The world is at a critical juncture in the fight to solve the climate crisis.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, unprecedented climate impacts are affecting every region of the globe. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finds that the world has only a very narrow pathway to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the limit scientists say is necessary for averting the worst climate disasters. Exceeding the 1.5-degree temperature threshold would be catastrophic, especially for developing countries bearing the brunt of climate impacts.
Indeed, in the six years since the international Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted, vulnerable nations have grown increasingly frustrated as their demands and needs go unanswered by other nations. Lackluster emissions-reduction targets from many major emitters and lagging financial commitments from developed countries hinder vulnerable nations’ ability to implement climate resilience measures and transition to carbon-neutral economies. While many countries have stepped up and updated their commitments, the world is still collectively off the 1.5 degrees C target.
The Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025) consortium was formed to elevate the voices of climate-vulnerable countries and ensure they are empowered, mobilized and adequately supported at the next UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and beyond. The group’s Call to Action lays out five areas where progress is essential to rebuilding trust with vulnerable nations, fostering international cooperation, and reaching an ambitious and just outcome at COP26 in Glasgow.
5 Key Priorities for Vulnerable Nations at the COP26 Climate Summit
1. All Countries — Especially Major Emitters — Must Commit to Deep Emissions Cuts By 2030, In Line With the 1.5 Degrees C Temperature Target
To keep the 1.5 degrees C temperature goal within reach, the world needs to slash global emissions 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero by mid-century. Regularly ratcheting up emissions-reduction targets is a core tenet of the Paris Agreement; however, the new analysis by the UNFCCC found that the 113 national climate plans (known at Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) submitted by the end of July 2021 are projected to reduce emissions by only 12% by 2030.
Rapid action to cut global emissions in half by 2030 is essential to securing a fairer, greener future. The vast majority of this responsibility sits on the shoulders of G20 countries, which account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to recent analysis by World Resources Institute and Climate Analytics, current G20 efforts would put us on track for a 2.1 degrees C trajectory. If on the other hand G20 countries were to align their 2030 targets to 1.5 degrees C by 2030 and commit to net-zero by 2050, global temperatures could be limited to 1.7 degrees C, keeping the 1.5 degrees C goal still within reach. Pledges such as China’s announcement during the UN General Assembly to stop building coal-fired power plants abroad, in addition to similar announcements from Japan and South Korea earlier this year, are helpful, but more domestic action and more similar pledges from other G20 countries are needed.
As Mark Bynoe of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre put it, “We cannot adapt our way out of this crisis. It is imperative that we aggressively pursue all measures in pursuit of the temperature increase of no more than 1.5 degrees C.”
At COP26, countries should adopt decisions that require all nations — but particularly major emitters — to submit significantly more ambitious and resilient climate plans by no later than 2025. If countries’ plans do not align with a 1.5 degrees C trajectory at COP26 in Glasgow, the COP26 decision should strongly encourage national governments to adopt stronger NDCs by 2023. With so much at stake, countries can no longer run towards emissions-reduction goals — they must sprint.
2. Developed Countries Must Significantly Scale Up Climate Finance — and Make it Accessible
Wealthy countries are far off track for delivering the climate finance they committed to deliver to developing nations over a decade ago. The latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report estimates that developed countries mobilized $79.6 billion in total climate finance in 2019 — only a 2% increase from 2018, making it seem unlikely that developed countries’ reached their commitment to mobilize $100 billion annually on time in 2020.
Rich nations must credibly step up climate finance pledges ahead of COP26. While developing countries welcome the EU’s, Germany’s and Denmark’s pledges to increase their climate finance earlier this year, and the U.S pledge to quadruple their public climate finance compared to their 2013-2016 average level by 2024 (effectively $11.4 billion per year) made at the 76th UN General Assembly meetings, these are unlikely to be enough to quickly close the finance gap, and more developed countries should come forward with increased pledges.
Maria Laura Rojas Vallejo, Director of Transforma in Colombia, makes it clear that “finance is really instrumental for keeping 1.5 degrees C within reach and to keep trust in the multilateral process.”
Access to climate finance remains challenging for developing countries to access, with the majority of funding available through loans and other non-concessional instruments. Developing and vulnerable nations are already deeply reliant on available climate finance to enact ambitious and resilient climate action. For communities hamstrung by debt and burdened by pandemic recovery efforts, the inability to access climate finance deepens the wound. Making climate finance more accessible by COP26 is critical to climate ambition.
At or by the UN Climate Summit in November, developed countries must pledge new climate finance and agree on a concrete plan to deliver a minimum of $500 billion to developing nations between 2020-2024. The COP26 decision should also acknowledge that economies need to mobilize trillions of dollars, rather than billions, when setting up the new climate finance goal established under the Paris Agreement, which would begin in 2025.
