COP26 is the last best chance to help climate-vulnerable countries in Asia and the Pacific

Opening Plenary at COP26 credit: UNFCCC
Pasifika Environews

COP26 is the last best chance to help climate-vulnerable countries in Asia and the Pacific

With countries already facing the immediate consequences of climate change—from rising seas and disappearing islands in the small nations in the Pacific, to more powerful storms and landslides in the Philippines, and intense drought and catastrophic flooding all over Asia—the global climate change talks or the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in the Scottish capital of Glasgow opened on Monday (Nov. 1) with a series of impassionate speeches for action.

More than 100 leaders gathered for the first three days of the 12-day intense diplomatic climate negotiations under the COP26 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with world leaders including US President Joe Biden, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, British PM Boris Johnson, India’s PM Narendra Modi and Prince Charles, among others.

COP26 will attempt to decide on the rules to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement that aims to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and secure more ambitious commitments from countries to meet its targets.

“We have moral authority, you have a moral obligation. Together, our coalition of the willing can keep 1.5 alive, keep low-lying island nations above water, keep erratic and severe weather from devastating us all, and keep the trust between nations so that we can keep faith that our children and the grandchildren will have a future,” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in his statement that for small island developing states and other vulnerable nations, “failure is not an option, and failure is a death sentence.”

“We must do more to protect vulnerable communities from the clear and present dangers of climate change. Over the last decade, nearly 4 billion people suffered climate-related disasters. That devastation will only grow,” Guterres told world leaders.

According to a UN report released a week before the opening of the high-level segment of COP26, the world faces disastrous temperature rises this century of at least 2.7 degrees Celsius with the current climate pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions or the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This is far less than the 45% cut scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius that the world leaders are aiming for at COP26.

Current climate pledges of countries credit UNFCCC
Current climate pledges of countries / Credit: UNFCCC.

Meeting financial promises, rebuilding trust and climate justice

Climate finance pledged in 2009 to help vulnerable countries to cope with climate change boils down to a matter of trust and fairness. Poorest countries expressed their concerns over the failure of developed countries to meet the $100 billion a year commitment by 2020. The COP Presidency announced that it will instead arrive in 2023. In Glasgow, countries are also set to discuss about the new post-2025 climate finance commitment.

“We, the islands that are devastated most, demand that your commitment of $100 billion annually be increased to meet the $4 trillion the World Bank reports is needed with substantial shares of climate financing to support costly adaptation needs,” said Palau President Surangel Whipps, Jr. in his remarks.

Whipps stressed the need to establish equitable access to climate financing and viable technological transfer for both mitigation and adaptation.

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih delivered an emotional speech saying that his country will “cease to exist by the end of the century” should there be climate inaction as their islands are slowly sinking.

Like many leaders representing vulnerable communities, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called on world leaders to provide adequate funding to small island nations on the frontlines of climate change.

She added that a 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature would be a “death sentence” for small islands and coastal nations in the Pacific.

“If our existence is to mean anything, then we must act in the interest of all of our people who are dependent on us,” Mottley said.

For Naderev “Yeb” Sano, former climate negotiator for the Philippines and now the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the first order of the day is to show where the money is.

“Climate finance is not aid, it is not a debt we owe. Climate finance is an obligation of rich countries under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement and a moral consequence of the benefits they have enjoyed from burning of fossil fuels and early industrialization driven by their exploitation and subjugation of the Global South,” Sano said. Sano made headlines in Poland at COP19 in 2013 when he spoke tearfully in a plenary as his hometown was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan and led many ‘peoples’ pilgrimages to the climate talks. This time, due to the pandemic, he will not be able to join other climate activists in Glasgow.

Sano added that to build trust between rich and poor countries, there needs to have a talk about scale, accessibility, additionality, and unconditionality, including adequate resources that are commensurate with the needs of vulnerable countries.

“Climate finance should not have any strings attached, and [would be] ideally channeled through the multilateral finance mechanism of the Convention. Bilateral deals are fraught with strings attached and concessions, and therefore should not be the mode of climate finance. Neither should the private sector be relied on for mobilization of finance,” Sano explained. “Rich countries must allocate public financing to solve the climate crisis. Trust is a function of how the parties fulfill their commitments, and the only way to restore trust in the process is for countries to put their actions and resources where their mouths are.”

According to UN, vulnerable countries need up to $300 billion per year by 2030 for climate adaptation alone.

PH to try to push for climate finance with new set of climate negotiators

Meanwhile, the Philippines delegation led for the first time by Climate Change Commission chairperson-designate and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said they will champion climate finance and climate justice at COP26.

“We will champion climate justice and we will push developed countries pay up in terms of climate financing,” said Department of Finance Assistant Secretary Paola Alvarez.

The Philippine delegation is usually composed of officials from the Climate Change Commission, from various government agencies, civil society groups and non-government organizations. For the first time, COP26 Philippine delegation come from the Department of Finance, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Environment Department. Only two of the 18 government officials have experience in the UN climate talks negotiations.

When asked about the composition and the capacity of the Philippine delegation in diplomatic negotiations at COP26, former climate negotiator Sano that he would like to believe that “they are able to champion climate justice and be able to engage in real-time negotiations.”

“The climate negotiations can benefit from the perspectives of new faces, but only if they are prepared, and should always combine with the wisdom of veteran climate negotiators and civil society support. It is glaring that the Philippine delegation does not have civil society representatives and technical advisors who can help in the negotiations,” Sano said.

India’s commitment to net zero by 2070

Touted to be one of the most notable speeches at the high-level segment of the climate negotiations is the pronouncement made by India’s prime minister Narendra Modi wherein he committed India to net zero by 2070— net zero means not adding to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

India is the world’s fourth biggest emitter after China, the US and the European Union. China has announced last year its 2060 net zero target.

What would a successful COP26 look like?

This year’s climate talks is a critical summit for global climate action. This is the most important COP since the landmark Paris Agreement was agreed at COP21 in 2015. It was originally scheduled in 2020 but has been postponed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

COP26 President Alok Sharma said this year is the chance for world leaders to show leadership in addressing climate change, that is taking action on how countries would limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius set under the Paris Agreement.

The four official goals of COP 26 are: secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilize finance; and work together to deliver these goals.

This story was originally published in Pasifika Environews on November 2, 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: The opening plenary at COP26 / Credit: UNFCCC.

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