'Better Than Nothing': Vulnerable Countries Agree to Compromise in Glasgow Climate Pact

Filipino climate activist Marinel Ubaldo pushes for more decisive action on loss and damage needs of vulnerable countries like the Philippines. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
Rappler
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Glasgow, Scotland

'Better Than Nothing': Vulnerable Countries Agree to Compromise in Glasgow Climate Pact

Vulnerable developing nations took one for the team at United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, compromising on a bid to flesh out financing for coping with climate-fueled disasters in order to finalize a larger agreement.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, greenlit by almost 200 countries on Saturday, November 13, includes a clearer plan for nations to deepen their cuts of planet-warming gases and increase aid for poor countries to prepare for climate hazards. But it left developing countries hanging on some key issues.

Despite this, many in the developing world said it would have to do.

“It’s not perfect, it is not without fault. We have much work to do but it does represent real progress and that is what we need at this moment. We cannot afford no progress,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the atoll nation Marshall Islands that is threatened by sea level rise.

Many other nations of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) echoed this view. Fiji, in its intervention on Friday afternoon, said the COP26 negotiations “represent our best and only chance of securing the collective intent and shared action” to respond to climate change.

Guinea, which spoke for the largest bloc of developing countries, said the group (called Group of 77 and China) felt “extreme disappointment” that their proposed financing facility for coping with climate-influenced disasters was not in the proposed final decision text.

But “in the spirit of compromise,” he said developing countries would “be able to live” with the paragraph in one of the decisions that a “dialogue” be set up for this finance facility.

The Philippines, represented by energy undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella, expressed concerns about the decision text’s gaps in climate finance but said, on the whole, the agreement was workable.

“We believe we still have a long way to go. Perhaps all of you have heard how the Philippines has endured strong typhoons and other impacts of climate change. Yet as a country, we are still here, hopeful,” said Fuentebella.

Below is a summary of key wins and losses for vulnerable, developing countries in the agreement reached in Glasgow.

Wins

  • Commitment by developed countries to “at least double” finance for adaptation (helping communities become more resilient and prepared for climate change impacts)
  • Work program for a new global goal on adaptation
  • Fleshing out of Santiago Network for catalyzing technical assistance for countries sustaining losses and damages from disasters
  • Work program for countries to further reduce carbon emissions
  • Clear wording on reducing emissions by 45% by 2030 and reaching net zero “around midcentury”

Losses

  • No Glasgow loss and damage finance facility, just a “dialogue” to lay the groundwork for such a facility
  • No definition of a new global goal on climate finance
  • Fossil fuel “phase out” weakened to “phase down” and qualifying that this is only covers “unabated” coal power and “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies

The United States and European Union, among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, had opposed the mention of the Glasgow loss and damage finance facility, according to a negotiator from a developing country.

Meanwhile, the use of the weaker “phase down” instead of “phase out” was proposed by India and is seen by some the UK presidency’s way of getting coal-dependent countries onboard.

But this critical phrase in the agreement is unfair to developing countries in another way, according to G77 and China negotiator Vicente Yu.

Phasing down “unabated” coal and “inefficient” subsidies could affect developing countries disproportionately because it’s them, not developed countries, who typically have such.

Developed countries can afford technology that captures and stores carbon emissions from coal power. “Unabated” coal power is coal power that does not come with such technology, something found in developing countries. “Inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies are also often used in developing countries, while richer nations are able to use targeted industrial subsidies which are considered “efficient.”

Thus, unless enough mitigation funding is given to poorer nations, it could be them who will be forced to cut their coal power, not the richer countries. 

Activists disappointed

As developing country negotiators in the plenary hall said the COP26 decisions were acceptable to them, activists from the same countries expressed bitter disappointment just outside the room.

“This is not acceptable to us. We came here with a very clear demand that we need finance for loss and damage for people who are suffering from climate impacts now,” said Harjeet Singh, an Indian activist from Climate Action Network International.

Speaking to Rappler, he said it seemed that rich countries “arm-twisted” developing countries on letting go of the loss and damage finance facility they had been pushing for.

As the summit inched closer to a final agreement, United States’ climate envoy John Kerry called it the “best possible outcome” while COP26 president Alok Sharma of the United Kingdom said it was a “balanced” deal that left “no issue and no party behind.”

But Denise Matias, of Filipino NGO network Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program, said many vulnerable communities will fall through the holes in loss and damage measures left in the agreement.

“Yes, we want to finish this (climate negotiations) now, but at the same time, what about the demands and could climate change really wait until the next COP?” she told Rappler.

The Maldives, in one of its Friday remarks, echoed the warning.

“What is balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time. It will be too late for Maldives,” said the country’s negotiator.

Progress made

Despite a measure of dissatisfaction from many sectors, other negotiators say vulnerable countries aren’t leaving COP26 empty-handed.

“I think we all did the best that we could to move the process forward and ensure that our work on climate change still is able to deliver both action and hope,” said Yu.

The end of the two-week climate talks is also a huge relief to government delegates, experts, and NGOs who risked getting COVID-19 and had to go through many logistical hoops just to attend.

Negotiators battled lack of sleep, missed meals, tension in informal and formal meetings, and pressure from all sides.

Even Alok Sharma, COP26 president, fought back tears as he apologized for the gaps in the process that led to a sudden change in the fossil fuel phase-out phrasing.

For many COP26 attendees, the high-stakes talks took a huge amount of diplomacy, give-and-take, and political will to deliver a measure of progress.

But United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said countries must not rest on their laurels.

At the summit’s closing she said, “Let us enjoy what we have accomplished but let us also prepare for the next chapter of our journey together.”

This story was originally published at Rappler on November 14, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

Banner Image: Filipino climate activist Marinel Ubaldo pushes for more decisive action on loss and damage needs of vulnerable countries like the Philippines. Credit: Pia Ranada

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