3. More Finance and Tracking for Adaptation
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 the developing countries least responsible for creating the climate change problem, but experiencing the worst of its impacts like sea level rise, floods, droughts and more.
Adaptation finance currently accounts for just 25% of total climate finance from developed to developing countries. It’s crucial that countries agree at COP26 on ways to secure predictable adaptation finance from developed nations that is more concessional and grant-based so that it reaches parity with mitigation.
“We need to treat climate adaptation with the same level of urgency and seriousness as we treated COVID-19,” says Chukwumerije Okereke, director of the Center for Climate Change and Development at AEFUNAI in Nigeria.
Countries like the United Kingdom, Denmark, Netherland and Sweden’s commitments for earmarking 50% or more of their climate finance for adaptation is encouraging and more developed countries should follow suit.
Furthermore, countries must advance work on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), a key component of the Paris Agreement that aims to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. There is currently a lack of clear guidance on what and how to collectively track or measure countries’ climate resilience, which makes it challenging to assess what adaptation action and financial support are needed. Nations should request that the IPCC develop guidelines to review national progress on adaptation, similar to how they developed national greenhouse gas inventories for reviewing countries’ emissions reductions. Countries should also request that the IPCC produce either a special report on adaptation progress and further elaborate its findings in the forthcoming Seventh Assessment Report.
4. Tackle Climate-induced Losses and Damages with Seriousness and Solidarity
The latest findings from the IPCC are clear: Every inhabited region across the globe is already affected by climate change. Some unavoidable impacts of the climate crisis are so severe — such as forced migration; loss of agricultural land; and deadly floods, heatwaves and storms — they simply cannot be adapted to.
As Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change puts it, “What we are doing or not doing is going to severely affect our children and grandchildren. And it’s in our hands, we’re the only generation that can leave the world somewhat better, or a hell of a lot worse.”
Rich countries that have emitted the most must come prepared to tackle these “losses and damages” at COP26. Countries should, for the first time, establish loss and damage as a permanent agenda item at UN climate negotiations. Doing so will prompt solutions-driven dialogues where climate-vulnerable nations have an opportunity to be heard.
Furthermore, countries must build on the COP25 decision in Madrid to establish a robust, operational mechanism for the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage (SNLD). This platform was intended to help provide vulnerable countries with technical assistance in addressing losses and damages, but so far, the only progress has been creating a website. Nations should also explore more accessible approaches to make funding easily available to those dealing with climate-induced loss and damage that is additional to mitigation and adaptation finance.
5. Adopt Long Overdue and Robust Rules for the Paris Agreement
Countries signed the Paris Agreement six years ago, but details of the Paris Rulebook — the Agreement’s implementation guidelines— have yet to be finalized. It is critical that countries adopt these outstanding rules at COP26.
“The most important reason why the right rules have to be in place is accountability,” says veteran climate negotiator Tony La Vina, Executive Director of the Manila Observatory in the Philippines. “Every country becomes accountable for what it says it will do. If you allow countries to do whatever they want, to claim whatever they want to say, then you won’t achieve your targets. That makes the Paris Agreement meaningless.”
Rules that must be finalized at COP26 include:
Comprehensive guidance for the enhanced transparency framework, which is the Paris Agreement’s system for reporting on climate action and support. This guidance must be flexible, promote accuracy and consistency and avoid placing undue burden on developing countries.
Guidance to facilitate the global stocktake, which is the mechanism that assesses collective progress toward the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. The first cycle will conclude in 2023. This guidance should promote equitable participation and consider inputs from a wide range of stakeholders.
Establish a five-year time frame for countries’ NDCs. Having a common end date for NDC targets that focuses on near-term action would encourage countries to be more responsive to science, and rapidly developing societal, economic and technological changes. Given this, a five-year time frame for updates, rather than ten-year one, makes sense. It would also spur ambition and facilitate the assessment of collective progress towards the 1.5-degree C goal.
Finalize Article 6, which establishes rules for carbon markets, in a way that does not undermine ambition, ensures environmental integrity and provides financial support for adaptation action. However, if these conditions are not met, it may well be better to delay adoption of rules rather than adopting bad rules.
The consortium recognizes that capacity building will be key to facilitate the implementation of these rules.
COP26 Is Our Chance to Secure a Better Future for All
All nations — developed and developing — have a deep, vested interest in robust climate action that will secure the futures of global economies and societies. They all must shift into sprint mode at COP26.
“The science is clear,” says Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa in Kenya. “Politicians can no longer put these issues off and hope someone else deals with it. They are the ones that need to make this happen, and Glasgow is where it needs to get done.”
Failure to deliver ambitious outcomes in the run up to and at COP26 will condemn the most vulnerable nations and communities to the costliest, most dangerous future. Keeping a sustainable, prosperous and just future within reach requires solidarity, courage and ambitious action.