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COP – where are we now with commitments made?

Joseph fetches water from a hand-dug well that his community is currently relying on in Northern Kenya
Joseph fetches water from a hand-dug well that his community is currently relying on in Northern Kenya’s Moruongor village in Turkana County. Photo: Lisa Murray/Concern Worldwide

UN Climate Change COPs, or Conference of the Parties’ bring together world leaders, ministers, negotiators, civil society, businesses, international organisations and the media in order to reach an agreement on how to tackle climate change. Last year’s conference was held in the UK and this year’s will be held in Egypt, with 15,000 individuals expected to attend.

Each COP brings with it more promises from world leaders, including our own from the UK. But are these promises actually delivered on, or just lip-service?

Here, we look at past key commitments from our own government and how well, if at all, they’ve been delivered.

Climate Adaptation

We all know that reducing our emissions is an important part of responding to the climate crisis – but what about responding to the effects of carbon dioxide already released? While slowing the pace of climate change is critical, we must also adapt to the impacts we’re already seeing to protect vulnerable communities around the world.

More and more we are seeing the effects of climate change, from droughts in East Africa, to the floods in Pakistan. These disasters are resulting in the devastating loss of life, homes, livelihoods and more.

Sadly, some communities may have to move location completely as it’s too difficult to adapt; for example, small islands facing rising sea levels.  But for others, funding can help people adapt to become more resilient to disasters – for example, roads and bridges could be built or adapted to withstand higher temperatures and more powerful storms. As you can imagine, this sort of work costs a lot of money – but, a lot less than responding to a disaster after the fact. In fact, universal access to early warning systems can deliver benefits up to 10 times the initial cost.

The UK is setting a good example internationally by meeting its commitment under the Paris Agreement to achieve a balance within its international climate finance (a commitment to support developing countries to respond to the challenges and opportunities of climate change) between adaptation and mitigation. However, last year saw cuts to funding for adaptation programmes. This year, the UK’s development aid is again under threat and an already constrained budget has resulted in paused spending to critical issues. The longer adaptation efforts are put off by chronic underfunding, the more difficult and expensive it will be to manage adaptation needs and the harder it will be to save lives and mitigate suffering. We need to be more vigilant than ever to these sorts of cuts.

Climate funding

Politicians are known to be slippery with their language, and often when funding is pledged, it is added to existing funding and presented as a larger number, or redirected from a different pot – robbing Peter to feed Paul. When commitments to climate funding were made in 2009, it was agreed that it would be ‘new and additional’ to existing assistance. Many developing countries, even with international aid, cannot afford to cover the costs of the basic health, nutrition, education and social protection needed to end extreme poverty. Climate change will exacerbate many of the issues these countries face. Additional funding for climate, not redirected funding, is vital.

Cuts are threatening climate finance and other development assistance funding but we need to be careful that sustained spending on the climate crisis doesn’t come at the expense of vital ODA (overseas development assistance) spending in other areas.

In Bangladesh for example, roughly a quarter of the population is suffering from extremely high rates of malnutrition. There are still around 40 million people living in poverty and 20 million extremely poor people. Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But the people we work with also face challenges in accessing nutritious food, basic healthcare and education. Trade-offs between these areas should not have to be made.

Emissions Reductions

In 2019, the UK was the first G7 country to commit in law to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. The UK’s 2050 net zero target was recommended by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the UK’s independent climate advisory body. Net zero means any emissions released would be balanced by schemes to offset an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or using technology like carbon capture and storage.

But are we on track for net zero? Well, according to the CCC no - With current policies and actions we risk making it only two-thirds of the way to meeting the net zero target.

On the positive side, and with transport being the UK’s largest contributor to net greenhouse emissions, the UK’s growing electric car market, and the ban of the sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 – and all new cars needing to be zero emissions by 2035 – is one of the UKs strongest achievements to date, far exceeding its target.

Work to decarbonise electricity generation is also very promising with plans to phase out fossil fuels over the next decade and simplify the planning process for offshore wind farms. But with the government in a constant state of flux and our last Prime Minister championing fracking, this could spell trouble down the road.

We also saw emissions rise by 4% in 2021 as the economy recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic and there are some glaring policy gaps in the Net Zero strategy. With so many struggling with the cost of living crisis, action to address this this must be aligned with Net Zero – we need to reduce demand for fossil fuels to reduce emissions and limit energy bills.

As go into COP27 it is clear that, as the new leader of the UK government, Rishi Sunak has a lot of work to do to honour the UK’s climate commitments. He needs to build the UK’s global and domestic credibility on emissions reductions and make sure they are doing so in a way that is both socially just.

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