Opinion: Can COP28 deliver for the Global South? It’s time for the maths

For the current Global Stocktake of climate action to be meaningful, it urgently needs to push for equity in science and financing, and hold developed countries accountable
<p>&#8220;On their hands there is blood&#8221;: Representatives from Global Young Greens protest the expected loss of life from government failure to take sufficient action on climate change at last year&#8217;s COP27 summit in Egypt (Image: Mike Muzurakis / IISD via ENB)</p>

“On their hands there is blood”: Representatives from Global Young Greens protest the expected loss of life from government failure to take sufficient action on climate change at last year’s COP27 summit in Egypt (Image: Mike Muzurakis / IISD via ENB)

During World Environment Day in June, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said developing countries are still paying the price for the flawed policies of a few developed countries. This continues to be a key sticking point in global climate negotiations and will come to the forefront in December, during the United Nation’s intergovernmental climate conference, COP28, in Dubai.

Because the Global Stocktake (GST) – an analysis of what has been achieved and where the problems are – is due to conclude at COP28, the conference has been billed by some as the “Global Stocktake COP”, handing the world its report card on recent climate action. That is why now is the time to ensure the bill for this action is settled equitably, by making such considerations a key part of this GST process.

Deliver for the Global South

According to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water’s (CEEW) analysis of the 20 GST submissions from negotiating blocs and Parties, made between COP26 in November 2021 and March of this year, those from the Global South are predominantly calling for the necessary clean energy transition technology, the increase in finance that this transition demands, and better science. Across all submissions, 80% cited the need for greater levels of financing; 85% stressed the need for technologies that aid climate change mitigation and adaptation.

While concerns and priorities have been highlighted by Party submissions, for the Paris Agreement’s current GST to serve the Global South it must deliver strong political messages on four key fronts.

Science must dictate robust estimates for loss and damage funds for developing countries

Firstly, the GST must account for pre-2020 progress gaps by holding developed nations collectively accountable. CEEW analysis in 2021 revealed that, as a bloc, developed countries broke their climate pledges during the pre-2020 period and exceeded estimated carbon emissions allowances by approximately 25 gigatons of CO2 equivalent. This accounted for almost half of all global emissions in 2019. Failure to address this historical slippage will compromise trust, thus undermining the GST’s integrity. Therefore, the current GST should call for stronger action, and enhanced climate pledges and compensatory financial flows from the developed world to the Global South.

Next, the GST will need to push for equity in scientific research and the climate modelling of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessments. Science must dictate robust estimates for loss and damage funds for developing countries. Additionally, the GST should identify opportunities for technological co-development and co-ownership between developed and developing nations. For example, green hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.

Thirdly, the role of carbon markets as cost-effective, cross-sector emissions mitigation instruments and proponents of industry best practices must be realised. India recently passed an amendment to its 2001 Energy Conservation Act, laying the foundation for the Indian carbon market; many other countries are exploring the same. Were the GST to share such messaging, learnings and best practices from existing carbon markets, it would help developing countries as they set up their own.

Finally, the GST has the potential to accelerate the flow and delivery of finance by identifying the sources, types, and sizes of funds, and noting market designs and institutional frameworks. India alone will need about 10 trillion USD for its net-zero transition, making it important to identify sources of capital, whether they be domestic or international, public or private. The forms this finance may take must also be considered, from loans, grants and concessional finance, to innovative financial instruments, such as green bonds. The GST’s verdict on finance will be nothing short of critical as the Global South transitions to low-carbon development.

How does the GST work?

Conducted every five years, the Global Stocktake (GST) is a two-year process under the Paris Agreement that operates in three phases: information collection, during which a comprehensive set of inputs are gathered from different stakeholders; a technical assessment, which evaluates the inputs submitted; and political consideration of the outputs, in order to generate key messages and guidance in enhancing climate ambition and action. All eyes are now on the GST as its technical phase concludes and the political portion takes place until COP28.

CEEW analysis shows that many Parties – 90% of submissions – have emphasised the need for science to dictate future courses of action. Bhutan and Nepal even advocated for the establishment of a new space in which to discuss the impact of rising temperatures on those parts of Earth’s surface covered by frozen water (the cryosphere). Furthermore, many developing countries want a higher-quality and more reliable flow of scientific data, particularly the bloc of nations representing the least-developed countries.

Righting historical wrongs

There is also a clear need to address the pre-2020 progress gaps under the Kyoto Protocol (2008-12) and the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (2013-20), when developed countries did not fulfil their emission-reduction promises, and many pulled out of climate commitments. This was noted by 20% of GST submissions, which as a group represent 80% of the world’s population. Understandably, these demands all come from China and developing country blocs, such as the Like Minded-Group of Developing Countries, the Group of 77 and the African Group of Negotiators. The developed world continues to ignore the failures of the pre-2020 era and the need for collective action, rebuilding trust, and most importantly, strong leadership.

COPs must not just become repositories of promises and pledges

The Global Stocktake is an opportunity to course-correct and deliver for the Global South. The process shows immense promise as a catalyst for low-carbon, resilient development. It can potentially enable nations to take bold strides towards sustainable progress. COPs must not just become repositories of promises and pledges – it’s time to take a hard look at the maths and deliver climate justice for the Global South.

Jhalak Aggarwal is a research analyst and Pallavi Das is a programme lead for the CEEW