It’s only been a year since the world descended on Glasgow for the Cop26 climate summit: when Boris Johnson hailed the “death knell for coal power”; when Rishi Sunak, then the chancellor, outlined plans to “rewire the global financial system for net zero”; when Alok Sharma, the conference’s president, begged delegates from around the world to “protect this package” that was eventually put forward.
Fast forward to today, as Cop27 is about to begin in Egypt, and this government’s global leadership and climate pledges are in tatters. The net-zero financial centre is nowhere to be seen; oil and gas licences are being dished out with abandon; the straightforward Cumbria coal mine decision has been delayed yet again; Sharma and Graham Stuart, the climate minister, have been removed from the cabinet; and Sunak, now Prime Minister, has had to be shamed into turning up to the summit at all.
To say this doesn’t bode well would be a stunning understatement. While our government has shed policy after target after manifesto pledge, climate destruction has continued apace.
Devastating floods in Pakistan have killed 1,500 people and displaced almost eight million, leaving communities without shelter, food or water. Unbearable heat in India has seen temperatures reach 49C. And drought in the Horn of Africa – where it hasn’t rained for two years – has left 22 million on the brink of starvation, according to the UN.
Pakistan and so many other countries are being forced to bear the apocalyptic impacts of a climate emergency caused not by their own people, but primarily by major emitters in the Global North continuing to burn climate-wrecking fossil fuels at will. Rich countries are responsible for 92 per cent of excess historical emissions, Oxfam reports, and almost 40 per cent of current emissions, despite being home to only 15 per cent of the global population.
Wealthy corporations and individuals are responsible too. The emissions of the richest 1 per cent are more than double those of the poorest half of humanity. Just 100 companies are responsible for 70 per cent of emissions since 1988. And BP’s chief executive has already made clear that as a result of our energy crisis – caused in no small part by our global dependence on dirty fossil fuels – the company is currently a “cash machine”.
And while a tiny minority blow our shared carbon budget on private jets and luxury SUVs, people in the Global South and future generations are paying the price.
The economic costs of this loss and damage are truly staggering. Oxfam’s estimates suggest they could be up to £580bn a year by 2030. Yet wealthy countries are utterly failing to pull their weight and work towards anything close to the climate justice regularly promised. Recent data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that in 2020 we were over $16bn short of hitting the (very conservative, and still nowhere near big enough) $100bn target of climate financing for developing countries.
We can’t have climate justice without a fair and equitable financial deal for the Global South, and without compensation for the harm that has been caused by burning coal, oil and gas over recent decades and centuries. It must be the polluters that pay for the damage being caused.
We in the UK have a particular role to play in addressing the loss and damage caused to climate-vulnerable countries, as a result of our own fossil fuel extraction. We kick-started the industrial revolution, fuelled by coal and colonialism. Now we must take the opportunity, as Cop27 begins, to act as a global broker on this crucial issue and set an example by contributing more ourselves.
A number of places have already done exactly that. Scotland became the first country to pledge funding in Glasgow last year. The Belgian region of Wallonia has earmarked €1m for loss and damage funding to climate-vulnerable countries. And Denmark has become the first signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to make a loss and damage commitment, of $13m.
We know by whom this must be funded, the question is how – and we’re not short of options. One is the model proposed at Cop26 by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, of billions of dollars’ worth of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) issued by the IMF specifically to fund carbon-cutting investments. Another is a frequent-flyer levy, which would target the richest individuals and corporations who fly more, and therefore contribute more to climate destruction. We could also levy a carbon tax on major corporate polluters, returning that money to households as a dividend. And there have been widespread calls for a wealth tax – mass fossil fuel extraction has not only taken us to the point of ecological destruction but enabled the richest to accrue vast unearned wealth, through monopolies on their assets.
The bottom line is that we’re not lacking options for funding a proper loss and damage finance facility. What’s lacking is sufficient political will to make it happen.
As Cop27 begins momentum is building, and pressure is rising. It is time for rich countries like the UK to sit up and take note. Climate justice can wait no longer.
This article is a part of a series exploring what we need from Cop27. See more in the series here.
[See also: What is on the agenda at Cop27 in Egypt?]