Opinion: Ahead of crucial climate summit, Canada at center of efforts to restore broken confidence in poorest countries

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A general view of the opening session during the second day of the pre-COP26 Youth4Climate conference in Milan, Italy on September 29.

GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE / Reuters

Weeks before world leaders gather for COP26, Canada is at the center of attempts to restore shattered trust between the poorest countries that could derail the historic United Nations conference, where attendees will attempt to define a collective course of action to fight against climate change.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has been tasked, along with his German counterpart, Jochen Flasbarth, to help ensure that developed economies finally meet their pledge to provide $ 100 billion in annual climate finance to developing countries. development. The funding is supposed to both help these poorest countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and help them prepare for the already inevitable impacts of climate change.

Co-leadership reflects Canada and Germany relatively well. They were approached by the UK government, which will host the COP in Glasgow in November, as they were among the first countries to announce this year that they would increase their contributions to the climate finance fund, in order to secure it. closer to the total promised. In the case of Canada, that means doubling its commitment to an average of just over $ 1 billion per year.

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But the last-minute rush that Mr Wilkinson is involved in – which he elaborated on in an interview this week, before leaving for pre-COP meetings in Italy – reflects how wealthier countries (including the Canada) have dropped the ball since the funding pledge was first made over a decade ago.

The annual $ 100 billion was never going to be enough to meet the needs of the beneficiaries, even taking into account that it is intended to mobilize additional private investment. Reaffirmed in the Paris Agreement in 2015, funding was meant to be a starting point for the developed world. And it was meant to serve as a signal to rich countries that they recognize their obligations to the nations that historically have done less to create the climate crisis through emissions, but now face its consequences disproportionately.

If that responsibility had been taken seriously enough, people like Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Flasbarth would now lead the discussions on what to do next. If the $ 100 billion target had already been met or surpassed, they would be working towards a higher annual total. If the developed world cared enough about putting in place strong systems to track contributions and allocations, they would learn from what worked and what did not, and shape future policies accordingly. .

Instead, Canada and Germany are still trying to persuade some countries to increase their contributions enough to reach $ 100 billion per year over the next several years, let alone by 2020, as initially promised.

There has been recent progress, including in the United States, although it remains to be seen whether President Joe Biden’s pledge to double U.S. funds to $ 11.4 billion a year by 2024 will pass through the Congress. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also become a surprisingly forceful advocate. He used a UN speech last week to rebuke developed countries that have yet to step up their efforts.

But Mr Wilkinson and Mr Flasbarth still run into governments that insist they have already done their fair share, lack fiscal capacity after all of their COVID-19 spending, or are not at the point of their budget cycles where they can allocate new funds.

What makes matters even worse, however, is that much of Mr Wilkinson and Mr Flasbarth’s job seems to be in trying to make sense of what has actually been engaged to date, which Mr Wilkinson laughingly called it “not easy.”

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This means aiming for something more up-to-date than the ‘backward looking’ figures compiled by the OECD, which are the best currently available, but only go as far as 2019 (when the organization reported a total of around 80 billions of dollars). And that means determining whether the pledges made by donor countries have actually been accepted, as well as looking for double counting, in which both funds from donor countries to development banks and funds from development banks to development banks. beneficiary countries are counted in the total.

Transparency of figures, said Wilkinson, “is essential for the credibility of this exercise”. The plan is therefore to publish a report, before the start of the COP, on the exact situation and the next steps.

But the lack of a balance sheet before today threatens to thwart the evolution of climate finance policies at the next conference.

At this point, we should be well engaged in a discussion about how much money should be allocated specifically for climate adaptation in the poorest countries. This requires special attention, both because infrastructure in developing countries is not ready for extreme weather conditions and increasingly frequent natural disasters, and because it is more difficult to mobilize private capital. for this type of investment than to mitigate emissions.

There are all kinds of other conversations that should ideally culminate in Glasgow too. How effectively have funds been spent by recipient countries so far, and are mechanisms needed to better track this spending? Is it a problem that most of the funding has been in the form of loans, and does a specific part need to be grants? Are adjustments needed for countries considered to be developing and those which should be giving?

On some of those fronts, Mr Wilkinson predicted that an “active discussion” would begin shortly, possibly even in Italy this week. But it seems unlikely that there was enough prior work for detailed plans to be formed yet.

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At this point, the best hope is probably that there are enough new firm commitments towards the $ 100 billion target to at least allow initial discussions of next steps to begin in earnest – and, most importantly, to allow the funding commitment to regain some credibility.

It doesn’t help matters that with low COVID-19 vaccination rates, poorer countries are currently facing additional challenges, even sending delegates to COP26.

The bigger problem, again, could be skepticism about how seriously they should take anything promised by the richer countries in Glasgow, and to what extent they themselves should participate in good faith.

Mr Wilkinson said that part of his current efforts, in addition to bringing more transparency to funding to date and lobbying allies to increase their share, is to “engage with the developing world, to ensure it understands that the developed world is taking the Paris commitment seriously.

As hard as he works at it, actions will speak louder than words. There is a little over a month left to make up for many years of lost time.

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