The world’s richest countries admitted Monday that they broke a promise to deliver $100 billion a year to developing nations to help them cope with climate change.
A report prepared by ministers from Canada and Germany found the pledge — meant to run from 2020 to 2025 — would not be met until 2023; it came on the same day that the U.N. repeated a warning that the world is not doing nearly enough to rein in global warming.
That’s likely to heighten tensions at next week’s COP26 climate talks, where developing countries have tied their efforts to cut emissions with wealthy countries making good on the climate finance pledge.
The financial promise was made in 2009 and reinforced in 2015, but German State Secretary for the Environment Jochen Flasbarth told reporters: “The developed world did not deliver on the commitment.” That, he said, was “extremely unfortunate … it’s not right that the developed countries didn’t do it in due time.”
Flasbarth and Canadian Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson surveyed wealthy countries and multilateral donors and laid out projections for future climate finance in detail for the first time.
It’s likely that the 2020 flows fell $20 billion short, but the survey found that over five years from 2021 to 2025, the financial flow would “likely” be around $500 billion — meaning that rich countries might reach the $100 billion-a-year mark on average for those five years, but the pledge would miss the promised mark over the whole 2020-2025 period.
U.K. COP26 President Alok Sharma, who commissioned the report, said the signal that the promise would be met — albeit late — was “significant progress on a totemic issue … This has been a source of deep frustration for developing countries and I absolutely get this.”
Flasbarth said he thought the outcome “is not bad enough” for countries “not to be constructive in Glasgow. And now we really urge all parties to come to Glasgow in a spirit to solve the remaining issues.”
Meeting the mark
No developing countries were invited to the press conference. The Bhutanese chair of the group of 46 least developed countries, Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi, tweeted they appreciated the efforts of the COP26 presidency “to ensure that developed countries provide $500bn over five years up to 2025.” He said that should be provided as grants — right now 71 percent come as loans and should provide more funding for adapting to the impacts of climate change, he said.
Others were less sanguine. Mohamed Adow, director of Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, said the financing failure was “utterly shameful and the deal announced today is still short despite the U.K. government trying to spin it as ‘mission accomplished.’ Poor nations will not be conned and the leaders of the developed world need to pull their finger out and get this money on the table if COP26 is going to be a success.”
Sharma, Wilkinson and Flasbarth argued that, while the rich world hadn’t hit the mark, the report could provide certainty that there was a commitment to arrive at the destination, even if with a delay. That, Wilkinson said, should give poorer countries “confidence that the monies are going to continue to flow over the course of the coming year.”
The consequence of not getting an agreement on faster emissions cuts was laid out by the U.N. report, which found that national climate plans collectively have the world on track to warm by 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century — something scientists warn would be catastrophic.
Wilkinson and Flasbarth’s report found that the shortfall was mostly due to a failure to mobilize private capital alongside public funds.
That highlights that even the current, and unmet, financial promise is much too small, Wilkinson said: “We need to see trillions of dollars that are mobilized for this, not $100 billion.”
One of the biggest problems is the U.S., which largely backed out of international climate finance under Donald Trump. Despite a recent promise to quadruple donations under Joe Biden, the U.S. remains the lowest climate finance contributor among the rich world, according to several measures of its fair share compiled by the World Resources Institute.
According to reports, the U.S. tried to delay the release of the Canadian-German report.
Flasbarth said he and Wilkinson met resistance from some of their peers when they sought assurances about delivering their share of the $100 billion goal. “Jonathan and I really pushed developed countries during the last weeks very hard, and not all of our conversations were really seen to be polite,” he said.
This article has been updated to correct the average financial flows over the full six-year period. They fall short of $100 billion a year.
This article is part of POLITICO’s Sustainability Pro service, which dives deep into sustainability issues across all sectors, including: circular economy, waste and the plastics strategy, chemicals and more. For a complimentary trial, email [email protected] mentioning Sustainability.