COP21 – it’s all about the money

2015-12-13 15:00

Money was at the top of the agenda at COP21 in Paris this week as talks on who will pay to mitigate climate change kept negotiators up late.

While huge issues around financing are still outstanding in the final accord, the Paris agreement made strides in upping finance to help the world’s least developed countries cope with climate change.

The developing world lacks the technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and the infrastructure is too fragile to cope with extreme weather.

As expected, the developing world’s insistence that rich countries supply them with at least $100 billion (R1.6 trillion) a year by 2020 to adapt to climate change and put their economies on a low-carbon trajectory remained a huge sticking point during the two weeks of negotiations. But the Paris agreement at least moved to getting rich countries to start upping their contributions.

Developing countries insisted that the $100 billion be set as a minimum, and that funding starts increasing dramatically after 2020. This funding will ultimately evolve into a crucial instrument for driving the development of climate-resilient infrastructure in Africa.

Most of the developing world’s submitted pledges to cut their carbon emissions were made on the condition that they receive the necessary finances and technology transfers. A number of countries outlined that they could significantly cut emissions beyond their pledges if they had support, but that they would struggle to fulfil promises if left to fend for themselves.

South Africa’s climate change road map, submitted in Paris, stated that the country would not be able to achieve our intended targets if we did not receive some financial assistance. The South African delegation was also incensed by proposals that climate change funding should be limited to the least developed countries only.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said South Africa needed financial assistance to help the country move to a low-carbon economy.

“We are a developing nation, and we need the funds to switch,” she said. “We, as South Africa, are quite insistent that rich countries should come to the party with financing.”

How much money nations need is still unclear. Even South Africa’s financial need is quite vague. A large part of the negotiations this year, and probably next year, will be to iron out a mechanism to determine what will be needed and how to measure what is being donated.

At the Copenhagen talks in 2009, rich nations committed themselves to giving $100 billion to the fund by 2020.

“But we know that is not nearly enough,” said Rashmi Mistry, climate change adviser at Oxfam SA. “What we need going forward is the money to be scaled up.”

Before Paris, only modest pledges had been made, while governance and distribution mechanisms were nowhere to be found.

“It is important that this fund is transparent, and that we know what the money will be used for,” said Mistry.

She said if the agreement failed, countries would only dish out money in bilaterals, undermining transparency. Countries with poor contacts would also lose out.

Rich countries, however, want major developing nations such as China and India to also contribute to the pot. This week, there were several fallouts in the negotiations when it was raised that these major developing countries had enough money in their economies to help out.

The rich countries pointed out that the eight countries, including China, classed as developing had already made “climate finance” contributions that would aid those poorer than them. But Xie Zhenhua, China’s special representative for climate change, said these contributions were bilateral agreements and should not be counted as part of the $100 billion pot.

The Basic coalition (a bloc of four large newly industrialised countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China) several times this week urged rich nations to “progressively and substantially scale up their support” beyond their collective pledge of $100 billion in annual climate financing by 2020.

India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, said the action of the developing world depended on finance and technological support from the developed world.

“Because they have, and we don’t have, the haves must provide,” he said.

So far, the developing world has not seen much of the promised funds.

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