Washington: Climate change is already taking place, and as temperatures rise, oceans warm, sea levels rise, and already scarce freshwater resources in some areas decrease, its effects will only worsen. Conflict and migration will be exacerbated by this, especially in the Middle East and Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable countries.
This was one of the messages from attendees at a panel discussion on the topic of “Climate Injustice?,” which was held on Wednesday at the Middle East Institute in Washington. How less developed countries are bearing the brunt of climate change.
In comparison to wealthy, developed Western countries, many poorer nations contribute less to the carbon emissions that cause climate change, but they bear the brunt of its effects, according to Mohammed Mahmoud, director of the institute’s Climate and Water Program.
According to him, three main factors determine which nations are most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change both now and in the future.
First of all, as sea levels rise, countries with extensive coastlines and island nations run the risk of losing land mass and flooding. Additionally, the intrusion of saltwater could “compromise” their sources of fresh groundwater.
Second, even small increases in global temperatures can have a significant impact on countries with a high heat index, particularly those that are close to the equator and receive a lot of solar radiation.
The third and most crucial factor, according to Mahmoud, is the present scarcity of fresh water in some nations.
The distinction between these broad categories is made interesting by the fact that they are all found in the Middle East and North Africa region, the author continued. The likelihood of crises related to climate change increases as more of these problems are faced by nations in the region.
The panelists concurred that a country’s ability to effectively combat the impending threats of climate change is greatly influenced by its economic strength, or lack thereof.
Countries in East Africa, for instance, which are already dealing with the worst drought in decades and have fragile economies, will be less able to deal with the effects of climate change than, say, a Gulf country like Bahrain, which is water-stressed but much better equipped economically to deal with potential problems
Mahmoud stressed the importance of nations’ financial capacity to address climate change-related issues, including their ability to pay for the tools and technologies they require to address their particular issues. The right education and training must also be a part of the overall plan to lessen the effects of climate change, he continued.
Financial stability is crucial, but according to Ayat Soliman, the World Bank’s regional director for sustainable development for Eastern and Southern Africa, there is a certain amount of “injustice” in how various countries are impacted by the global issue of climate change.
She claimed that “we see climate charts are increasing in terms of its intensity” in Africa and the Middle East. She added that many parts of Africa, for instance, are going through their worst drought in years and that millions of people are going hungry.
Since some of the most vulnerable people in the world are being impacted by climate change in Africa, Soliman predicted that there will be a large-scale migration as a result. According to World Bank research, about 90 million people will be forced to leave their homes and find new residences over the course of the next 20 years as a result of the effects of climate change. The already pressing problem of food security in less developed countries will be exacerbated by this.
Soliman predicted that the majority of those packing up and moving will be the poor, the weak, and those who live in rural areas. Conflicts all over the world are and will continue to be caused by climate stress.
The president and co-founder of the Mediterranean Youth Climate Network, Hajar Khamlichi, stated that young people in the most severely affected areas have a crucial role to play in the successful implementation of international agreements that guide global action on climate change. As a result, it is crucial that they participate in the process and are heard, which is not always the case.
He added that this failure has an impact on national and international strategies to combat the effects of climate change. “The voice of young people is not heard in the Arab World,” he said.
The contrast of the BRICS summit in June with the meeting of G-7 leaders held only a day prior, served as a foretaste of geopolitical competition to come. It won speculation over whether a new geopolitical bloc, even an international order, might finally be finding form.
The summit came ahead of news that several MENA states are expected to be soon welcomed into BRICS. Regardless of whether BRICS lives up to its potential, this news is further indication that the region’s relationship with the West is heading into a wintry chapter as regimes seek to profit from new opportunities in a multipolar world.
Indeed, the competition and conflict redefining geopolitics has also questioned whether realignments are afoot in the Middle East. Developments like regional interest in BRICS and OPEC+ oil cuts suggest that popular belief in MENA neutrality, in what plausibly seems to be a new cold war, merits consideration and even revision.
