What a broken climate finance pledge means for developing countries

October 29, 2021
What a broken climate finance pledge means for developing countries
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Hello, Earthlings! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • What a broken climate finance pledge means for developing countries
  • The island nations risking COVID-19 to attend COP26
  • Facing sky-high connection fees, rural Ontarians go off the grid

What a broken climate finance pledge means for developing countries

(Kiribati Climate Action Network/Facebook)

Less than a week before the COP26 climate conference, which kicks off in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday, Canada announced a setback: wealthy countries had failed to meet a $100-billion US pledge to help developing countries fight climate change.

“Yes, there certainly was disappointment. There probably still is some disappointment,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s outgoing environment minister and new natural resources minister, during Monday’s announcement.

But to representatives from countries that are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, the broken promise breeds more than disappointment. It’s an erosion of trust.

“It isn’t about the money anymore,” Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka, Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said in an interview with What On Earth host Laura Lynch. “It’s about the credibility of the people who promised the money. That really is the crux of the $100-billion non-payment.”

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: [email protected] or join us live in the comments now.

Huq, who’s an adviser to 48 of the poorest countries, from Burundi to his home country of Bangladesh, said the $100-billion figure — which rich countries have committed to paying annually from 2020 through 2025 — wasn’t adequate to begin with.

Twelve years after the fund was proposed, the costs of adapting to climate change and transitioning to clean energy have been pegged in the trillions. The fact that the wealthiest countries that are most responsible for climate change haven’t yet hit $100 billion doesn’t bode well for the COP26 talks, Huq said.

The funding commitment recognizes that rich countries have prospered largely through burning fossil fuels. Developing countries won’t have that same opportunity — and they’re facing a heavier burden for a problem they didn’t cause.

In addition to reducing emissions and adapting to changes that are already baked in, there’s a third category of costs that developing countries disproportionately shoulder. That’s for climate-related disasters, like the once-in-20-year floods that now come every five years in Bangladesh, Huq said. 

This type of expense, known as “loss and damage,” has been a non-starter among G20 countries.

“Citizens in Bangladesh, in Malawi and Kenya and Tuvalu are … being damaged by climate change and suffering loss and damage. Do [wealthy nations] not have one dollar or one euro to give to those people at all in the negotiations? They’re saying, ‘No. Zero. We’re not going to give you a dime.'”

When it comes to the countries most at risk of climate change, low-lying island states often come to mind. They’re at the mercy of sea level rise. 

Despite this existential threat, small island countries only receive about two per cent of climate finance, said Janine Felson, an ambassador from Belize to the United Nations and the lead finance negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.

“That’s not a sign of compassion. That’s not a sign of justice. It’s a perpetuation of injustice,” said Felson, who will be negotiating in Glasgow to try to restore some trust, starting with the $100-billion pledge. 

“We’re going to demand that they deliver on that goal,” she said.

Felson will also be pushing for a future commitment that veers into the trillions, more funding for climate adaptation and a 2023 deadline for ending fossil fuel subsidies, like the $8 billion to $12 billion Cdn per year that Canada spends on oil and gas, according to Export Development Canada.

Money means nothing if countries don’t work to cut emissions, said Claire Anterea, a resident of the small island country of Kiribati (see photo above) who co-founded the Kiribati Climate Action Network.

“It’s not about money, it’s about people,” she said. “If [wealthy countries] give us money just to keep us quiet but [aren’t] committing themselves to cutting their emissions, I think it’s really a waste of time. Cutting the emissions will save our islands.”

The 33 islands of Kiribati reach just a couple of metres above sea level at their peaks. During storms and high tides, the ocean ravages beaches and homes. It’s also seeping into the country’s drinking water.  

Anterea is asking the governments of wealthy countries meeting at COP26 for compassion and sacrifice.

“If you sacrifice to do more and to lessen your emissions, it will help in some way,” she said. “It will help Kiribati to stay on the map.”

Serena Renner

Reader feedback

In response to Dannielle Piper’s piece last week on climate action in cities, Bill Johnson had this to say: 

“The author used the word ‘crisis’ when talking about these climate issues. I was glad to see that and really wish the media would use it more often to describe where we are at and what we are facing. There are too many deniers, and cutting through that denial is going to be a long, hard slog, so not holding back any punches to soften the blow is what we need to be hearing from all of you guys. Thanks, but you still need to crank it up even more.”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

There’s also a radio show and podcast! Trust, fairness and the issue of historic responsibility — as COP26 gets underway, host Laura Lynch hears from people in the Global South about the lack of leadership and good faith from wealthy countries in climate negotiations. What On Earth airs Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m. in Newfoundland. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.


