On the 20th and 21st of October 2021, a virtual event titled COP26 and the Climate Crisis: SOAS Briefing and Regional Perspectives was hosted by the SOAS Regional Centres and Institutes, Centre for Environment, Development and Policy and Centre for Sustainable Finance.
While the first day of the event focused on what the SOAS perspective implies for our understanding of COP, climate change and sustainability, the second day was centred on regional perspectives. My aim in the following blog series is two-fold. In parts 1 and 2, I will present some of the key insights provided on the first day of the SOAS event. Then, in parts 3 and 4, I will evaluate to what extent COP26 has addressed the issues and hopes expressed by the SOAS academic community. For a concise, snappy and timely overview of the SOAS COP26 Briefing as a whole, I suggest you have a look at the following blog entry by Imogen Ashfield. Obviously, I’m not the first scholar at SOAS to offer reflections on COP26; other excellent contributions can be found here.
One of the first PechaKucha presentations was held by Tom Tanner, who rightfully reminded us of the fact that the SOAS perspective is informed by the realisation that climate change Impacts, Responsibilities and Response Capacities (IIRC) are differentiated across the globe. I’ve decided to abbreviate this perspective as the IRRC principle and it’s important to mention that it is formally considered to be one of guiding principles in international climate negotiations. The renowned 1995 Kyoto Protocol drew a distinction between industrialised (Annex I) and developing (Non-Annex I) countries. From 2008 to 2020, legally binding greenhouse gas emission targets only applied to Annex I countries.
The 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen was supposed to result in new international agreements for the post-2020 period but ultimately failed to achieve a binding consensus. Six years later, the sour taste of COP15’s deep divisions and the vast rift between developed and developing countries was dissipated with the fresh hope embodied in the Paris Agreement. Harold Heubaum mentioned that a transparent and inclusive negotiation process led to a concrete agreement on how to keep global temperatures below 2 (but preferably 1.5) degrees. Each signing party, Annex I and Non-Annex I countries alike, now had to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to emission reductions in the period ranging by 2020.
This brings us to an assessment of the post-Paris aftermath and the pivotal nature of COP26. Felicia Jackson’s presentation revealed how the pre-COP26 state of climate action (which includes submitted NDCs) ranges from critically insufficient to insufficient in light of the Paris Agreement goal to limit global temperatures. Interestingly, the climate action ratings of Costa Rica, Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco, but also the UK, are deemed almost sufficient, while those of the EU, Norway, Switzerland and the USA are deemed insufficient. The only Paris compatible climate action rating is achieved by The Gambia. This essentially goes to show that the principle of globally differentiated IRRC is not as fundamental as it ought to be. Even more, in 2030 the NDCs which have been submitted so far are projected to lead to a 16.3% increase in carbon emissions compared to 2010.
Overall Climate Action Tracker Ratings as of September 2021. Source: CAT, 2021
Another area that reveals a lack of commitment towards the IIRC principle is that of climate finance. At COP15 in 2009, developed countries pledged to provide an annual sum of $100bn to developing countries for the purpose of climate change adaptation and mitigation. For 2019, the annual sum was only $79.6bn – the highest it’s ever been. So far, the primary source for this finance has been public and Christine Oughton informs us that the bulk of this public finance is extended as loans with competitive (non-concessional) interest rates. Yannis Dafermos and Ulrich Volz put things in perspective by showing that an annual flow of $79.6bn worth of climate finance from industrialised to developing countries colours pales compared to the $800bn spent on global fossil fuel financing in 2019. The lack of stronger agreements regarding the composition of climate finance and the decomposition of fossil fuel finance, is keeping actors ever-so distant from adequate climate finance, on the one hand, and ever-so caught up in fossil fuels, on the other.
Climate finance for developing countries, mobilised by developed countries. Source: OECD, 2021
Considering the proximity of the holiday season, I guess we could say that “all SOAS wanted for COP26 is strong and equitable adjustments to NDCs, more involvement of private actors in the provision of climate finance and commitments to halt the financial funding flows to fossil fuels. Of course, SOAS hoped for more than this! In part 2 of this blog series, we’ll augment the SOAS wishlist with considerations on Loss and Damages, Just Transitions and Article 6.
Dr Chandni Dwarkasing is a postdoctoral fellow at the SOAS Department of Economics working on climate change policies, low-carbon transitions in developed countries and abstraction and formalization practices in the field of Ecological Economics.