The Platform

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Wealthier nations are slowly waking up to the reality of climate change. For some poorer nations, it might be too late.

The science of climate change is clear: the planet is currently facing a historic climate emergency. Eight years have passed since the landmark Paris Agreement, yet only one African country has managed to meet its carbon emissions reduction target of 1.5° Celsius.

In May, the World Meteorological Organization issued a warning that global temperatures are expected to reach record levels in the next five years. “Global temperatures are likely to surge to record levels in the next five years, fueled by heat-trapping greenhouse gases and a naturally occurring El Niño event…There is a 66% likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than [1.5° Celsius] above pre-industrial levels for at least one year. There is a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period as a whole, will be the warmest on record.”

Last year, Pakistan experienced devastating monsoons that caused widespread devastation. One-third of the country was flooded, impacting 33 million people and resulting in 1,700 deaths. It also led to the displacement of 8 million individuals and caused $30 billion in damages.

In their excellent article titled “A $30 Billion Disaster Is Just the Tip of a Deadly Climate Cycle,” Coco Liu and Faseeh Mangi highlight the pernicious pattern driven by climate change in Pakistan. “Climate change is driving more intense rainfall, which drives more intense flooding, which stymies recovery from past floods…While Pakistan is no stranger to monsoons, 2022 was unprecedented. Flooding lasted more than four months, and at its height left a third of the country submerged. The worst climate disaster in the country’s history, the floods were responsible for an economic hit of more than $30 billion, or roughly 10% of Pakistan’s 2021 economic output.”

The world is now facing an unprecedented and dangerous situation due to climate change. The lack of urgency displayed by world leaders and the general public is astonishing.

Fortunately, world leaders have recently started to acknowledge the perils of inaction in the face of the global climate emergency. A climate summit was held in Paris in late June with the goal of establishing a framework for a New Global Financial Pact. This pact is intended to help poor countries gain access to crucial climate and development funding. The summit also aimed to revamp the global banking and aid system that has hindered the efforts of developing countries to eliminate poverty and build environmental resilience.

Over 100 world leaders attended the summit, but only two leaders from the Group of Seven most developed countries, Frech President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, were present. The United States was represented by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and President Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry. Other attendees included China’s Premier Li Qiang, World Bank head Ajay Banga, and IMF President Kristalina Georgieva.

Although the summit did not have the authority to make formal decisions, Macron pledged to deliver a to-do list accompanied by a progress-tracking tool. A 15-page document released shortly after the summit heavily relied on calls for action from organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The document proposed changes such as altering the way risk is assessed for projects in the developing world and financing projects using local currency. These moves could reduce borrowing costs, which are typically much higher for low-income nations that face significant challenges in adapting to climate change while grappling with poverty and numerous other issues.

During the summit, Yellen stated that the United States would use the opportunity to push for relief and debt restructuring for developing countries. Additionally, the World Bank announced plans for implementing “pause clauses” for countries affected by natural disasters.

Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, has been a vocal advocate for assisting poor countries in preparing for the climate crisis and is leading the fight to find solutions. She has consistently raised concerns about the inequities of global wealth and power, particularly in UN climate change negotiations, which often overlook the interests of the poorest nations.

At the 2021 COP26 in Glasgow, Mottley criticized wealthy nations for their failure to effectively address the catastrophic effects of climate change in a timely manner. She also argued that a country’s per capita income does not always accurately reflect its wealth.

To their credit, Macron and other summit participants engaged in thorough discussions on various issues, albeit with expected disagreements. One contentious topic was the imposition of global taxes. John Kerry stated that the U.S. did not have an official position on taxes related to shipping, aviation, or fossil fuels. The concern for the U.S. lies in the fact that China is not being asked to contribute to any loss and damage fund proposal.

Kerry clarified his personal support for revenue-raising measures but emphasized that it was not the Biden administration’s policy. He highlighted his past support for carbon pricing but stated that he was not advocating for specific taxes or fees at the moment. Nonetheless, he emphasized the need to find ways to secure more concessional funding.

On a positive note, the idea of a global tax on greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping gained support and could potentially be adopted at a meeting of the International Maritime Organization in July. The revenue generated from this tax could be directed toward assisting developing countries in their climate change efforts. Some experts estimate that such a tax could generate $100 billion annually.

The summit also discussed the implementation of an air passenger levy, with a proposal of roughly $5 per passenger. France has already implemented such a levy for the past decade, raising roughly $200 million per year for the global health fund. If applied by other European governments across the EU, this levy could raise over $1 billion annually.

To effectively address the climate emergency, it is crucial to go beyond mere reforms and instead undertake a fundamental transformation of global financial institutions, as Mottley rightly emphasized in Paris. Earlier in 2023, she presented a detailed proposal to fix the global financial system, enabling developing countries to invest in clean energy and enhance their resilience to climate impacts.

Mottley’s plan has garnered widespread support and calls for an overhaul of the Bretton Woods Institutions. She argues that these institutions still reflect the power dynamics of a bygone era, despite the fact that more than three-quarters of today’s countries were not involved in their creation. Her Bridgetown Initiative, launched last year, aims to provide liquidity support, debt restructuring, $100 billion in private capital, and an additional $100 billion in development loans.

It is crucial to document success stories comprehensively. While many developed countries have fallen far behind their climate pledges, some developing nations have taken bold actions to combat the global climate emergency. Tragically, these countries, despite contributing the least to climate change, bear the brunt of its consequences. Thus, the global climate emergency has also become a matter of justice.

Several developing countries have achieved remarkable progress in tackling the climate emergency. They have embraced renewable energy, implemented innovative agricultural practices, and achieved other noteworthy accomplishments. However, the full potential of their success cannot be realized without genuine contributions from the Global North.

One noteworthy success story is The Gambia. Despite facing the most devastating effects of the global climate emergency, a series of climate-driven local movements have turned country into a model for the global climate emergency movement. It is the only country on track to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

It is disheartening that world leaders have collectively failed to grasp the true nature of the global climate emergency or remain unconvinced of its severity. Their smug attitude suggests a lack of acknowledgment. Therefore, the primary issue at hand is to provide undeniable scientific evidence of the reality of the global climate emergency.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.