Friday, September 29, 2023
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Analysis – Climate change: Which countries will pay for it?

By Kate Abnett and Valerie Volcovici

BRUSSELS / BEIJING (Reuters) – Record-breaking heat in China. Wildfires force Swiss villages to evacuate. Drought ravages Spanish crops. As climate change costs mount, debate heats up among governments: Who should foot the bill?

The issue has come under the spotlight during this week’s climate talks between the US and China. Ahead of this year’s UN climate summit COP in Dubai, the world’s two largest economies are trying to find ways to work together on issues ranging from renewable energy deployment to climate finance.

Pressure is mounting on Beijing to join the group of countries providing the funding, given China’s rapid economic growth and rising emissions.

During the talks in Beijing, US climate envoy John Kerry said the two sides would continue discussing climate finance for the next four months ahead of the COP 10 meeting, which begins in November 10.

“It’s hard to argue that countries like China, Brazil or Saudi Arabia should still be on the same level as LDCs and SIDS,” a diplomat from an EU country told Reuters.

The EU, the largest donor of climate finance today, has lobbied for a wider base of donor countries providing climate finance.

Climate finance is money paid by rich countries to help poorer countries reduce carbon dioxide emissions and adapt to a hotter, harsher world.

So far, the dozens of rich countries that are obliged to make these payments have not delivered the promised amounts of cash. This list of financing countries was determined during the 30 United Nations climate negotiations, when China’s economy was still smaller than Italy’s.

Now, some countries are calling on China to contribute. U.S. officials, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have noted that the Chinese contribution will improve the efficiency of the U.N. climate fund.

Other countries facing similar pressures include Qatar, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, which are three of the richest countries in the world by GDP per capita.

So far, China has refused to rank itself with the rich world.

In a meeting with Kerry on Tuesday, Chinese Premier Li Qiang stressed that developed countries should honor their outstanding climate finance commitments and take the lead in reducing emissions, according to Li’s office. He suggested that developing countries could contribute “within their own means”.

This resistance shows that the effort faces serious challenges. Changing the official list of UN donors will require international consensus.

“There is too much resistance in countries like China and Saudi Arabia to touch the official definition,” said an EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Advocates of this change argue that expansion is needed before the new (and potentially much larger) UN climate finance goals. 2015after. Countries still need to negotiate the size of the target and who will contribute to it.

Ambassador Pa’olelei Luteru, Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States, said: “All countries that are able must contribute to global climate finance.”

Who is responsible?

The principle of the UN climate financing arrangement is that richer countries, which have emitted most of the carbon dioxide emissions that have warmed the planet since the Industrial Revolution, have a greater responsibility for tackling climate change.

The United States has historically emitted more CO2 than any other country, yet China is today the world’s largest CO2 emitter in terms of the pollution it produces each year.

Countries will face questions of historical responsibility at the COP 10 as they aim to launch a new fund to compensate vulnerable countries for losses caused by climate-induced natural disasters.

The European Union last year dropped its years-long resistance to the fund, but only if more countries donate to it. Countries have yet to decide who will contribute.

The US has been wary of making payments that could be seen as climate change compensation.

Some countries that are not obliged to contribute to the UN Climate Fund have done so anyway, including South Korea and Qatar. Others have begun to provide assistance through other channels.

China launched a South-South Climate Cooperation Fund in 2015 to help LDCs tackle climate issues, and according to think-tank E3G, has delivered about 10% of the $3.1 billion pledged so far.

This is a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars Beijing has spent on the Belt and Road Initiative, backing projects including oil pipelines and ports.

Such arrangements allow countries to contribute without obligation, although they may face less stringent public reporting standards if done outside of UN funds – making it harder to trace where money goes and how much is paid.

Byford Tsang, senior policy advisor at E3G, said China’s willingness to provide more climate finance would be a “win-win” for Beijing. “This will gain China diplomatic clout and force Western donors to invest more in climate finance,” he said.

Frustrated by so far weak financing, some fragile states are looking for new sources of cash. The Barbados-led Bridgetown Initiative is pushing for reform of multilateral development banks so they can provide more support for climate projects. Other countries have banded together in support of a global CO2 tax on shipping to raise funds.

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