Revisiting pledges made at the UN’s climate talks

In 2009, the developed countries most responsible for global warming pledged to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing nations deal with its consequences. The commitment has still not been met, generating mistrust and reluctance among some developing nations to accelerate their emissions reductions.

This has now emerged as the major issue during the ongoing 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change. The $100 billion was promised during COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark - one of the more important of these annual conferences held under the auspices of the UN. It was also the first to be held after the current Awami League-led government under Sheikh Hasina came to power earlier that year.

In a lecture at Sweden's Lund University following her participation at the conference, the prime minister expressed satisfaction over a 'reasonable conclusion' of the UN Climate Change Conference, saying that there are certain areas that need to be finalised in the future.

"An agreement has been reached taking in most of our concerns. There are certain areas that would be finalised in the coming days to safeguard the earth's existence threatened by global warming," she said to the teachers and students of the university.

Not surprisingly, she is one of the few world leaders who participated in COP15 still in office. Anyone else is not in a very prominent role, whereas Bangladesh has over the years slowly grown into one of the leaders of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Although not attending this year's event, her government's role therefore at the conference is considered very important, as a standoff emerges between the poorer, vulnerable countries and the industrialised world.

Speaking to an EU delegation in her office this week, with COP27 already underway, Sheikh Hasina said that the rich countries responsible for global warming are not keeping their promise to help developing nations deal with its consequences through financial assistance.

"The rich countries are not keeping their promises," she told the five-member delegation led by EU Commissioner for Home Affairs YIva Johansson during the meeting.

Johansson wanted to know the steps taken by Bangladesh to address the impacts of climate change.

The prime minister narrated how the government had already with its own resources taken steps for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

She mentioned that many trees are being planted across the country as part of government's efforts at mitigating the effects of climate change. "Bangladesh is able to manage any kind of disaster."

COP27 is taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 6-18 November 2022 where Bangladesh is playing a crucial role as one of the top actors on behalf of the vulnerable countries that are desperate to get funds to tackle the impacts of climate change.

Meanwhile in Sharm El Sheikh, the Bangladesh delegation at this year's conference is being led by Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Shahab Uddin, who has said that Bangladesh will urge the developed countries for the $100 billion that they had promised to provide to the countries affected by climate change.

In an interview with our sister newsagency UNB at the venue, the minister also said that Bangladesh expects the world leaders to implement Glasgow-Sharm El-Sheikh Work Program on The Global Goal on Adaptation at this year's climate conference.

"To implement the National Adaptation Plan prepared by the Bangladesh government, we need $230 billion till 2030. We hope that international organisations like the United Nations will help us execute the plan effectively," Shahab said.

He said that allocation of funds by the rich countries, which are the top emitters of harmful carbon dioxide, would top Bangladesh's demand at COP27.

"According to the Standing Committee on Finance, the developing nations need $8.8 to $9.9 trillion till 2030 to deal with the climate change-induced losses. Besides, the rich countries need to reduce the emission of greenhouse gas by 45 percent within 2030 to keep the rise of temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Bangladesh will strongly urge the developed countries to take these facts into cognizance," Shahab said.

Asked about what happened to the Paris Agreement, the minister added that the decisions laid out in the agreement haven't been implemented yet.

"Developed countries are yet to provide their promised money to the Green Climate Fund. A decision was taken to equally distribute the money of the fund among the climate vulnerable countries, which is yet to happen. Besides, developing countries haven't recovered from the losses caused by climate change yet. These issues will be discussed at COP27," Shahab added.

Shahab also said that although Bangladesh is a victim of impacts of climate change, the country doesn't contribute to the rise in temperature.

"Bangladesh's per capita per area greenhouse gas emission was at 0.2 tons a decade ago. This amount has increased to 0.6 tons in recent years due to urbanisation and industrialisation. On the contrary, developed countries emit 10 to 15 tons per capita of greenhouse gas, while the amount is 4 to 5 tons in rapidly developing countries. Although Bangladesh doesn't contribute to climate change, unfortunately we're one of the worst victims of this calamity," Shahab said.

Shahab added that Bangladesh has been witnessing a surge in the signs of climate change for the last couple of years.

"Rivers created from the glacial lakes (lakes formed through the melting of ice) are falling into the Bay of Bengal crisscrossing Bangladesh. This water system is having adverse impacts due to climate change. Sea level is rising and salinity is increasing, while irregular and excessive rain is happening. In a nutshell, all the signs of climate change are now visible in our country," Shahab added.

Asked about Bangladesh's preparations to face climate change, Shahab said that the government has beefed up its activities to reduce the risks posed by the global crisis.