China’s President Xi Jinping (L), India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L), Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C), South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa (2nd R) and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro (R) are pictured before posing for a family picture during the 11th BRICS Summit on November 14, 2019 in Brasilia, Brazil. (Photo by Sergio LIMA / AFP)
BRICS: A New Geopolitical Bloc?
Global economic power has been reclaimed in the 21st century. The establishment of BRICS in 2006 is a testament to this seismic shift on the world stage. The organisation is membered by industrialised developing countries with emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Representing 23% of the global economy, 18% of global trade, and a combined gross domestic product akin to that of the US, BRICS possesses immense economic power. When the first summit was held, the organisation’s initial goals were modest and focused on investment. But amid the shifting tides of geopolitics, and the concentrated and accruing economic power of BRICS, it bears the hallmarks of a new geopolitical bloc.
Representing 23% of the global economy, 18% of global trade, and a combined gross domestic product akin to that of the US, BRICS possesses immense economic power.
In reality, the potential of BRICS rests on the dazzling rise of China’s economy. China’s GDP is more than double that of the other four BRICS members: almost $18 trillion compared with Brazil ($1.6 trillion), Russia ($1.8 trillion), India ($3.2 trillion) and South Africa ($400 billion). Without China, the organisation would fade into irrelevance; with China, its economic clout, and so potential to exercise geopolitical power, is vast.
As observed in Forbes: “If intra-BRICS commodity trade were to be settled in a commodity-linked basket of currencies among members as well as willing non-members, it would constitute an effective end to the petrodollar, a key pillar of the G7-led global financial system.” The strong resistance of the Russian ruble to Western sanctions – reaping reward from global energy prices – has boosted confidence in this aspiration.
In reality, the potential of BRICS rests on the dazzling rise of China’s economy. China’s GDP is more than double that of the other four BRICS members
President Putin even proposed at the recent BRICS summit the creation of an “international reserve currency based on the basket of currencies of our countries” to counterweight US hegemony in the IMF. The desire to create an economic order removed from the US-led dominated one has gained impetus as Russia and its allies have been disturbed by the velocity of Western-sanctions, from which they seek permanent protection and relief.
At the outset of war this year, intra-BRICS trade suddenly won significant sway over oil geopolitics through Western-sanctioned Russian crude oil exports being snapped up by the likes of China, India and Brazil. These purchases have offered welcome relief to the Russian economy and its military expenditures, softening the bite of Western sanctions (including the recently announced policy of capping prices on Russia’s oil exports).
The attendance of President Putin at its virtual summit in June was a jarring reminder to the West of how its mood of anger and reproach not shared universally; for most governments, ethical concerns about Russia’s violence do not eclipse the strategic value of Moscow’s energy and economic deals (hence why Western aims to blackball Russia on the world stage yields only limited success).
intra-BRICS trade suddenly won significant sway over oil geopolitics through Western-sanctioned Russian crude oil exports being snapped up by the likes of China, India and Brazil
By opting to remove Russia from the international economic system, the process of deglobalisation – hastened by the Covid-19 pandemic – assumed new intensity; with its promise of straining geopolitical tensions even further, BRICS is another symptom of this global trend. The consolidation of the organisation could define two dominant blocks in geopolitics, although many countries will resist this simplified division in preference for the strategic rewards of neutrality.
In which case, the symbiosis between the main economies – the US, China, the EU, but so too emerging ones like Brazil and India – which has been a major determinant of stability in world politics for decades, could falter with competition. Moreover, the deepening rift between G-7 countries and BRICS questions how, for example, cooperative climate action might be possible going forward? It foreshadows a fraught future for multilateralism. But such views are based on the idea that BRICS will decisively shift from an economic club into a coherent political organisation. There is some scepticism over whether BRICS members have the ability to reach a level of cohesion which would permit united political action.
BRICS has little to show for itself apart from the New Development Bank, established to offer an alternative to the World Bank for emerging economies.
