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What do developing countries need from COP26?

dry earth

It’s perhaps natural to think about your own country and community when talking about climate change.

Consider how the TV news covers rising sea levels. They show floodwaters around Buckingham Palace and The Statue of Liberty. 

But it isn’t affluent Western nations that will bear the brunt of climate disaster. Developing countries are likely to be the most impacted by climate and are the least able to afford its consequences. 

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows that the planet has a narrow chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Exceeding the 1.5-degree threshold would be catastrophic, especially for developing countries. 

COP26 President Alok Sharma has said that richer nations must deliver now on long-promised funding to help poorer countries fight climate change. However, the pledge to commit $100bn a year by 2020 (a pledge made in 2009) hasn’t been met, and a revised plan to reach $100bn by 2023 has been described as “extremely disappointing”. 

Why are developing countries most at risk from climate change?

Developing countries are (historically) responsible for a very small proportion of the emissions that drive climate change. 

These poorer countries are also more vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, for two reasons: 

  1. They’re generally more dependent on the natural environment for food and jobs.
  2. They have less money to spend on mitigation.

As we’re seeing, it’s hard for rich countries to remove carbon and fossil fuels from their economies. It stands to reason that it will be even more challenging for developing nations, where there’s less money available for the necessary technology and infrastructure.

Simon Stiell, climate and environment minister of Grenada, said: “All eyes are now on the G20. They must step up.

“The G20 are responsible for 80% of global emissions. If they really want to address it, then between them they can. It is really that simple. They have the knowhow to manage it, they have the resources, and they have the responsibility.”

The G20 includes countries like China, Australia, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the US and Japan.

Stiell said long-term targets for reaching net zero were not enough. “Net zero by 2050 is wonderful but we will be long gone by then – low-lying islands will be underwater. Hurricanes will have blown us away,” he said.

Money talks

Faustin Munyazikwiye is lead negotiator for Rwanda and says that more finance from rich countries is crucial to help the most vulnerable countries cope with the impacts of extreme weather.

He said: “Climate finance is the main challenge, and the most important aspect of our negotiating strategy. It is needed to ensure that climate-vulnerable countries are adequately equipped to fight climate change. In Rwanda, for instance, we calculate that we need at least $11bn in investment. While we have committed to financing some of this investment domestically, collaboration with international partners is essential.”

The charity Jubilee Debt Campaign says lower income countries spend five times more on debt than dealing with the impact of climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

Thirty-four of the world’s poorest countries are spending $29.4bn on debt payments a year compared with $5.4bn on measures to reduce the impact of the climate emergency.

Even when money is made available, it comes with conditions that make it practically impossible for developing nations.

The BBC says: “By 2018, about three-quarters of the government money made available for climate action in developing countries was in the form of loans that need to be paid back, rather than grants that do not.”

Many of these countries are already in serious debt; adding more to the debt mountain will only increase their woes in the long run.

What’s happened so far at COP26?

There’s been some progress. Not enough yet, but substantial enough to be built upon.

The UK has pledged new funding totalling £290 million. This will help countries across Asia and the Pacific better prepare for extreme weather and other potential change

Additionally, 12 donor governments have pledged $413 million in new funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund. 

A group of 100 countries have said they will end deforestation by 2030.

The message from the world’s developing countries is simple – if you want to meet ambitious climate targets, you need to help us pay for them.

Failure to deliver on these targets will condemn the most vulnerable nations to a perilous future.

The same old approach isn’t going to work, not for us, and certainly not for the developing world. New solutions must be embraced – as part of a blended model – if we’re to pull the planet from the brink of catastrophe.

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