"To tackle climate change, the government has taken up a total of 789 projects at a cost of Tk 3,362.32 crore. The entire amount has already been allocated for the execution of the projects.

Besides, the drafts of National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan 2022-2041 have also been finalised," Shahab said.

The vital United Nations conference, billed as one of the last chances to stave off climate breakdown, is taking place amid a multitude of competing crises, including the war in Ukraine, high inflation, food shortages and an energy crunch.

Negotiators are spending frantic days discussing whether to formally consider the issue of loss and damage (see later story), or reparations, to vulnerable nations suffering from climate change, and the issues, which weighed on the talks for years.

Show me the money

For Bangladesh, climate finance is one of the major topics to be broached at COP27. The Bangladesh delegation has said it will try to convince the developed countries to deliver on the $100 billion finance per annum that they had promised to provide to the countries hit by climate change earlier.

"After the Paris Climate Accord was signed in 2015, a rulebook or guideline was being formulated to implement the agreement all these years. The rulebook was approved at COP26 in Scotland's Glasgow last year," Bangladesh delegation member and Department of Environment Director Ziaul Haque told UNB.

"At Glasgow, the developed countries promised to do what it takes to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent in 2030 compared to 2010 to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. However, in the last one year, they were long on promises but woefully short on deliveries," Ziaul said.

Low- and lower-middle-income nations need financial support to lower their susceptibility to climate shocks and vulnerabilities and adapt to the rapidly changing environment.

At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to mobilising $100 billion every year by 2020 for the developing countries to help them undertake climate actions. The commitment was later extended to 2025 at COP21 in Paris.

The Bangladesh delegation members said: "Unfortunately, that target has not yet been reached and largely missed."

The developed countries provided and mobilised $83.3 billion in overall climate finance in 2020, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Also, combining both the demand for mitigation and adaptation, the financing amount of $100 billion committed at that time, remains insufficient, to say the least, the Bangladesh delegation members said.

So, how developed countries will meet the $100 billion target and how climate finance will be arranged post-2025 is crucial for least developed and developing countries, they added.

"Against this backdrop, the COP27 presidency of Egypt envisions moving from negotiations and planning to implementation," Md Shamsuddoha, a climate expert observing the climate conference, said.

South Asia United

The charge on behalf of extracting the concessions from the developed world is in many ways being led by Pakistan this year. The country currently chairs the G-77 group, composed of 134 developing countries at the UN, and Pakistan's prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, is a vice chair of COP27. Before the conference began, Islamabad succeeded in putting the issue of loss and damage onto the summit agenda. As currently envisioned, loss and damage financing would involve developed, or industrialised countries, providing support to developing countries on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Following, or rather despite the pledge made in 2009, the industrialised countries have long resisted such a policy, fearing it will make them vulnerable to continuous demands for compensation, given their outsized production of greenhouse gas emissions. But Pakistan has a golden opportunity, according to South Asia expert Michael Kugelman, to make the case for wealthy countries to embrace loss and damage aid and for international donors to make new commitments for aid focused on adaptation and mitigation.

That is because Pakistan's catastrophic floods this year-triggered by early and intense monsoon rains-offer a vivid example of why loss and damage is so compelling. The disaster, which submerged one-third of the country and affected 33 million people, provides a perfect data point. The flooding and its aftermath have so far cost the cash-strapped country around $40 billion, as well as a projected 2.2 percent decline in GDP.

So Pakistan has not only full support from the G-77 but also from its neighbors. Support for loss and damage is a rare point of policy convergence in South Asia. Excluding India, the region contributes relatively little to global greenhouse gas emissions. But it is one of the world's most climate-vulnerable areas and suffers from high levels of poverty-meaning that its residents are some of the most affected by climate change.

Shortly before COP27, Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav released a statement calling for action on climate finance, adaptation, and loss and damage. Bangladesh's environment minister, Md. Shahab Uddin, has promised to push for loss and damage funding, too. In his COP27 speech, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that developing countries "need to be compensated for loss and damage." Even Afghanistan's Taliban have echoed the language of loss and damage.

With its greater global clout, India could play a key role in advocating for loss and damage financing. India made some ambitious carbon-emissions-reduction pledges at last year's climate summit, although it has also been blamed for scuppering a more binding overall agreement. It has also come up with mitigation strategies, including major investments in renewable energy that have made it one of the world's fastest-growing solar markets. India's efforts can drive home a powerful message: Developing countries may seek loss and damage help, but they are also willing and capable when it comes to fighting climate change.

Having said that, the history of these conferences teaches us not to expect immediate policy success. It's a major victory for South Asia and its G-77 partners just to get loss and damage on the summit's agenda. But the negotiations over loss and damage will be long and acrimonious, and there's unlikely to be any agreement by the end of COP27.

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