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Debt and Inequality Will Be Key Issues at the UN’s Next Climate Conference

At COP27, activists will be focused on all the ways developed nations have made it harder for developing nations to survive the climate crisis

By 2050, Bangladesh is expected to experience an increase in temperature of about 1.5°C. Here, workers cross the Poshur River on their way to work.,Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Anadolu Agency // The Nation

Delegates from nearly 200 nations, as well as hundreds of activists and representatives from nongovernmental organizations that focus on climate change and the environment, are convening in November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the UN climate negotiations, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP). At this year’s version, COP27, nations will once again work together to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which requires each country to submit a detailed plan to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The UN gathers these binding commitments, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, to establish what the collective impact will be. In accordance with the Paris treaty, nations agreed to submit their NDCs by 2020 and then report back every five years. The plan was to ramp up commitments in successive years. And change is needed soon: The Paris Agreement reminds us that 2030 is the critical year by which global CO2 emissions must have been reduced by 45 percent to avoid the irreversible consequences of climate change.

In fact, earlier this year, the United Nations stated that emissions need to have peaked by 2025, be reduced by 43 percent by 2030, and be at net zero by 2050. Unfortunately, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute, the commitments made so far will reduce emissions only 7 percent from 2019 levels by 2030. This reflects a shortcoming of the Paris Agreement: Some nations could ride the coattails of the commitments made by other nations and thus avoid making significant cuts themselves.

The goal is to keep the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and ideally to 1.5°C (2.7°F). The mantra of Pacific Islanders—“1.5 to stay alive!”—bespeaks the reality that any greater increase in temperature would lead to a rise in sea levels that would threaten the survival of island nations around the world.

Finance is also a key topic at COP27. The Paris Agreement aims to ensure that funds and technology will be transferred from “developed” (in UN-speak) to “developing” nations. The latter are already experiencing the effects of climate change, often disproportionately and with fewer resources to address them. In 2009, developed nations agreed to pay $100 billion each year to developing nations until 2020 to support mitigation and adaptation. That promise went largely unfulfilled.

Since wealthier nations have not made good on those commitments, developing nations have demanded what is referred to as “loss and damages” at the UN negotiations. It is what it sounds like: compensation for loss (irreversible) and for damages (reparable). (G20 member nations produce 80 percent of global emissions.)

The Vulnerable 20, or V20, a group of nations (now numbering 58) that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, have put forward a range of proposals to raise funds, either for mitigation and adaptation or loss and damages, ranging from taxes on fossil fuels to taxes on flying. V20 nations are experiencing the double whammy of debt and the costs related to the climate crisis. According to a recent report, the incomes of V20 nations have been reduced by a projected 20 percent in the past two decades because of the effects of climate change. Thus they have also demanded that the debt of poorer countries be restructured and have threatened to stop payments on these debts unless wealthier nations pay the promised amounts for mitigation and adaptation and for loss and damages. These demands, which have come from many island nations in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, are sure to grow louder over the course of COP27.

Lastly, while these topics will be negotiated inside COP27, demands to address the human rights violations of Egypt’s el-Sisi regime have been increasing. Attention has already been brought to this issue by public figures like Naomi Klein and Greta Thunberg, and an online petition has been signed by hundreds of organizations and activists. As Klein recently wrote at The Intercept, while Egypt might be attempting to improve its image ahead of COP27, it is “greenwashing a police state.” She called attention to the imprisonment of Alaa Abd El Fattah and more than 60,000 other political prisoners.

Global climate activists have spoken up in support of the release of Abd El Fattah, who has been on a hunger strike for over 200 days. Not surprisingly, many are from countries that are under right-wing leadership, such as Brazil and the Philippines, who know from personal experience what is at risk and the importance of speaking up. A thread runs through and weaves together these negotiations and movements, which is one for justice, whether it’s framed as social, political, or climate justice. They are all related and sure to be part of the interwoven demands at this year’s conference

[Tina Gerhardt is an environmental journalist who covers the international climate change negotiations, domestic energy policy, hurricanes, and sea level rise. Her writing has been published in Grist, The Nation, The Progressive, Sierra Magazine, and Washington Monthly. You can follow her on Twitter @TinaGerhardtEJ.]

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