A decade ago, a panel at the Wilson Centre strongly agreed that the differences between the group – namely, trajectories of economic growth and ideological principles – far outweighed commonalities. Anti-Westernism alone is an insufficient ingredient to build and sustain cohesion amongst diverse actors. It is also true that since its birth, BRICS has little to show for itself apart from the New Development Bank, established to offer an alternative to the World Bank for emerging economies.
The institutionalisation of BRICS remains therefore weak. Nonetheless, news of its expansive ambitions makes such criticisms now seem tenuous. As BRICS members hunt for a credible alternative to the US-led global order with increasing zeal, the organisation could demonstrate in the coming years that it counts for much more than an empty acronym.
AFP File Photo
BRICS, the Middle East, and the West
With war in Ukraine squeezing and shaping world politics, competition between the West and its rivals gained definition. In this context, BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – has naturally sought to build up the organisation’s membership.
MENA countries have been among those touted as potential members in the near future. The president of the BRICS International Forum announced that he expects Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to join the group “very soon”. BRICS has caught the interest of other MENA countries who might follow suit; in November came news that Algeria had officially applied to join the organisation. The organisation, which has called up speculation as to whether it might qualify as a new geopolitical bloc, seeks to recruit “node” countries of strategic location and economic power.
If BRICS members wish to present the organisation as a credible alternative to the US-led economic order, it needs to co-opt as much of the world economy as possible. The inclusion of the three countries would represent an important win for BRICS and further address the lop-sided distribution of economic power between the West and the Rest: Saudi Arabia with its vast energy reserves, Turkey through its location and economic growth, and the UAE as a global centre of commerce and finance (the inclusion of key commercial and logistical centres within the group would offer more control over world trade).
The organisation, which has called up speculation as to whether it might qualify as a new geopolitical bloc, seeks to recruit “node” countries of strategic location and economic power.
In particular, bringing in oil-producing states, like Saudi Arabia, into the fold would consolidate BRICS’s control over global oil production itself – whose value in geopolitics has been laid bare this year since Russia invaded Ukraine. From a regional perspective, the incentives for joining BRICS are building and the interest expressed by Saudi Arabia, amongst others, has come as little surprise.
Many in the region likely deem it short-sighted to avoid the potential benefits which BRICS, taut with economic/political power and potential, might afford them; in a world retreating to multipolarity, MENA regimes are united in their desire to exploit and exhaust new opportunities. BRICS membership from a regional perspective, therefore, presents a tantalising prospect.
Despite its vast wealth and intimate security relations with the US, Saudi Arabia seeks to grow interactions with China and other emerging economies, given the demands of its restless economy in transformation. But economic interests are only part of the appeal; strategic considerations of geopolitics play a decisive role too. States like Saudi Arabia are presently reassessing who exactly are and are not their allies.
The cooperation of China and other BRICS members, like Russia and India, represent a welcome antidote for MENA countries to their fussy relations with the West. Indeed, it was symbolic that news of Saudi Arabia’s interest in membership of the BRICS group arrived just ahead of President Biden’s visit to the Middle East in July.
economic interests are only part of the appeal; strategic considerations of geopolitics play a decisive role too. States like Saudi Arabia are presently reassessing who exactly are and are not their allies.
This economic and geopolitical logic is also shared by Turkey and Egypt; however, although the West may regard the accession of countries like Egypt to BRICS as evidence of strategic realignment, some argue that it is more plausible to see it as a natural continuation of foreign policies defined by the principle of balanced international relations. At the same time, suggestions that BRICS represents an attempt to refashion the 1956 Non-Aligned Movement, whose members sought to minimise the Cold War’s interruptions behind a shield of neutrality, ignores its membership’s antipathy to the West.
