One setback to equity the conference already has to deal with is the absence of some of the world’s most threatened nations, due to high cost and pressing concern of Covid-19 in these areas.

Additionally, it is attendees’ responsibility to provide direct support towards unseen parts of the population, who – in some cases – are undervalued by the nations they live in to the disadvantage of climate work. To address this, COP26 must approach the climate crisis as a human rights issue as well as an environmental issue.

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