COP26 countdown: PM ‘increasingly frustrated’ by climate diplomacy progress

Prime minister Boris Johnson has said he is disappointed by rich nations’ failure to marshal $100bn of climate aid for the developing world – a key goal for the COP26 talks.

Addressing the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate on Friday, convened by US president Joe Biden, he said that the UK would be among the first to sign up to the Global Methane Pledge, a US-EU plan to reduce methane emissions by 30% over this decade, against a 2020 baseline.

The gas has a global warming potential 56 times greater than CO2 over a 20-year period, making tackling it critical if the world is to keep within the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C warming target. The pledge will be launched formally at the talks in Glasgow, which Johnson said “simply must succeed”.

“And that is only going to happen… if people come to Glasgow armed with the commitments that will enable us to keep that increase of 1.5c within reach and take us to net zero sooner rather than later, and hopefully by the middle of the century. And we also need the cash that will allow the developing world to do the same.”

But that has simply not happened yet. According to OECD data, developed countries mobilised just under $80bn of international climate finance in 2019.

“The world could slash its output of this powerful greenhouse gas tomorrow if we wanted to. But the trouble is that the G20 currently lacks both the ambition needed to do so, and the offer of finance to developing nations that’s needed to follow suit. That, in a nutshell, is what we face with the whole climate conundrum,” he told the meeting.

There has been some progress lately: pledges made at the G7 Summit in June added $4bn/year to the tally, and the club of rich countries has also committed to scale up aid further over the next five years. But Oxfam reckons that only £93-95bn will be raised by 2025, five years after the $100bn target should be met. And in 2019, 70% of the aid was given as loans rather than grants, pushing poor countries further into debt.

Nafkote Dabi, the charity’s global lead on climate policy, said: “The pandemic has shown that countries can swiftly mobilize trillions of dollars to respond to an emergency — it is clearly a question of political will. Let’s be clear, we are in a climate emergency. It is wreaking havoc across the globe and requires the same decisiveness and urgency.”

The prime minister followed up with a separate speech to a United Nations roundtable on climate change in New York today, announcing that £550m of an existing £11.6bn climate finance commitment over five years will go towards supporting developing countries to adopt policies and technologies to end coal consumption and reach net zero.

“I want to see you leapfrogging the outdated methods of yesteryear in favour of the cheaper, cleaner, cutting-edge technology that will power the 21st century. Wind and solar are the cheapest forms of electricity generation in two-thirds of the world. By 2030 renewables will be undercutting coal and gas almost everywhere. So going green isn’t just better for the planet. It means greater prosperity for your people. It means more opportunities for your businesses. And it puts you on the right side of public opinion both at home and on the international stage,” he said.

But the gap between what has been committed – both in terms of climate action and climate finance – “remains vast”, said Johnson.

“We need developed countries to find that $100 billion. And everyone nods and we all agree that ‘Something Must Be Done’. Yet I confess I’m increasingly frustrated that the ‘something’ to which many of you have committed is nowhere near enough,” he told the meeting.

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