The United Nations COP27, which concluded in November 2022, left behind mixed outcomes. Although there were some advancements, such as establishing a loss and damage fund, the overall progress fell short of the urgent action required to address the climate crisis as the world navigated the tension between energy security and decarbonisation.
Since then, global emissions have continued to increase, Germany has approved the expansion of coal-fired power plants, and the United Kingdom has approved oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. These actions risk sending a message to the developing world that countries preaching decarbonisation do not walk the talk, rendering them susceptible to the charge of hypocrisy.
This article highlights some key considerations ahead of COP28 in Dubai this December.
While the creation of the loss and damage fund is worthy of celebration, the fine print of how the fund will function requires development. Scotland’s pledge and payment to Malawi to build new flood embankments and schools show that developed nations can provide financial assistance. It also shows how they can provide that assistance as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement. At the same time, ironing out who will contribute, which developing countries will have access to the fund, and by what mechanisms, should have been established long before COP28. The transitional committee set up to operationalise the loss and damage fund failed to ensure consensus and draft recommendations, demonstrating very little will and undermining the plight of vulnerable communities. This simultaneously increased the risk that nations would close COP28 without reaching a consensus.
One of the most contentious issues at COP27 was climate finance, including the failure of developed countries to pledge $100 billion annually towards climate action. Ignorance of the number of developing countries facing debt distress (especially African countries) limits those countries’ ability to gain financing to address climate risks. With the growing realisation that climate policy, and by extension, climate finance, forms central components of development policy for countries, new strategies to address climate finance must be presented during COP28.
For these discussions to be effective, climate finance that addresses the needs and concerns of the developing world should include the following four components, as noted by Richard Kozul-Wright:
- The prioritisation of debt distress
- Innovative solutions to deploying the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) special drawing rights
- The creation of a global network of development banks and their use as an additional source of financing
- Development of new ways to mobilise private finance towards climate goals in a more tangible manner
Health, safety, gender and climate change – a nexus requiring attention
COP27 highlighted the link between climate change and human health. As global temperatures increase, extreme weather events, forest fires, displacement of people, and the spread of diseases will put the lives of millions at risk. During COP27, connecting healthcare to the low-carbon economy was prominently highlighted. But this does not go far enough to address the multi-faced problems of healthcare and climate change. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that health issues require collective action. The inclusion of these lessons into conversations at COP28 will be critical.
Additionally, the gendered dimension related to the effects of climate change cannot be understated. During COP27, only a third of the committee members were women, yet 80% of individuals displaced as a direct result of climate change are women. There is a clear call for increased participation of women leaders and activists in global climate policy efforts. COP28 should include conversations on how to prevent the financial exclusion of women and girls as a consequence of the climate crisis and provide gender-responsive solutions that promote health and safety. Integrating an understanding of the multifaceted ways climate change affects health and gender issues can support developing more effective approaches to climate action in developing countries.
Additionally, greater focus should be placed on water security, because it risks becoming a significant driver of conflict and raising the risks associated with waterborne diseases. According to the 2030 Water Resources Group, our freshwater demand is expected to outweigh the supply by at least 40% by 2030 because of climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is also clear in its findings that climate-induced changes in water cycles and drought will increase across Africa over the next decade, affecting both water quantity and quality. Such a threat raises competition and instability within communities and often causes disputes. While COP27 took the initiative to prioritise water security, the Paris Agreement failed to mention water. This makes it challenging to ascertain an appropriate path for water governance and management.
A Just Energy Transition
Embracing a just energy transition is essential for a sustainable future. This equitable shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources must prioritise vulnerable communities and their livelihoods. This is particularly important for developing countries, as they have contributed the least to historical emissions yet are faced with significant challenges regarding the impacts of climate change and their ability to finance the transition.
In many ways, climate finance is at the centre of the call for a just transition. While renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar photovoltaic energy are cost-competitive with coal power, the developing world faces high interest rates for these projects, with a high debt burden and a lack of adequate infrastructure for developing these projects, limiting the capacity of developing countries to invest in the transition alongside other climate-related financial problems they face.
A just transition must also consider the need for infrastructure investments and research and development to develop a balanced energy mix that reduces emissions over time while enabling developing countries to avoid premature deindustrialisation.
Incorporating natural gas as a transition fuel for the developing world, while unpalatable to some, is one approach to a sustainable transition that addresses energy poverty challenges and includes baseload power generation. This is an especially important consideration against the reality of how long it will take to bring mines online that are extracting the minerals and metals required to power renewable energy. Similarly, COP28 will need to address the social and economic effects of the energy transition, including the feasibility of retraining large portions of the economy employed in the fossil fuel industry in the Global South, or becoming dependent on it. Moreover, countries will need to plan for the development of social safety nets for those who may fall through the cracks in the transition.
COP28, like all COPs, presents an opportunity for the world to change course and engineer a more equitable and sustainable world. Citizens everywhere should be placing pressure on political principals to deliver a plan that serves the best interests of the next generation.
- This article first appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 30 November 2023.