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Stumbling UN Climate Negotiations Raise Fears for 1.5°C Target

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  • Jun 22, 2021 3:18 pm GMT
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With scarcely four months before this year’s United Nations climate conference convenes in Glasgow November 1, negotiations are stumbling over multiple hurdles—from a frustrating and largely unproductive set of mid-year negotiations over the last 2½ weeks, to rich countries’ failure to deliver on promises ranging from climate finance to international access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“The international goal to limit global warming seemed far away this week, as the most recent round of United Nations climate negotiations ended with concerns about a lack of progress on key issues like climate financing for developing countries and a global framework for a carbon market, seen as a key tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Inside Climate News reported Saturday. That was after the G7 countries kept their promises vague on what COP 26 President Alok Sharma has called their “totemic” promise of US$100 billion per year for climate finance, while allowing brutal international inequalities in vaccine distribution to become a metaphor for their response to the climate crisis.

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The 2½ weeks of online technical negotiations were hosted by the UN climate secretariat as “a scheduled part of the process for implementing [the Paris climate agreement] and an important stepping stone toward the next international climate meeting, COP 26,” Inside Climate writes. Mid-year meetings of the subsidiary bodies, as the UN calls them, are a standard part of the COP process, meant to generate negotiating momentum and clear as many granular, technical issues as possible before the full conference convenes.

But this year’s session didn’t end on an optimistic note. “During a press conference ending the talks, Sharma did not seem confident that the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C was still within reach,” and he said a much-anticipated new assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will likely add to the urgency, Inside Climate says.

With no breakthroughs in what UN Climate Secretary Patricia Espinosa described as an “exhausting” series of online talks, Sharma is now planning to convene a “representative group of ministers” to discuss next steps late next month, The Associated Press reports. The virtual meeting “saw numerous technical glitches and required participants to share the burden of joining meetings before dawn, during the afternoon, or late at night,” AP says, “depending on their respective time zones.”

But while Sharma is determined to host a face-to-face COP in November, there’ve been concerns about whether delegates from developing countries will be able to meet strict COVID-19 safety requirements—or whether they’ll be willing to justify doing so, when unequal vaccination rates among countries have left health and other front-line workers in their countries unprotected.

“In some ways, the vaccine issue is a metaphor for the larger climate issue,” said E3G Senior Associate and veteran climate negotiator Alden Meyer. That reflects climate campaigners’ fear “that failure to muster a strong response to COVID-19 will send a signal to developing countries that wealthy nations will leave them high and dry as the impacts of climate change start to mount,” Time Magazine writes. “That, many believe, would hamper the motivation to take on mitigation efforts in the developing world—just as the needs grow more urgent.”

Saleemul Huq, director of Bangladesh’s International Centre for Climate Change and Development, agreed that time is slipping away, telling Inside Climate that the urgency of the climate crisis calls for decisions every day, at every level of climate diplomacy.

“If these annual meetings are to remain relevant they should take stock of which countries are complying with their respective Paris Agreement obligations and which are not,” he said. “The latter need to be named and shamed, for example, Australia, and then have stronger penalties applied to them.”

As Inside Climate notes, the Paris deal “doesn’t include any penalties, but countries without adequate policies to reduce greenhouse gases may feel economic consequences from border carbon taxes and other economic measures being discussed internationally.”

In the wake of the failed G7 summit earlier this month, Huq is questioning whether developing countries should bother showing up for the COP. The meeting made it clear “that rich countries have simply decided to ignore [their] collective finance commitment—and each country is calculating for itself what it is supposed to provide and what they will count towards their respective share,” he writes.

Huq lays out three conditions under which the G7 must resolve the climate finance issue before the COP, ideally at their next meeting in Italy in September: a clear division of funds between climate mitigation and adaptation, a formula for determining how each developed country will contribute the $100-billion goal, and a clear picture of how the countries will make up their 2020 funding shortfall and hit the full target each year through 2025.

“If the money is not delivered before November,” he adds, “there is little point in climate-vulnerable nations showing up in Glasgow to do business with governments that break their promises.”

Espinosa was sharply critical of the G7 for its lack of promise on a climate finance commitment that now dates back to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. “We’re still very far away from being fully confident of having a full success at COP 26,” she told The Observer. And “regarding finance, I’d have really hoped for a clearer signal on how and when we will be able to see the commitment to mobilize the $100 billion fulfilled.”

And yet, at the end of her own organization’s subsidiary body meetings, Espinosa said climate finance wasn’t even discussed. “Not all of the issues were addressed simply because there is not enough time,” she told Agence France-Presse. “Finance was not addressed at the session.”

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 22, 2021

That was after the G7 countries kept their promises vague on what COP 26 President Alok Sharma has called their “totemic” promise of US$100 billion per year for climate finance, while allowing brutal international inequalities in vaccine distribution to become a metaphor for their response to the climate crisis.

This is a scary and harsh (and pretty fair) note-- we're running out of time

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