The Rich World Must Keep Its Word on Climate Aid
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow has made real progress — announcing new and unexpected net-zero pledges, a commitment to reduce methane emissions, and moves to squeeze fossil-fuel funding and end deforestation. But in other ways it has been disappointing. One failure in particular stands out. Rich-country governments came to the conference knowing they’d broken a crucial promise they made more than a decade ago. The summit has yet to set this right.
The world’s wealthiest nations said that by 2020 they’d mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance to help emerging economies fight climate change. They haven’t delivered.
Recent estimates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development say assistance amounted to less than $80 billion in 2019, and it likely fell substantially short in 2020. Governments say they’re on track to supply the promised sum by 2023. Set against what rich-country governments spend on other programs — and remembering what’s at stake — the initial commitment was already far too small. Failing to meet even that goal on time is hard to excuse.
Poor countries have three distinct and exceptionally strong claims on support from the rich world. First, they didn’t cause global warming; the rich countries did. Second, in many cases, they will suffer disproportionately from the consequences. Third, they lack the resources needed to confront the problem effectively. The developed countries need to enlarge the assistance offered and accelerate the timetable for delivering it.
In addition, they should direct their aid more intelligently. For a start, this will require better coordination and disclosure. It means using multilateral climate funds more effectively, and tasking development banks to provide guarantees.
Poor countries need help as well in dealing with the consequences of global warming that can no longer be avoided. Bear in mind that adaptation, essential in its own right, often complements mitigation. Rehabilitating mangroves, for instance, creates a carbon sink while improving protection against storm surges. To cope with rising seas, poor countries will have to invest in resilient crops (such as rice that tolerates salt water) and new infrastructure.
Africa faces some of the highest costs relative to its resources, yet between 2014 and 2018 it received just $5 per person per year toward adaptation. Some of what’s promised is never delivered, and far too much (more than 70% of total public climate finance in 2019) is given as loans, not grants. Many of the countries concerned are already struggling with debt, and vulnerability to climate risks increases their cost of borrowing.
The rich world owes developing countries far more help in grappling with climate change than it has given so far. Putting this right without further delay is an ethical imperative and a matter of compelling mutual interest.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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