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13 November 2021

“We have been cheated again”: Why developing nations feel silenced at Cop26

As climate negotiations in Glasgow enter their final stage, anger is growing among poorer nations.

By Philippa Nuttall

Countries in the Global South that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are angry. They came to the climate summit in Glasgow in good faith. Yet the latest draft Cop26 agreement that was published today (13 November) does not give them the certainty they want, and need, to know developed countries are serious about ditching all fossil fuels and helping them do the same. They are suffering the worst impacts of extreme weather, but feel rich nations are still refusing to accept their historic responsibility for the crisis.

In 2009, developed countries promised to deliver $100bn a year to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. Yet this money has never been forthcoming in its entirety. An agreement made just before Cop means the full amount — which developing countries are clear is far too small to deal with the task at hand — will not be delivered until 2023.

As part of the Glasgow Cop outcome, developing countries, backed by China, want a “loss and damage finance facility” included in the final declaration. This would improve access to funding that can help populations cope better and faster with the destruction wrought by extreme weather. African nations are already spending up to 10 per cent of annual GDP on adaptation and it can take several years to access funding. But such specific language has not appeared in the latest text, and developing countries feel the issue is again being pushed down the road. 

“Vulnerable countries are being pushed to settle for a never-ending talk shop,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa in Kenya.

“The voices of the most vulnerable and the most impacted by climate change have been silenced, and the interests of the fossil fuel corporations pandered to by the UK Cop presidency,” said Sanjay Vashist, director of NGO Climate Action Network South Asia, after the publication of the latest text. “Instead of building trust, the global south has been cheated again. Instead of funding for loss and damage, we have yet another greenwash that will ensure genocide by extreme weather events in developing countries.”

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Chikondi Chabvuta, southern Africa advocacy lead for Care International, said she was “frustrated at how countries still push for weaker texts in the final hours. For two weeks we have sent the message that we must have loss and damage financing in place and had hoped for a real plan.” She insisted: “Climate justice has to be front of mind for the negotiators now.”

Speaking to journalists, head of Greenpeace Jennifer Morgan reiterated the call made on Friday night by vulnerable countries and campaigners for US President Biden to “step in” and get the EU, US and the UK presidency to move the issue forward and get more ambition in the final text.

It is unclear at the time of writing whether, without further movement, the draft agreement’s current position on loss and damage will prove a red line for developing countries and stop the final agreement being gavelled on Saturday afternoon.

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Wording in the text underlining the need to phase out unabated coal and to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies also survived the night. The very mention of the fossil fuels — the “F-word” — in a UN text has been welcomed by developing countries, but some countries, such as India, highlight it is largely their economies that are still reliant on coal.

Developed countries tend to have moved, or are moving, away from coal towards gas. The narrative from many fossil fuel companies and some countries, such as Russia, is that gas, the lowest-emitting of the fossil fuels, can be a bridge to a cleaner future. But campaigners highlight that renewables are now the cheapest energy source in most countries and that building new infrastructure for an energy source that is incompatible with climate science makes no environmental or economic sense. The International Energy Agency has made it clear there must be no further investment in new fossil fuel supply if the world is to have a fighting chance at holding global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Morgan described the language around fossil fuels in the current version of the text as a “bridge head” that could lead to a breakthrough in the energy transition. “It could be a defining moment in Cop history, but there is a clutch of countries that want to delete it.”

“We will have to fight like hell to keep it in there,” she insisted.

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