The Big Picture: Risking COVID to attend COP26

Facing an existential threat from rising sea levels, representatives from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) will go to the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow to once again ask the world to save their countries from disaster. The alliance has pushed the more ambitious target of limiting warming to 1.5 C, rather than 2 C. 

And the stakes are even higher this year. Many island countries currently have no cases of COVID-19, and some, like Tuvalu (photo below), Kiribati and the Cook Islands, have never had a case.

“Many of them are risking it all to come to COP to negotiate … for their future, risking the possibility of bringing COVID back to their home country, ​​just so that we can fight for our survival once again,” said Frances Fuller, adviser to AOSIS on climate science and mitigation.

Fuller is from Antigua and Barbuda, where she’s seen the devastation extreme weather can cause when Hurricane Irma passed through in 2017. 

“We are still waiting on transformational change to really happen,” Fuller said. “Incrementalism — it will not suffice at this point in time.”

Inayat Singh

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Facing sky-high connection fees, rural Ontarians go off the grid

(Bienvenu Senga/Radio-Canada)

When Craig Timmermans set out to build a new headquarters for his companies in northern Ontario, he reached out to the power company to find out how much it would charge him to connect to the grid.

He said he expected to pay a few thousand dollars, given that the nearest pole was across the street, about 45 metres away. He was shocked to find out it would cost $80,000.

“I thought that was just totally outrageous,” Timmermans told CBC News.

Hydro One, which distributes electricity for most rural customers in the province, eventually reduced the cost to $25,000. It was still too much, according to Timmermans.

“And then on top of that, to pay … an electric bill, probably at around four to five hundred dollars a month for the rest of my life, and only increasing. I thought, well, now’s the time to go off-grid.”

Last summer, Timmermans’s two radio stations — Great Lakes Country 103.1 and Hits 100.7 — went live from their new home in Little Current, Ont., about 90 kilometres southwest of Sudbury. They are the first off-grid stations in Canada.

They, along with the internet service provider Timmermans also owns, are powered by 24 solar panels and a wind turbine. Combined, the system produces eight kilowatt hours — more than enough to run his offices, radio studios, the central air conditioning and the servers that keep his internet customers connected year round, he said.

All told, it cost him $23,000.

“But on top of that, we have no more [power] bills,” Timmermans said.

In winter, he said he needs a propane furnace to heat the building. 

A separate wind-and-solar array mostly powers the stations’ transmitters, which belt out 77,500 watts of radio signal as far south as the Bruce Peninsula. The rest comes from the traditional power grid, but not for long, Timmermans hopes. 

Powering the transmitters used to cost a small fortune: $6,000 a month, he said. 

“Our current rate is about $1,500,” he said. “With more solar panels that we’re installing currently, I hope to bring that bill down closer to zero and we’ll basically use Hydro One as a backup. And so what that basically means is savings of $6,000. That’s another employee that we’re going to hire.”

Timmermans is one of a number of rural Ontarians who, put off by high connection costs, have left the grid in favour of renewable energies. 

“The cost of solar and battery storage systems have both decreased by approximately 90 per cent since 2010,” said Nicholas Gall of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association. “Today, a solar and battery storage system that would enable a homeowner to be entirely self-sufficient could be obtained for as little as $50,000, fully installed.”

Gall said there are no statistics on how many Canadians are going off-grid, but it’s easier than ever.

“In addition to avoiding rising utility costs, going off-grid can be an appealing option for homeowners seeking to reduce their environmental footprint, and to provide greater resiliency from blackouts caused by extreme weather events, which are likely to increase as a result of climate change.”

Even so, there are benefits to being on the grid, said Teresa Sarkesion, president and CEO of Ontario’s Electrical Distribution Association.  

“Reliability is a top priority for Ontario’s electricity customers and that is a key benefit of being connected to the grid, in addition to peace of mind and value for money,” she said in a statement.

Chris Hartwell also pulled the plug after learning a connection for his new home near Minden, a town about 190 kilometres northeast of Toronto, in Ontario’s cottage country — would cost at least $80,000.

“They kind of gave me no other option but to go off-grid,” said the 49-year-old veteran.

The provincial regulator requires customers who buy properties not hooked up to the electricity system to pay the cost of connecting, according to a spokesperson for Hydro One.

The company serves about 1.5 million mostly rural customers, and adds about 18,000 customer connections per year, according to the spokesperson.

Hartwell’s property is on a 2.5-kilometre stretch of road where there’s a gap in the power lines. The nearest pole to connect to is about one kilometre away. 

CBC News previously reported on his neighbour, Allan Robinson, who also lives within that gap. Connecting his newly built home would have cost $60,000. 

Hartwell is instead putting in a solar system for $42,500 that is expected to fully electrify his home. A propane furnace will provide heat.

“I have no use for Hydro. I have no use for the bills anymore,” he said. 

John Lancaster

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty




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