As Leaders Depart, the Hard Work Begins at COP26

As world leaders departed from Glasgow, and much of the world’s media with them, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was the end of COP26. And yet the hard work has only just begun. Because after the “blah, blah, blah” comes the work, work, work. Officials and negotiators are here for another week and a half to try and turn the rhetoric into reality. And no-one needs them to succeed more than the world’s most vulnerable nations. 

For the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), climate change represents yet another barrier to sustainable development. The increasing number of extreme weather events hits these nations harder because they do not have the infrastructure, resources or resilience to tackle multiple crises.  

Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) are among the most water stressed in the world. And in these regions, more than 60 per cent of households are rural-based small-holder farmers relying on rain-fed agriculture in already dry, water stressed lands. When water becomes scarce, people migrate and the risk of conflict grows.

In the case of Small Island Developing States, they really are the ones closest to the cliff edge when we talk about the climate emergency. Some are in such a perilous position that they are using their limited financial resources to buy up land in preparation for their homelands to be lost to the sea. Kale Island, in the Solomon Islands, has already been lost. Speaking from the ocean, where Kale Island used to be, UNICEF Pacific Ambassador, Gladys Habu said of carbon emissions: “We contribute almost nothing, but are at risk of losing everything.”

This week, I have been discussing a number of initiatives to support the SIDS as they face down multiple challenges – new innovative ways to access finance, better recognition of their overlapping vulnerabilities and more importance placed on climate adaptation projects. 

Even if we manage all these things, it won’t be enough without decisive action from the developed world and the big polluters. There is only so much room on this cliff edge, and whilst the big nations get fatter on fossil fuels, they take up more and more of the room and push the vulnerable countries closer and closer to the edge - closer to catastrophe. 

Covid-19 has exacerbated all the challenges being faced by the most vulnerable countries. It is estimated that it will take some LDCs between three and five years to return to pre-pandemic levels of GDP. And vaccine nationalism continues to diminish the notion of global solidarity. The World Bank recently estimated that 2.5% of this year’s debt service payments for poor countries, amounting to approximately $28bn, would be enough to vaccinate 2 billion people in poor countries. 

Little ground will be made over these next few days if we don’t crack the issue of finance – the theme of today’s deliberations. Rich countries have failed to honour a commitment to mobilise $100 billion dollars in climate finance. And a pledge made here to make good on this by 2023 was described by the ex-President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, as a “plan to make a plan”. For those nations looking over the cliff edge, this is not good enough.

There are two exit doors available for vulnerable countries from COP26 when things do come to an end next week. One is locked and marked “Decade of Action”. The other is open, and marked “Another Lost Decade”. We will be doing everything we can in the coming days to prise open that first door.