BRICS seeks to develop and define a credible alternative to the US-led global economy – and particularly the US dollar. With the economic isolation of Russia, MENA regimes have been reminded of the heavy consequences when states fall foul of Washington, and the appeal of an alternative. Western sanctions have stifled many regimes in contemporary history, like those of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Sudan. A new economic system out of the thumb of the West would enable MENA regimes in order to indulge their strategic whims with less consequence.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a GCC-China Summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on December 9, 2022. (Photo by SPA/AFP)
Middle Eastern Realignment in a Multipolar Order?
Moscow’s efforts to marshal diplomatic support for its invasion of Ukraine might seem to undercut claims of geopolitical reshuffle in the region; despite some hesitation, a U.N. resolution condemning Russia in March was supported by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.
But this incidence of the region rhetorically aligning with the West has proved anomalous in 2022, a year which has been defined more by tension than cooperation. This condemnation has not translated into support for Western sanctions. Like much of the non-Western world, MENA states are not moved by and even deeply suspicious of Western efforts to preserve a rule-based order.
High-minded Western words about ideas of democracy and freedom are far less appealing to MENA autocracies than the respectful and predictable indifference of Russia and China; the anti-Westernism which courses through the region is shared by its regimes too, ever indignant at the meddling in and criticism of their internal affairs by Western countries.
In Washington today, there is considerable animus towards Riyadh since it took a collective decision with its OPEC counterparts to raise global oil prices by announcing its largest supply cut in years – coolly rebuffing the pleas by the Biden administration.
The Biden’s administration’s resolve to renew democracy worldwide is a continually raw reminder to MENA leaders of their ideological friction with the West. This reality was encapsulated in recent months in Western fury about Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup (which, ironically, may be regarded as the best World Cup tournament ever after such a dazzling final).
The controversy surrounding OPEC has led to the further perishing of US-Saudi Arabia relations. In Washington today, there is considerable animus towards Riyadh since it took a collective decision with its OPEC counterparts to raise global oil prices by announcing its largest supply cut in years – coolly rebuffing the pleas by the Biden administration. Consequently, there is now a growing and plausible view in the US that Saudi Arabia is no longer an ally given its decision to blunt the punitive action of the West against Russia.
As the shadows of competition are thrown further across the Middle East, policy makers on both sides of the geopolitical division are carefully observing the initial reactions of regional regimes when taking stock of their friends and adversaries “It’s clear that OPEC+ is aligning with Russia” retorted a wounded White House when the decision was taken in October, directing the criticism at its long-standing ally in the Gulf.
Suggestions that Saudi Arabia may be sidling up to Russia on a political footing has been treated with scorn by commentators, whose main criticism is that this position is too binary. “The Saudis weren’t thinking about Ukraine – like many people in Asia and Africa, they don’t think in absolute terms of being pro- or anti-Russian,” wrote Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
The desire to engage more with organisations like BRICS, so the argument proceeds, does not amount to a rejection of the West but represents the desire of Riyadh (and Cairo, Ankara, and Algiers) to strategically plant its feet on both sides of the geopolitical divide. By doing so, MENA states seek to maximise the benefits of geopolitical competition, minimise its consequences, and evade its constraints.
There is a popular perception that every time the US does not get its way in the Middle East, Washington vainly misreads this as a snub; that the US fails to understand that decisions and policies can occur with little consideration of it. And there is some truth to this view. However, the divergences between the US and MENA states on vital issues in US foreign policy are stacking up.
Whatever the intentions, the action of MENA countries in OPEC+ is not neutral; on the contrary, they have adopted a policy supportive of Russia on the defining geopolitical issue of 2022
Whatever the intentions, the action of MENA countries in OPEC+ is not neutral; on the contrary, they have adopted a policy supportive of Russia on the defining geopolitical issue of 2022. And on other key divisions of contemporary geopolitics – like sovereignty in Taiwan – Arab governments have embraced Beijing’s position. Now with tacit support for Russia through OPEC in the Gulf, in addition to support for China’s repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Middle East is sharply opposed to the US and wider West on the essential geopolitical issues of today and tomorrow.
