COP27 shows us that governments have short memories
It’s only been a year since the world descended on Glasgow for the Cop26 climate summit: when Boris Johnson hailed the ‘dead end of coal power’; when then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined plans to “rewire the global financial system for net zero”; when Alok Sharma, the conference president, pleaded with delegates around the world to “protect this package” that was finally offered.
Fast forward to today, as COP27 is about to begin in Egypt, and this government’s global leadership and climate commitments are in tatters. The net zero fund center cannot be found; oil and gas licenses are handed out with abandon; the mere decision on the Cumbria coal mine has once again been delayed; Sharma and Graham Stuart, the climate minister, were removed from their posts; and Sunak, now prime minister, must have been ashamed to run for the top.
To say that this does not bode well would be an astonishing understatement. As our government has abandoned policy after target after manifesto promise, the destruction of the climate has continued apace.
Devastating floods in Pakistan have killed 1,500 people and displaced nearly eight million, leaving communities without shelter, food or water. The 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 people 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 northern emitters who continue to burn climate-destroying fossil fuels at will. Rich countries are responsible for 92% of historical excess emissions, Oxfam reports, and almost 40% of current emissions, despite being home to just 15% of the world’s population.
Corporations and wealthy individuals are also responsible. The emissions of the richest 1% are more than double those of the poorest half of humanity. Only 100 companies have been responsible for 70% of emissions since 1988. And BP’s chief executive has already made it clear that due to our energy crisis – caused in large part by our global reliance on dirty fossil fuels – the company is currently an “automatic checkout”.
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And while a tiny minority blows our shared carbon budget on private jets and luxury SUVs, people in the Global South and future generations are paying the price.
[See also: Rishi Sunak’s vision for “Global Britain” is empty]
The economic costs of this loss and damage are truly staggering. Oxfam estimates suggest they could hit £580bn a year by 2030. Yet rich countries are totally failing to weigh their weight and work for anything close to the regularly promised climate justice. Recent data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that by 2020 we are more than $16 billion short of the (very conservative and still far from large enough) target of $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries.
We cannot have climate justice without a fair and equitable financial agreement for the countries of the South, and without compensation for the damage caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas over the past decades and centuries. It must be the polluters who pay for the damage caused.
In the UK, we have a special role to play in addressing the loss and damage to climate-vulnerable countries from our own fossil fuel extraction. We launched the industrial revolution, fueled by coal and colonialism. Now we must seize the opportunity, as COP27 begins, to act as a global broker on this critical issue and lead by example by contributing more ourselves.
A number of places have already done just that. Scotland became the first country to pledge funding last year in Glasgow. The Belgian region of Wallonia has earmarked €1 million to finance loss and damage to climate-vulnerable countries. And Denmark became the first signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to pledge $13 million in loss and damage.
We know by whom it should be funded, the question is how – and we are not short of options. One is the model proposed at Cop26 by Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, of billions of dollars of special drawing rights (SDRs) issued by the IMF specifically to finance carbon reduction investments. Another is a frequent flyer tax, which would target wealthier individuals and corporations who travel more, and therefore contribute more to climate destruction. We could also impose a carbon tax on big polluting corporations, returning that money to households as a dividend. And there have been many calls for a wealth tax – the massive extraction of fossil fuels has not only driven us to the point of ecological destruction, but has allowed the wealthy to accumulate vast unearned wealth. , thanks to monopolies on their assets.
At the end of the day, we are not short of options for funding an appropriate loss and damage financing mechanism. What is lacking is sufficient political will to make it happen.
As Cop27 begins, the momentum builds and the pressure mounts. It’s time for wealthy countries like the UK to sit up and take notice. Climate justice cannot wait any longer.
[See also: What is on the agenda at Cop27 in Egypt?]