I’ve been in Glasgow for the last couple of days, a city full of people, groups, campaigns and delegations all competing for attention. My email inbox is the same – packed with demands from every conceivable interest group, legitimate or illegitimate. Why COP26 must hold a session on vegan diets. Why this is the COP for hydrogen. Or public transport. Or young people. Or women. Or the internet of things. Everyone wants their piece of the pie.
I may or may not catch up with these emails later. What matters to me is that the climate talks address the needs of those most affected people and regions. “Morally and practically, there can be no successful outcome at COP26 that does not deliver for the most vulnerable” said a report earlier this year from the Kenya based thinktank Power Shift Africa.
Written with a broad coalition of partners from across Africa, the Pacific, the Caribbean and other affected areas, they call for five key outcomes from the conference.
1. Greater emissions cuts. Although the Paris Agreement did concede that 1.5 degrees of warming was a desirable target, most big emitters aren’t even on track for 2 degrees. Developed countries have both higher emissions and greater means, and need to accelerate their emissions cuts towards a 1.5 degree model.
2. Even with more ambitious emissions cuts, some parts of the world will need to adapt to changed circumstances. So support for adaptation needs to be clearly articulated, building on the early outline in the Paris Agreement. In particular, climate finance needs to serve adaptation as well as cutting carbon, as currently richer countries are more likely to fund mitigation.
3. The harm from climate change falls first and hardest on those who have done the least to cause the problem, and so they deserve compensation for the loss and damage from other people’s emissions. This is obvious to those affected, but highly contentious to the big historic emitters, because it makes them responsible – which, of course, they are.
4. Both support for adaptation, and compensation for loss and damage depend on climate finance. So far the richer nations have promised $100 billion a year – well below what what initially requested – and still failed to deliver that. Much climate finance has turned out to be offered as loans rather than grants, which is self-serving. Among the most urgent demands then, is that countries deliver on what has already been pledged. Without that, it seems almost pointless to put further promises on paper. What will they be worth?
5. Finally, the report demands concrete steps towards actual implementation. There are too many loose ends left over from the Paris Agreement, leaving developing countries in the dark. Important discussions around transparency and carbon trading need to be concluded so that real action can begin.
How likely is it that Power Shift Africa will get to check these all off the list? Time will tell. There’s certainly plenty of overlap between their list and the British government’s official briefing on objectives – though not completely. Once you’ve got past the flag-waving about the UK’s ‘leadership’, you’ll find four priorities: faster emission cuts (framed in net zero terms), adaptation, finance, and implementation.
The one missing? Loss and damage – the demand that historic emitters take responsibility for the harm to countries that have done little to cause climate change. As a major historic emitter itself, the UK is in no great hurry to talk about this. It talks about minimising harm, but not compensating for it. We will have to wait and see if climate justice advocates are able to push this up the agenda, or whether it will be sidelined again by the most powerful players in the room.