Ahead of COP26, there was a sense of urgency and expectation that had not been felt previously. Having been postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the negotiations that were set to take place in Glasgow were not just overdue, they were crucial.
Vulnerable nations have been on the frontlines of the climate crisis for decades, and as the impacts worsen, the cost of inaction is not just measured in dollars, but also in human lives.
The official pre-COP event in Milan highlighted that the rumblings that had been heard throughout the year were serious. This, in addition to the mixed results at the G20 summit set the scene for a tense two-week stretch of negotiations. Led by Barbados PM Mia Mottley’s viral speech during the opening days of COP26, Small Island Developing States and vulnerable nations took centre-stage. Climate finance and accountability, which had been the elephant in the room at pre-COP and the G20, was addressed directly on the first day - and set the tone for the following days.
From the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and Caribbean, leaders spoke out about the issues facing their communities, and the lack of action or accountability from developed nations. Two key issues were central to the discourse: the US$100 billion in climate finance that was meant to be provided to vulnerable nations every year from 2009 to aid in climate mitigation and adaptation, but that had not materialised; and the financial compensation for countries experiencing loss and damage due to climate change. Both international agreements had fallen short of their purview, and developed nations solutions for these issues prior to COP26, had not been received successfully. A clearer picture emerged during the summit.
The US$100 billion pledge is now set to be reached by 2023. Loss and damage proved to be too contentious an issue, and no progress, other than the first mention of loss and damage, was made. While this may seem like a poor outcome, there is a silver lining. Where the public sector and global governments were slow to commit, the private sector and philanthropists have seemed to pick up the slack, evident in the creation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a platform that unites 450 global companies worth US$130 trillion that are seeking to fund the transition to net-zero, or the Jeff Bezos Earth Fund’s US$10 billion commitment to environmental conservation.
As Justine Lucas, the Executive Director of the Clara Lionel Foundation, explained in the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator’s (CCSA) recent virtual event, “There’s a role for philanthropy for climate action - governments have a role to play but philanthropy can help in the development. Donors want to see an end goal, a sense of change for climate change in the region.” She continues, “we need to engage in collaborative financing and mobilise these finances to the Caribbean. It is possible to engage in trust-based philanthropy for climate resilience.”
Although public finance was not as forthcoming at COP26 as hoped, the private sector has rapidly been shifting towards more environmental investment and sustainable development. While diplomacy takes time, businesses and philanthropists find themselves less tethered to red-tape. Net-zero goals are embraced by companies as much as governments, and financing local resiliency or climate action programmes is not just an investment in mitigation or adaptation, but also improving the community’s resilience. The private sector and local communities are not waiting on international aid - they are working towards their own solutions.
Labelling COP26 as a failure is not a fair assessment of the summit. There was progress made, such as recommending the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies and stopping the financing of overseas coal plants. There were compromises, namely the current commitments that take us to 2.4°C rather than the 1.5°C necessary to minimise the extent of the destruction already being experienced, and the climate finance promised to vulnerable nations. Of course, there were some failures - loss and damage sticks out prominently, as does the lack of tracking of pledges, which the UN has now committed to undertake with greater rigour. Overall though, progress was made. Are we better off than before the Glasgow summit? Yes. Could it be better? Spectacularly so, but as the UK’s Lead Climate Negotiator Archie Young put it, “Imagine bringing together 197 friends and getting them all to agree on where to go to lunch.”
COP27 will be held in just under a year in Egypt and delegates will once again take stock of the progress made during 2022. Change is incremental and does not happen overnight, and even if it seems as though there is a lack of action on the global stage, you can look to your local communities to see that there are solutions being developed and opportunities available. Putting issues of accessibility and climate justice aside, the world is actively working towards improving the future. What we need are more people like you willing to take a stand and make a difference.
—The author is CEO of Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, and the Caribbean’s only UN Ambassador for the Race to Zero