Main Image Credit Commitments in danger: the UK government has recently increased drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea. Image: Nature Picture Library / Alamy
With COP27 fast approaching, tangible progress towards net zero is limited and, in some cases, has been reversed. While this is a global issue, it is critical that G7 countries continue working towards these goals.
At the close of COP26 in Glasgow, there was global agreement that progress – albeit in pledge form only – had been made towards limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieving net zero. Reducing global emissions to as close to zero as possible is a crucial component of the Paris Agreement. However, with COP27 rapidly approaching, tangible progress is limited and, in some cases, has been reversed. There was disappointment over the last-minute revision to Glasgow’s resolution, where language was ‘watered down’ from promising to ‘phase out’ coal use to instead ‘phasing down’. Yet that disappointment is now overshadowed by the fact that no country is sufficiently on track with its climate goals, especially in the areas of climate finance and ‘fair share’ targets.
Undoubtedly, global cooperation on climate change has been disrupted. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February resulted in a dramatic shift in global priorities owing to conflict-induced global shortages of oil and natural gas that caused prices to skyrocket. Energy-related emissions are predicted to rise by 14% this year, and over 80% of the world’s energy is still supplied by fossil fuels – despite UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling new funding for fossil fuels ‘delusional’. EU emissions during the final quarter of 2021 were ‘higher than any quarter since late 2018’, and sanctions on Russian gas and oil have exposed the EU’s continuing dependence on fossil fuels and vulnerability regarding energy security.
Geopolitical challenges must not impede countries’ progress towards climate goals, particularly in the case of G7 states. The G7 is a bloc of industrialised democracies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – that are responsible for some of the highest emissions per capita and at the same time are the most financially capable of adapting to climate change.
Failure of Developed States in Climate Finance
Climate finance was a major point of discussion during COP26, and many wealthy states promised aid and resources to developing countries to improve climate resilience and capacity. Climate finance primarily consists of grants and private investments to assist underdeveloped countries in adapting to climate change and developing new infrastructure and technology to shift away from reliance on fossil fuels. Included within this concept is support for ‘loss and damage’ – compensation to avert, minimise and address climate change-induced extreme weather events and slow onset events.
Developed countries continually falling short of goals and pledges is affecting the level of trust developing countries have in international climate politics
Wealthy individuals and countries are responsible for the majority of emissions and climate impacts. Developed countries began emitting carbon earlier than the rest of the world, giving them more time to develop robust economies that will enable them to adopt green technology and mitigate climate impacts. Despite the country having contributed less than 0.4% of historic carbon emissions, deadly floods in Pakistan have cost the country an estimated $10 billion and have left hundreds of thousands of people without access to adequate housing, illustrating the disproportionate toll climate change can have on less developed states.
The $100 billion per year goal for annual climate finance – which was deemed a ‘fraction of the investment needed to tackle the climate crisis’ – has not yet been met. While there have been greater contributions from G7 countries since COP26, these contributions still fall far short of what is needed. Despite accounting for 30% of the world’s energy use, the US has never contributed more than $7 billion in a fiscal year. President Joe Biden has pledged to increase this to $11.4 billion, a figure that will still fall short of what is needed to achieve net zero. While the UK has increased funding, it has also recently increased drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea, ‘neglecting alternative measures’ to provide relief from soaring energy bills, despite promises to prioritise clean energy and ‘build back greener’.
Lack of Trust and Responses of Developing States
Developed countries continually falling short of goals and pledges is affecting ‘the level of trust’ developing countries have in international climate politics. Frustrated by the lack of promised funds, many states’ willingness and ability to uphold their own climate pledges is diminishing. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) decision in July to begin auctioning peatlands and rainforests in the Congo Basin to oil companies illustrates just this. This is a move that will have devastating environmental, climate and human impacts, and the area has been dubbed the ‘worst place in the world’ to drill for oil. The peatlands are a haven for wildlife and are home to the world’s most important gorilla sanctuary, while Congo’s rainforest – the second largest in the world – serves as a carbon sink for 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 each year.
The DRC has openly stated that ‘climate is not a priority’ – a statement that was met with an outcry from developed countries and environmental groups such as Greenpeace wishing to hold the DRC accountable to COP26 goals and climate obligations. At COP26, a donor group including G7 members such as France, Germany and the UK signed a 10-year, $500 million agreement with the DRC to protect its peatlands and forests. The oil reserves are worth an unconfirmed $650 billion, and the donor group has yet to comment on the DRC’s decision. Chevron and other major energy corporations have also refused to comment over their interest in claiming the blocks of land up for sale.
Despite changes in geopolitics, inflation and rising energy costs over the last year, the international community must not lose sight of our climate goals as we approach COP27
Hypocrisy of Developed States: ‘Do as We Say, Not as We Do’
Criticism of the DRC’s plan to profit from its natural resources, or of India’s continued use of coal, appears hypocritical given that developed states have not only fallen short of their own pledges and climate finance goals, but also not delivered on promises to reduce their own reliance on fossil fuels. The decision by the US to increase drilling for oil by 60% is a prime example. Since March 2021, the G7 has consistently invested more money into fossil fuels than renewables – over $189 billion has been invested to support coal, oil and natural gas – and, despite claiming intentions to ‘eventually’ phase out coal, it has yet to publish plans to achieve this.
Irene Wabiba of Greenpeace Africa was highly critical of the DRC’s decision, noting the great potential for solar and other renewables in the region. However, this echoes criticisms of the UK’s increased drilling in the North Sea, neglecting the country’s capacity for renewables. Developing countries cannot be expected to shoulder the burden of net zero goals and transition from fossil fuels while G7 and other wealthy states increase their own reliance on fossil fuels and continually fall short of climate finance goals.
Despite changes in geopolitics, inflation and rising energy costs over the last year, the international community – particularly G7 states – must not lose sight of our climate goals as we approach COP27 in November 2022. Climate finance and moving to renewable energy sources is the ‘peace plan of the 21st century’, according to Secretary Guterres, and would help the G7 maintain relevance and leadership, setting precedents for other wealthy countries on climate finance and net zero targets. Without direct and tangible action, geopolitical partnership and cooperation is untenable, and other states may follow the DRC’s decision to generate revenue from their natural resources, prioritising ‘poverty reduction’ over ‘saving our planet’. Countries such as the DRC cannot be painted as ‘climate betrayers’ for taking the difficult decision of putting their citizens first, when those with greater wealth, power and capacity continue to fail to meet their obligations to the international community.
The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.
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