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Cop26: Leaders lay out climate promises – but lack ‘clarity’

Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, at an evening reception to mark the opening day of Cop26, in Glasgow, Scotland, on 1 November, 2021. (Credit: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, Pool)

Over 120 heads of states and governments met in Glasgow on Monday to outline their climate commitments, opening two weeks of crucial negotiations to halt the rise of global temperatures.

US President Joe Biden raised the need to mobilise finance and said he wanted to “help developing countries around the world”. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the need for “solidarity” and to support  Africa in their transition towards greener energies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need to step up climate pledges and “measure our targets and goals in a more binding way”.

“We’re not yet where we need to be,” she said, referring to the Nationally Determined Contributions, which countries were supposed to submit by the end of last year but dozens failed to deliver on.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi set 2070 as his country’s deadline to become carbon neutral – twenty years later than what most countries have aimed for.

The leaders spoke only twenty four hours after meeting in Rome for a G20 summit where the group of leading economies struggled to come up with more ambitious climate commitments. This has left observers skeptical of any grand promises made ahead of negotiations.

“I'm just arriving from the G20 and what we have seen from the 20 biggest economies is of course an important commitment, but at the same time, not what we expected in terms of action,” Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Geneva Solutions.

“We do not have clarity about the concrete actions that will be adopted,” he added, “Especially from the most powerful economies that are the most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.”

Tough words from the South

The heads of developing countries that took the floor had harsh words for their wealthier counterparts. Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Amor Mottley, slammed countries for the failed financing promises. “Climate finance to front line small island development states declined by 25 per cent in 2019,” she said.

“Failure to provide the critical finance and that of loss and damage is measured, my friends, in lives and livelihoods,” she added.

Hondurian president Juan Orlando Hernández stressed how climate change forces people to migrate and causes astronomical economic losses. “Where is the climate compensation?” he asked other leaders. Deadly hurricanes and floods have hit Honduras in recent years, sending thousands of people North towards the US in search of safety.

President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta said that he wanted “to see a quantum increase in climate finance”, a demand echoed also by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who called for half of the money to go to adaptation, which currently accounts for only a third of climate financial flows.

Rocca said that financing adaptation at the local level was crucial. ”We often talk about resilience, but what is resilience? It's about supporting the community in adapting to the new climate or to the extreme weather events that can strike at every moment with strength that they've never experienced before,” he said.

“The vast majority of the money so far, has gone to the middle-income countries and not to the least developed and the poorest ones that are the ones paying the highest price of climate change,” Rocca noted.

The IFRC’s president will be meeting with delegations in the next few days to stress the need to deliver on financing but notes that it ultimately will come down to “political will”.