"Drops in the bucket are not enough; we need a sea change"

As UN Climate Change Conference — COP25 — kicks off in Madrid, the UN climate chief reminds not enough has been done to tackle the growing carbon emissions and climate change. As the world faces record disasters, 'sea change' in action is needed.

Harjeet SinghHarjeet Singh   2 Dec 2019 5:44 AM GMT

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Drops in the bucket are not enough; we need a sea change

Madrid. Spain.

Nearly 200 countries are attending the UN Climate Change Conference -- COP25 --- for a two-week-long session starting today in the city of Madrid, Spain. It is a significant session being held in the shadow of increasing heat-trapping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are responsible for the climate emergency in the form of increasing floods, cyclones, droughts and rising seas, around the world.

At the end of October, Government of Chile had pulled out of hosting COP25 due to uprisings against social injustice and rising inequality. Spain then stepped in to host the conference - usually attended by thousands - in Madrid, albeit under the Chilean presidency, and pulled it off miraculously in about four weeks.

Last week, the annual Emissions Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that unless global GHG emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

The report further cautioned that even if all current unconditional commitments -- climate action in developing countries without financial transfer from wealthier countries -- under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts.

"For ten years, the Emissions Gap Report has been sounding the alarm – and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions," lamented UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the eve of COP25. "What is still lacking is political will, the political will to put a price on carbon, the political will to stop subsidies on fossil fuels, the political will to stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards, the political will to shift taxation from income to carbon, taxing pollution instead of people," he added.

On the eve of COP25 at Madrid, Spain. Pic: UNFCCC

As per the analysis, collective ambition must increase more than five-fold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal.

However, it is rich countries in the Global North who emitted three times as many GHG emissions between 1850 and 2002, as opposed to the countries in the Global South, housing approximately 85 per cent of the world's population.

The current climate crisis is a result of the industrialization that started in the West in the 1850s, powered by dirty fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Wealthy industrialized countries have been emitting for a long time and have benefitted from the infrastructure and institutions they built because of this. They have a much higher capacity to act than others, due to their higher income and wealth, level of development and access to technologies.

Equity and climate damages

The UN climate change convention in 1992 followed by the Paris Agreement in 2015 clearly put the onus on developed countries to lead on reducing emissions and providing finance to developing countries.

On the contrary, it is the developing countries, including India, who have put more ambitious mitigation pledges than that of developed countries, whose targets fall well short of their fair shares.

The civil society coalition, backed by hundreds of organisations, calculates countries' 'fair share' of responsibility using an equity analysis, based on historic contributions to climate change through GHG emissions, and their capacity to take climate action, based on national income while taking into account what is needed to provide basic living standards.

In its new report released last week, the civil society coalition reported the US and the EU were jointly responsible for more than half (54 per cent) the cost of repairing the damage caused by climate disasters in the Global South. Considering countries' responsibility for the climate crisis and their financial capacity to respond, the report estimates that the US owes at least 30 per cent and the EU 24 per cent, compared to India's 0.5 per cent.

The report also suggested that based on estimates of loss and damage costs in developing countries, new and additional finance of US$50 billion should be provided by 2022, rising to a minimum of US$300 billion by 2030.

2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — COP25 — is underway at Madrid from Dec 2 to Dec 13. Pic: UNFCCC

Rich countries, however, have been using all kinds of tactics to avoid the financing discussion since the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) in 2013. The issue of rich countries to provide finance to repair the climate change harms in the developing world is a key agenda for this climate conference, as WIM undergoes a mandated review this year.

The developing countries are demanding that as an outcome of the review, the UN must agree with ways to provide public finance, including through new and innovative sources such as taxes on fossil fuels and financial transactions, which can deliver resources at scale to countries on the frontline of the climate crisis.

Referring to the impacts of climate change on the poorest and most marginalised communities and vulnerable ecosystems around the world, Sandeep Chamling Rai, senior advisor on global climate adaptation policy for WWF said, "We have little time to respond to the rising demands of people. If we are to avert chaos, rich countries must prioritise funding for [addressing] loss and damage."

Time for urgent and real action

Despite facing a spate of devastating climate disasters over the last few years and in part contributing to distress in the rural economy, India has not engaged with these discussions. Instead, it has its eyes on unfinished rulemaking of Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Under this Article, the legal frameworks for new carbon markets and "non-market approaches" will be agreed. India has been one of the major beneficiaries of the previous regime, namely the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and will seek to extend the benefit.

Large economies see market-based mechanisms as a means to scale up climate ambition by engaging the private sector and leveraging their expertise, finance and technology. Whereas others see the risk of markets, already plagued with mistrust and uncertainty, undermining the real ambition that is urgently needed to avert the climate crisis.

The US and the EU are jointly responsible for 54 per cent cost of repairing the damage caused by climate disasters in the Global South. Pic: Harjeet Singh

Meanwhile, Greta Thunberg's Fridays for Future movement organised climate strikes – from Manila to Madrid – reaching 2,400 cities across 157 countries, to protest government inaction on climate change. Their next global action is scheduled for the next Friday, 6th December, to mount pressure on the negotiators at COP25 to act in accordance to the climate emergency.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Climate Change, who is concerned about the lack of finance to drive action, said: "While we have seen some progress with respect to climate-related financing for developing countries, we will continue to urge developed nations to fulfil their pledge of mobilizing US$100 billion annually by 2020."

"We also must see overall global finance flows reflect the deep transformation throughout society that we need: away from carbon-heavy investment and towards more sustainable and resilient growth. Drops in the bucket are not enough: we need a sea change," she added.

Harjeet Singh is the Global Lead on Climate Change for ActionAid International and is based in New Delhi. He tweets under @harjeet11. Views are personal.


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