Climate inaction, injustice worsened by finance fiasco
Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR: Many factors frustrate the international cooperation needed to address the looming global warming catastrophe. As most rich nations have largely abdicated responsibility, developing countries need to think and act innovatively and cooperatively to better advance the South.
The world is woefully offtrack to achieving the current international consensus that it is necessary to keep the global temperature rise by the end of the 21st century to no more than 1.5°C (degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels two centuries ago.
The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that temperatures are then likely to exceed 2.2°C. Many climate scientists fear many underlying interactions and feedback effects are still little known or poorly understood. Hence, they have not been factored enough into current projections.
Although the threat of global warming was scientifically recognized almost half a century ago, there has been much foot ragging since. Contrary to widespread belief, industrialized nations – the earliest and biggest greenhouse gas emitters –have actually held back much more adequate responses to the climate threat.
Although the UN’s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro secured the international community’s commitment to sustainable development, actual progress since has been modest at best. Undermining multilateralism – particularly since the end of the Cold War around the same time – has certainly not helped.
By effectively killing the Kyoto Protocol, the US has undermined the UN system and other multilateral initiatives not in its own interest since the first Cold War’s end. Consequently, most other signatory rich nations have not even tried to meet the Kyoto Protocol obligations they had signed up to.
Unsurprisingly, then Vice-President Al Gore – who presided over the US Senate’s 95-0 vote against the Kyoto Protocol – did not stress climate change in his 2000 presidential campaign. His public advocacy against global warming only began after his political ambitions ended with his controversial loss to George W. Bush.
Likewise, President Obama did little against global warming during his first presidential term – e.g., at the 2009 Copenhagen UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) – before the US actively shaped the 2015 Paris Agreement.
But, unlike Kyoto, the Paris deal is voluntary – i.e., not binding. Nonetheless, climate action was dealt yet another blow when President Donald Trump withdrew the US in early 2017 before President Joe Biden brought the US back in 2021.
To induce developing countries to accept binding new obligations at the 2009 Copenhagen COP, the European Commission President, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown all pledged US$100 billion of climate finance annually – far from enough, but still a decent start.
But not even half this grossly inadequate, originally European commitment has actually been delivered. Other rich countries have generally given even less than the Europeans. All this is far short of what developing countries need to cope, worsened by requiring more aid to donor country export sales.
Most concessional climate finance since has been to mitigate climate change, with much less for adaptation. Worse, almost nothing has gone to help the typically impoverished victims of global warming for their cumulative ‘losses and damages’!
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 seeks to combat climate change and its impacts. Meanwhile, current global warming continues to worsen the effects of accumulated greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized countries.
In December 2015, the Paris COP reached agreement on a range of voluntary promises. Yet, climate scientists agree that neither the binding Kyoto Protocol nor the voluntary Paris Agreement can keep global warming by the end of the century under 1.5°C.
Economic damage to developing countries due to global warming so far is currently assessed at more than double the better documented adverse impacts on rich nations. But its victims get little help adapting to the daunting consequences of climate change, let alone ‘compensation’ for irreversible ‘losses and damages’.
Meanwhile, ostensible climate finance book-keeping involves considerable ‘creative accounting’. Thus, such resources have been exaggerated in various ways – e.g., by citing numbers for ‘blended finance’ and other dubious arrangements.
Thus, official ‘overseas development assistance’ or aid funds have been abused to subsidize ‘greenwashing’ public-private partnerships – e.g., by ‘de-risking’ profit-seeking private investments presented to the public as ‘climate-friendly’.
More recently, ‘climate justice’ is increasingly being demanded, especially of Western nations – instead of mere ‘climate action’. Although the climate action approach claims to treat all countries equally, by ignoring existing inequalities and disparities, climate action inevitably deepens them.
Invoking justice implies equitable actions are needed to redress the unequal implications of climate actions – e.g., reducing energy generation and use – for the poor and the rich – both people and countries. Thus, without addressing the need for equitable sustainable development, climate action often worsens inequities.
Hence, while claiming to offer seemingly fair solutions, some climate action measures – e.g., simply raising carbon prices, and thus, fuel costs for all – will be unfair in impact. Instead, climate justice measures must equitably address global warming and other climate change challenges.
The challenge – from a sustainable development perspective – is to address climate change while improving living standards equitably, especially for the worse off. This requires widespread generation and use of affordable renewable energy – instead of using fossil fuels – to slow global warming.
But markets are not going to do so on their own. Hence, novel, including hybrid means and much more affordable transfer of relevant technologies are needed to rapidly promote renewable energy use and ecological adaptation to global warming without adversely affecting the worse off.
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