Only this month, President Xi was honoured by Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, serving as further evidence to some that MENA states are eyeing alternatives to the “liberal world order,” regarding China’s authoritarianism as a more natural ally given their own politics. Saudi officials insisted that the generous reception of Xi is perfectly suitable for a state as powerful as China; yet its timing brimmed with geopolitical symbolism and was credibly seen as a rebuke to the US given its contrast with the wintry welcome which met Biden in July.
Sergio LIMA / AFP(L to R) South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China’s President Xi Jinping, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro at the 11th BRICS Summit, Brasilia, Brazil, November 14, 2019.
New Friends and Foes
A feeling of change hangs over MENA geopolitics as wider international dynamics evolve. Many commentators and scholars have been rightly dismissing simplistic readings of this change which talk of the emergence of well-defined boundaries and blocs; they remind audiences of the banal but important fact that geopolitics resists crude simplifications (whose consequences in policy making were painfully present and predictable in the Cold War of the last century).
there is a growing and tangible dislocation between the region and the West.
Despite this wisdom, there is also a risk that such commentary becomes too focused on teasing out nuance while failing to see the woods from the trees. Whether shown by news of BRICS pulling new membership from the Middle East, or by Gulf leaders humiliating President Biden over oil production, there is a growing and tangible dislocation between the region and the West.
Talk of neutrality and the need to avoid simplifications may prevail for the time being in policy chatter, but the sense of striking geopolitical shift – even realignment – in the Middle East is gathering credibility. For as the geopolitical crises of the 21st century continue to fall thick and fast, the West and their supposed allies from the region are likely to repeatedly find themselves on opposing sides of the geopolitical divide.
All decisions at these U.N. climate conferences – always – are promissory notes. And the legacy of climate negotiations is one of promises not kept.
This promise, welcome as it is, is particularly vague and unconvincing, even by U.N. standards.
Essentially, the agreement only begins the process of establishing a fund. The implementable decision is to set up a “transitional committee,” which is tasked with making recommendations for the world to consider at the 2023 climate conference, COP28, in Dubai.
Importantly for wealthy countries, the text avoids terms like “liability” and “compensation.” Those had beenred lines for the United States. The most important operational questions were also left to 2023. Three, in particular, are likely to hound the next COP.
1) Who will pay into this new fund?
Developed countries have made it very clear that the fund will be voluntary and should not be restricted only to developed country contributions. Given that the much-trumpeted US$100 billion a year that wealthy nations promised in 2015 to provide for developing nations has not yet materialized, believing that rich countries will be pouring their heart into this new venture seems to be yet another triumph of hope over experience.
2) The fund will be new, but will it be additional?
It is not at all clear if money in the fund will be “new” money or simply aid already committed for other issues and shifted to the fund. In fact, the COP27 language could easily be read as favoring arrangements that “complement and include” existing sources rather than new and additional financing.
3) Who would receive support from the fund?
As climate disasters increase all over the world, we could tragically get into disasters competing with disasters – is my drought more urgent than your flood? – unless explicit principles of climate justice and the polluter pays principle are clearly established.
What COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, has done is to ensure that the idea of loss and damage will be a central feature of all future climate negotiations. That is big.
Seasoned observers left Sharm el-Sheikh wondering how developing countries were able to push the loss and damage agenda so successfully at COP27 when it has been so firmly resisted by large emitter countries like the United States for so long.
The logic of climate justice has always been impeccable: The countries that have contributed most to creating the problem are a near mirror opposite of those who face the most imminent risk of climatic loss and damage. So, what changed?
At least three things made COP27 the perfect time for this issue to ripen.
Second, the devastating floods this summer that inundated a third of my home country of Pakistan provided the world with an immediate and extremely visual sense of what climate impacts can look like, particularly for the most vulnerable people. They affected 33 million people are expected to cost over $16 billion.
The floods, in addition to a spate of other recent climate calamities, provided developing countries – which happened to be represented at COP27 by an energized Pakistan as the chair of the “G-77 plus China,” a coalition of more than 170 developing countries – with the motivation and the authority to push a loss and damage agenda more vigorously than ever before.
