The world climate conference soon taking place in Glasgow (COP-26) has huge challenges on its agenda. Principal among them are, first, securing the global goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions, along with keeping global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees, by mid-century. Second, adapting to protect communities and natural habitats from increasingly devastating extreme weather events. And third, to reach these goals, mobilizing at least $100 billion per year in climate financing for developing countries.
The second of these goals, adaptation, is something of a late bloomer in the climate change discourse. It aims to strengthen the resilience of communities and habitats, faced with hotter temperatures, violent storms, flooding and wildfires that promise to become ever more frequent and intensive. Adaptation aims at living with the reality of climate change, but also limiting the damage. In the competition for policy attention and resources, mitigation, or reducing man-made carbon emissions, has until recently been given priority since it is aimed at the root causes of climate change, rather than the consequences.
Today, there is an emerging consensus that the war against climate change must be fought on two fronts: with mitigation in the offence against the perpetrators, and adaptation in the role of homeland defence. They are both essential, and complementary, elements of a comprehensive climate strategy.
At the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, developed countries agreed to jointly mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 to meet the climate finance needs of developing countries. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, this target has never been remotely met. Preliminary data for 2020 indicate that the amount raised was close to $80 billion, falling short of the target by $20 billion. Financing for the climate crisis has undoubtedly been made more challenging by the pandemic, and its economic fallout.
Moreover, in developing countries, a lot more financing is required for adaptation, which has garnered only about 20 percent of the climate funds. Recently UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for 50 percent to go to adaptation. However, most developing countries are low greenhouse gas emitters, so they don’t need as much funding for mitigation. They are the least responsible for climate change, yet they suffer some of the worst extreme weather events, and a case can be made that much more than 50 percent of the funding should be allocated to adaptation.
Going into COP-26, Canada has agreed to co-lead, with Germany, the process of mobilizing the $100 billion per year. This puts Canada in a somewhat embarrassing position. If Canada were a generous contributor among the donors, it would set an example for other donors to match. Unfortunately, that is not the case: Canada, according to one reputable source, is far from paying its fair share of climate financing.
Calculating a donor’s “fair share” on the basis of an index combining its gross national income, its average level of greenhouse gas emissions, and its population, Canada should be contributing US$4.2 billion toward the $100 billion target. Instead, even though Canada has just announced a doubling of its commitment to US$0.8 billion a year, it is still only contributing only one-fifth of what it should be, and is listed among the most ungenerous group of climate donors, including the United States.
In contrast, using the same composite index to calculate its fair share, Germany is contributing 112 percent—more than its fair share. Sweden is contributing 151 percent, and Norway 188 percent. Canada would have more credibility in persuading other donors to increase their contributions if it were also among this most generous group of donors. It is particularly noteworthy that Germany, which is co-leading the campaign with Canada to raise $100 billion, has a population slightly more than twice Canada’s, yet spends more than 10 times as much on climate finance. It is more able than Canada to say to other donors “Do as we do”.
It is not too late. Canada can still pledge to increase its contribution, by doubling it again to $2 billion a year. That would still amount to less than half its fair share, but would reflect much greater sincerity in its commitment to reach the $100 billion target.
The Group of 78 has recently concluded its policy conference on 'Adaptation: Building Resilience in the Climate Emergency'
This piece was first published in The Hill Times on October 10.