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Hardest hit by climate change but producing the lowest emissions, the continent is losing out in the deal-making in Scotland
Negotiators at the UN COP26 climate summit, which is due to close on 12 November, are racing to avert failure on its two main aims: to limit global temperature rises to well below 2C and to secure commitments of US$100 billion a year in climate adaptation and mitigation finance for developing economies. Some of the most fraught negotiations could cause the summit to overrun (AC Dispatches 27/10/21, Equity for developing nations will be key target of conference).
The latest UN data shows that the emissions targets for 2030 would lead to global heating of up to 2.7C by the end of the century despite a raft of new pledges to cut carbon output. Climate activists criticise many of the pledges as being deliberately opaque, lacking timelines and implementations.
The absence of China's President Xi Jinping and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, representing two of the biggest carbon emitters, has weakened the push for tougher and time-bound actions. Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer, announced it will reach its goal of a net-zero carbon economy by 2060. But there are statistical disputes about defining net-zero. And Saudi Arabia says it intends to extract all the oil in its reserves before it gets there.
Africa's oil and gas producers are making similar arguments, strengthened by their greater needs in terms of generating energy for far bigger populations and maintaining export revenues. But European officials are pressuring the World Bank and other multilateral institutions to end financing for all fossil-fuel production, even in the most cash-strapped developing economies.
Several African leaders fear that carbon adjustment levies such as those outlined by the European Union and United Kingdom will hit their exports. They worry that Africa's losses from the climate crisis – in terms of environmental damage to its farm production, constraints on energy generation, and blocks on finance for oil and gas production – could multiply over the next decade.
In preparation for that, Africa's negotiators in Glasgow led by Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale have stepped up pressure for additional finance. First, there are the G20's promised contributions to the UN's $100bn a year fund for mitigation of and adaption to climate change. Although Japan, Italy, Denmark, Britain and the United States have all raised their contributions in the run-up to COP26, the fund could still fall short of $100bn a year by 2023.
The US Climate Envoy John Kerry, whose country has made the least progress in meeting its fair share of contributions, has been negotiating intensively with other developed economies this week after assuring delegates the $100bn target would be met. Gahouma-Bekale wants a more accountable system of measuring and tracking the contributions.
Part of the problem is the absence of an agreed definition of climate finance. The definition by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes government grants, export finance credits and private sector loans, is regarded too loose. Even under the OECD definition, the fund was $20bn short of its target in 2019.
Delegates from Africa, Asia and myriad small-island states have long called for a separate $100bn a year climate mitigation fund. That finance would cover rebuilding communities and infrastructure already devastated by the effects of climate change.
Although Kerry and other G20 country envoys insist they can meet the $100bn annual target, they have made little progress on a specific climate compensation fund.
'Loss and damage is still a taboo for developed countries,' said Alpha Oumar Kaloga, another leading negotiator in the Africa group.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for African states to be compensated for storing carbon and tackling climate change. He argued that the global net zero emissions demand can offer businesses an opportunity to appeal to consumers keen on making more environmentally conscious purchases.
This year, Gabon became the first African country to receive payment for reducing carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest, and now plans to put $5bn of carbon credits on the market in the coming weeks to boost sustainable investment in its forests.
How many more countries can strike deals like Gabon's will depend on another set of negotiations at COP26: agreeing on the rules for a global carbon-trading market. The UN wants to play a lead role, setting unified standards and a system of oversight.
That would be anathema to some multinational corporations. Others take a longer-term view that clarity on the rules would help them draw up realistic carbon-cutting plans as they come under greater political and social pressure.
Here again, African negotiators have been pressing for a fairer deal, arguing for a higher percentage of the revenues from carbon trading being allocated to climate finance funds for developing economies. But the European Union has insisted on its its specific set of accounting rules for carbon trading, ruling out the African group's draft revenue formula.
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