Importantly, for now, developing countries got what they wanted: a fund for loss and damage. And developed countries were able to avoid what they have always been unwilling to give: any concrete funding commitments or any acknowledgment of responsibility for reparations.
Both can go home and declare victory. But not for long.
Is it just a ‘placebo fund’?
Real as the jubilation is for developing countries, it is also tempered. And rightly so.
For developing countries, there is a real danger that this turns out to be another “placebo fund,” to use Oxford University researcher Benito Müller’s term – an agreed-to funding arrangement without any agreed-to funding commitments.
In their understanding of good governance and its role in sustainable development, Gulf Business addresses this theme only within the business world of the MENA region, specifically within the Gulf area countries. Let us see what it is all about.
Insights: Understanding good governance and its role in sustainable development
By Dr Ashraf Gamal Eldin
Good corporate governance fosters fair competition, enables efficient utilisation of resources, increases employment opportunities, and develops domestic and regional capital markets.
11 November 2022
Dr Ashraf Gamal Eldin
The term ‘governance’ refers to all forms of regulations, including that of institutions, procedures, and practices used to decide on and regulate matters of public concern. In its most basic sense, governance is about providing direction and ensuring that an institution operates efficiently.
Good governance, however, adds a normative or evaluative attribute to this process. In simple terms, good governance refers to the institutional and political outcomes necessary to achieve developmental objectives. The concept has become increasingly important in recent years, emerging as one of the essential components for growth and sustainable development. The key measure of good governance is the extent to which it upholds human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political, and social indicators. As a result, it is important to understand good governance and its significance in sustainable development.
Good governance reassures stakeholders that an organisation fulfills its obligations to all of its stakeholders, it treats everyone with respect and dignity, by being transparent about its operations, finances, and conduct. In fact, a major indicator of an institution’s quality and excellence is how committed it is to adopt the principles of good governance in all facets of its operations and decision-making. This is even more important, as it significantly supports sustainable development in institutions. It is widely observed that the inability to uphold these principles can have negative effects on welfare, efficiency, and operational excellence, thereby affecting the long-term success of organisations.
The private sector is growing rapidly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Despite the fact that every country is unique, forward-thinking companies throughout the region see better corporate governance as a competitive advantage in their quest for growth and profitability. Consequently, countries in the MENA region are at various stages of developing unique corporate governance frameworks. This could be further driven by making strenuous efforts to create a national environment that supports and encourages corporate governance in the region. The UAE ranked first in the Middle East and 24th globally on the Good Governance Index 2022, which was released by the Chandler Institute for Governance, a non-profit organisation that works with governments to strengthen their capabilities.
Sustainable development argues that the current use of resources should minimize the level of harm to the future generations’ share of resources. ‘Good Governance’ is capable of common sense and the versatile planning that is required for sustainable development.
A good corporate governance system fosters fair competition, enables more efficient utilisation of resources, increases employment opportunities, and the development of domestic and regional capital markets. With governance playing a crucial role in driving efforts to meet institutional goals, it has been referred to as the fourth pillar of sustainable development alongside social, environmental, and economic factors. As there is a strong emphasis on minimising future harm from the current use of resources, governance will certainly aid in shaping versatile strategies that ensure sustainable development across organisations.
Good governance is not a luxury, it creates a competitive edge for companies and economies.
Dr Ashraf Gamal Eldin is the CEO of Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance
COP27 is the 27th Conference of the Parties (countries) that signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention was established at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and has been ratified by 198 countries. They agreed to stabilise the production of greenhouse gases in order to prevent dangerous climate change.
Since then, the Conference of the Parties has been hosted in a different country each year. These conferences broadly provide a platform for the negotiation of international climate change treaties.
