It’s (still) all about the money at COP26 

Part 1: Why climate financing is still polarising nations in Glasgow, despite a barrage of promises


Climate financing, as expected, has been one of this year’s most burning issues at the climate talks in Glasgow. Although financial commitments rained down, the issue of who pays for what is still sowing division in the negotiating rooms at the COP26. 

Country representatives are quibbling late into the night on how to spend climate finance: who should receive it, how to make sure it is used effectively, how it should be measured and what should be defined as climate finance. 

So far the finance announcements have been skewed towards helping nations cut their emissions rather than helping them adapt to global warming, which causes more frequent droughts, floods and wildfires.

South Africa’s watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal announced last week, for example, aims to help the country cut its carbon emissions and move to a green economy. 

Before the talks South Africa’s environment minister, Barbara Creecy, tried to manage expectations about climate funding at the conference. She framed COP26 as an opportunity to explain the challenges faced by the country. 

“We don’t expect that … anyone is going to be there with their chequebook,” she said.

But it appeared that a few nations had at least taken some spare change with them. 

At the start of the week COP26 host country the UK calculated that more than $20 billion had already been pledged at this conference to support the global coal-to-clean-power transition, and more deals were expected. 

Apart from the South African climate finance deal, a new partnership with the Asian Development Bank saw climate finance announcements for Indonesia and the Philippines. The plan to help the countries support the early retirement of existing coal plants has also been lauded. 

Multilateral development banks have been active at the talks, with billions of dollars committed to poor countries to help them quit coal. 

Poor countries have been adamant that rich countries can no longer shirk their responsibilities. For these nations it is also a question of justice. The climate problem was largely created by Europe, North America and east Asia, but the worst impact of climate change will be felt in these vulnerable countries. Africa’s emissions, for example, account for less than 4% of historical global emissions compared with 25% for the US, 22% for the EU and 13% for China.

Lurking in the shadows is the so-called Broken Promises report, released just before the talks started last week. ​​This report, officially titled the Climate Finance Delivery Plan, found that rich countries had broken their promises around climate funding.

In 2009, at the Copenhagen climate summit, developed countries pledged at least $100 billion a year to the developing world by 2020. 

The report found a shortfall in mobilising the promised climate finance by that date, and puts forward a plan to get the necessary finance needed by 2025. The current pledge era stretches to 2025, whereafter a new, higher figure will kick in. 

In 2009 developing countries considered it a downpayment as well as a gesture of trust. But the report showed that only 80% of what was promised had been delivered, and that much more was needed. 

Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, the chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change, told the Guardian that Glasgow could make amends for this broken promise and garner more support for more climate finance. 

He said that wealthy countries should be held as rigorously to account on their finance promises as they are on emissions reductions. And that included regular reporting on the levels of support provided, needed and received.

“What we want to achieve at this Cop is a transparency framework with strong rules on accounting,” Gahouma-Bekale told the Guardian.

Adaptation climate finance, however, needs more work. African nations have also been pushing discussions on a mega-financing deal of $700 billion every year from 2025. This deal would deliver more funds to help developing nations adapt to the climate crisis. Part of these funds will still be used to help African countries cut their emissions. 

Loss and damage has been a huge sticking point at the conference. Reports from negotiating halls indicate that rich countries are loath to commit to loss and damage compensation. The principle behind loss and damage is that rich countries caused climate change and that they should compensate poor countries that are suffering the brunt of the climate crisis. It is a politically loaded issue. 

So far vague commitments have been made, but COP26 has been looking to firm up pledges and so far it has fallen short. 

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