The lack of a framework for equity in climate negotiations threatens the life of the vast majority of the world’s population.
The current solutions to the climate crisis presented by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) over the past two decades of mitigation talks are on course to further endanger communities around the world already hit hardest by the effects of climate change.
This is one of the main concerns of climate campaigners, environmental activists and scientists who have sharply criticised the agreement struck and agreed upon by nearly 200 countries at the latest round of negotiations of the COP26 climate summit.
A report released this month by the Civil Society Equity Review explains that the language of the Paris Agreement and the expected emission reduction commitments leave out an integral framework of equity.
This means that current strategies set to counter the climate crisis do not take into account the existing inequalities between countries relating to production, consumption, international debt and environmental damage.
“We can't expect a transition to happen globally without international financial support,” Director of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid USA Brandon Wu told TRT World.
“The effects of climate change are hitting people the worst in places that have very little to do with causing the crisis. Some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries have very low emissions relative to countries like the United States and European countries.”
Wu added that the countries with the highest emissions have a "financial obligation" to support communities to adapt and deal with their losses.
In 2009, the world’s richest nations pledged to provide $100 billion of funding every year by 2020 to help developing countries tackle the climate crisis. That goal has yet to be achieved.
The CSO Equity Review argues that under the present conditions “net zero by 2050” targets are a dangerous distraction from the reality of inequality. Quite simply, fossil fuel phase out targets cannot be achieved if developing countries are left to deal with the impacts of climate change on their own. The transition to renewable energy has to be inclusive and just in order for it to be possible at all.
The fossil fuel industry itself, in the hands of a wealthy minority of the world’s population, has further entrenched an economic system that has amplified global structural injustices historically rooted in colonial and ecological exploitation.
“This isn't even just about money or a just transition to a renewable energy economy. It's also essentially about reparations. Reparations for damages caused,” Wu added.
The myth of net zero
A major criticism of the agreement finalised at the COP26 summit was that oil and gas were not mentioned in relation to emission reduction targets. The emphasis was on coal, which seemingly placed the majority of phase-out responsibility on more coal-dependent countries like China and India.
“Because oil and gas are now more used in the rich world, you see coal being propped up as the major culprit. But we cannot just talk about coal. We also have to talk about oil and gas. The stakes are so high and that's why rich nations do not want to target the fossil fuel industry head on,” Senior Advisor to Climate Action Network International and the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative Harjeet Singh told TRT World.
Although the burning of coal is responsible for 46 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, oil and gas together are not far behind. Both fuels are responsible for about 33 percent of global emissions — G20 countries alone account for 78 percent of all global emissions with the US being the top producer and consumer of oil.
“Clearly, you can find the handprint of the fossil fuel industry all over the text,” Singh said about the COP26 agreement.
Climate activists and scientists have also criticised the “net zero by 2050” target as a licence to continue expanding the fossil fuel industry and polluting. The target also does not take into account the inequalities that would result in developing countries needing to phase-out at a slower pace. Countries like India have been represented as being two decades behind for pledging to reach net zero by 2070.
“This 2050 template has been set by rich countries. If rich countries said that they are going to become net zero collectively by 2030 or 2035, I'm sure China would have said 2040, 2045 and India would have said 2050. So, who is to be blamed for setting such a low bar in terms of net zero or carbon neutral targets?” Singh said.
Despite stark warnings from scientists that the world must reduce fossil fuel production by at least 6 percent yearly, governments are still on course to increase annual production by 2 percent over the coming decade.
The UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) annual production gap report states that, despite reduction pledges, with little to no policy changes in production levels, major economies are set to more than double their production of oil, gas and coal by 2030.
In fact, major oil companies BP and ExxonMobil themselves predicted that oil and gas demand will increase by about 40 percent by 2035 in their annual reports back in 2013.
Even though rich countries are producing substantially more pollution and are more capable of financing a transition to renewable energy, the language so far has placed a disproportionate burden of responsibility on developing countries - countries that have already borne the brunt of the industry’s ecological and humanitarian disasters.
Myths of economic prosperity
Numerous fossil fuel extracting departments, like La Guajira in Colombia, are the poorest, with water conflicts, internal migration and corruption.
Resource-rich Nigeria is highly reliant on humanitarian aid in large part because the country mainly exports the oil that it drills. After nearly four decades of oil production Nigeria became almost completely economically dependent on petroleum extraction by the early 1980s. The conflict in the Niger Delta began in the early 1990s over tensions between foreign oil corporations and a number of the Niger Delta's minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited.
International political structures have economically and politically facilitated major oil companies in acquiring exclusive rights, or concessions to explore and exploit oil-rich regions of the world since World War I.
Since oil has become so deeply linked to the national security interests of states, it cannot be measured as a simple market commodity. The cost of the military framework to support secured access to oil and gas resources are immense.
For example, The Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s left Iraq with an enormous debt burden, estimated at $80 billion. The revenue from Kuwaiti and Saudi oil production was "loaned" to Iraq to support the war effort. The acquired debt, in part, set the conditions that led to the Gulf War of 1991.
The Gulf War was waged by coalition forces from 35 nations led by the United States against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The United States spent about $7.3 billion in military force contributions. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia spent $16 billion each.
The United States Department of Defense's direct spending on the Iraq War of 2003-2010 totalled at least $757.8 billion. But hidden costs not represented in official estimates, such as interest paid on the funds borrowed to finance the war, bring the total to just over $1.1 trillion, according to a report from Brown University.
“Wherever you find fossil fuels, you also find more inequality and more conflicts. The moment we start moving away from fossil fuel extraction, we can tackle inequality and conflict to a large extent if we get our policy architecture right. But this is something that very few people are talking about. The discourse is not yet there,” Singh explained.
Fossil fuel expansion in many developing countries is driven by debt dependency, which has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of the developing world now faces a triple crisis of health, climate and lost development.
The Debt Relief for Green and Inclusive Recovery project developed in the summer of 2020 calls on the G20 to provide debt cuts to a broad range of low and middle-income countries in exchange for a commitment to a green and inclusive recovery.
Where can financing come from? Research has shown for decades how the massive scale of fossil fuel subsidies could be re-directed towards enabling a just transition to renewable energy.
Governments around the world spend more than $420 billion each year subsidising the non-renewable energy sector, according to the UN Development Programme. Analysis by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that the fossil fuel industry benefits from subsidies of $11 million every minute.
The COP26 agreement has called on all countries to accelerate the phasing-out of "inefficient" subsidies for fossil fuels. All countries in the G7, representing the world's largest advanced economies, have previously committed to phase out "inefficient" fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.
According to the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI), the Philippines, Indonesia, Ghana and Morocco have each been able to introduce social support, such as education funds and health insurance for poor families, from the reduction of subsidies to fossil fuel companies.
“These subsidies are essentially public money that we are investing in destroying our climate. It would make sense for it to be redirected in particular to climate action. Given the gap that we see in climate finance for poorer countries, a significant amount of that money should be shifted towards, say, making contributions to the Green Climate Fund, or actually trying to genuinely meet that $100 billion a year goal that rich countries promised over 10 years ago and haven't met,” said Wu.
As extreme weather conditions and pollution threaten the health of the entire planet, we can no longer afford to define economic prosperity by short-term gains and without centering human and environmental well-being. The risk is that much of the world will be left behind.
“Short-termism in the face of the climate crisis is a death sentence for millions.”