The very first treaty acknowledged that the responsibility for action was different for developed and developing countries, because developed countries were responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite some gains, commitment to these treaties has not translated into the action necessary to shift the course of global climate change. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that global average temperatures have already reached 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and that warming of over 1.5°C is all but inevitable unless drastic action is taken.
Everyone is affected by climate change, but some people and regions are more vulnerable than others. Regions that will experience the most adverse impacts of climate change are West, Central and East Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, Small Island Developing States and the Arctic. Populations living in informal settlements will have the worst of it.
Vulnerability to climate change impacts is driven by socioeconomic, political and environmental factors. African countries have already experienced loss and damage due to climate change. For example, food production, economic output and biodiversity have all declined and more people are at risk of dying due to climate change in African countries.
The COP27 is therefore important because that is where decisions are made about how to respond to climate change.
Climate change treaties
Three international treaties have been adopted on international climate change cooperation. They led to the development of different bodies which all convene under the banner of the COP. COP is where they meet, negotiate and evaluate progress, even though COP technically only refers to the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The first treaty was the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The second was the Kyoto Protocol, established in 1997. Countries made commitments to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol was based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. It acknowledged that because of their higher levels of economic development, developed countries could and should take greater responsibility to reduce emissions.
The third and most recent treaty is the 2015 Paris Agreement. It covers climate change mitigation, adaptation and financing and aims to limit the rise in temperatures to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. All signatories need to develop a non-binding plan for climate change mitigation, including reducing emissions. They also have to report on progress.
A key weakness of the Paris Agreement is that it is non-binding. Also, the commitments are self-determined. A recent study found that even if all countries did meet their commitments, it would not be enough to limit warming to below 2°C.
It is important to understand and engage in these processes as the impacts of climate change are increasing globally. The increase in the global average temperature is one of several climate impacts. Others include increased likelihood of droughts or floods, and increased intensity of storms and wildfires.
The frequency of climate events will increase as temperatures rise. There is an urgent need for action to prevent global warming from rising above 2°C. Temperatures over 2°C will result in irreversible climate impacts such as sea level rise, and affect far more people than an increase of 1.5°C.
Responses to climate change
There are three policy areas which have emerged to respond to climate change.
The first is mitigation – the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to stabilise the climate. Examples of mitigation include replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, or developing electrified public transport to replace private vehicles powered by combustion engines.
The second is adaptation – interventions which would support climate resilience and reduce vulnerability. Examples include improved water management and conservation to reduce risk of drought, initiatives to improve food security and support for biodiversity.
The last policy area deals with loss and damage. Loss and damage refers to “the economic and non-economic damages associated with slow onset events and extreme weather events caused by global warming and the tools and institutions that identify and mitigate such risks.” Interventions to address loss and damage can include risk management support and finance which is often framed as climate reparations.
Mitigation and adaptation are well understood and established within climate policy. And they have finance mechanisms within international treaties, even though existing commitments to these mechanisms have not materialised in practice, particularly when it comes to adaptation. Loss and damage, however, has received far less attention in international treaties and negotiations.
Highlighting loss and damage
The Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage was established in 2013 to provide a framework to address loss and damage. It aims to improve understanding of risk management approaches, increase coordination and dialogue among stakeholders and enhance action and support.
The issue of loss and damage was incorporated into the Paris Agreement, but without any specific commitments around it. During negotiations at COP25, the Santiago Network was set up to avert, minimise and address loss and damage for developing countries but it focuses mostly on technical assistance rather than finance. At COP26 (in 2021) there was an agreement to fund the Santiago Network, but the institutional framework is not yet finalised.
Loss and damage was raised as an important issue to be addressed during COP26. There were some promising moves, such as the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pledging £2 million towards a loss and damage finance facility. But many rich nations did not support this.
The negotiations led to the proposal to establish the Glasgow Finance Facility for loss and damage. But the wording of the decision was changed at the last minute to the Glasgow Dialogues, which committed to discussing arrangements for funding activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage. This change has delayed any real financial support for loss and damage in the short term.
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