5 takeaways from Day 3 of COP26: A fossil-fuel breakthrough, $9 billion forest bill, climate ‘debt traps’
Alberto Pezzali/AP

5 takeaways from Day 3 of COP26: A fossil-fuel breakthrough, $9 billion forest bill, climate ‘debt traps’

As world leaders left Glasgow, delegates at COP26 rolled up their sleeves to do the dirty work.

National negotiators are now diving into the nitty-gritty of the talks, trying to reach agreements on everything from emissions reporting transparency to forest protection.

Each day of the conference has has a set theme to guide conversations and deal-making. On Wednesday, the umbrella topic was finance.

Here’s what happened.

A breakthrough on fossil fuel funding

At least 20 countries have agreed to end financing for fossil fuel projects abroad, a UK official told CNN, in a deal expected to be announced Thursday.

Another source close to the COP26 negotiations said that the US was party to the agreement. Officials at the US State Department did not respond to CNN to confirm the country’s involvement.

Several countries had already agreed to end international financing for coal, but this agreement would be the first of its kind to include oil and gas projects as well.

The announcement comes after a series of reports over the past several months that showed the world needs immediately ramp down the burning fossil fuel if the planet has a shot to avoid warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A recent study published in the journal Nature, for example, found that a vast majority of the planet’s remaining oil, natural gas, and coal reserves must remain in the ground by 2050 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Most regions around the world, according to the authors, must reach peak fossil fuel production now or within the next decade to limit the critical climate threshold.

The financing deal “represents a change in norms that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago,” Iskander Erzini Vernoit, a climate finance expert at think tank E3G, told CNN. “We’ve seen this go from the niche frontier concepts to at the core of the mainstream.”

Poorest countries face climate ‘debt traps’

The world’s 46 least-developed countries spoke out about the damage climate change is causing to their nations — and the help they desperately need to deal with it.

Rich nations have promised to provide $100 billion a year to the developing world for adaptation and mitigation by 2020, a promise that has not yet been fulfilled. However, many of the world’s poorest countries say even that amount is not enough, and they are increasingly pushing for climate reparations for the loss and damage that’s been caused over the years.

The limited funds that are available remain inaccessible to many.

“We don’t have the capacity, access is a huge problem … because most of these funding windows have different requirements, different challenges,” said Sonam Wangdi, chair of the Least Developed Countries Group.

“I mean, if you have a climate disaster, and you apply for a loan, it takes four or five years. It doesn’t make sense. You’re not able to help your people, not able to refinance, rebuild, or secure livelihoods.”

The poorest countries are then forced to borrow money, leading them into “debt traps,” he said.

A bill to fulfill Biden’s forest promise

A top Democrat in the US House of Representatives introduced a bill to put financial weight behind US President Joe Biden’s commitment to end and reverse deforestation.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s legislation would establish a $9 billion trust fund at the US State Department to finance bilateral forest conservation projects with developing countries around the world, the same amount Biden said the US should contribute.

“We need them to keep it in the ground,” Hoyer told CNN — speaking about preventing countries from cutting down trees. “The first step [is] stop losing the forest.”

More than 100 world leaders representing over 85% of the planet’s forests committed this week to ending and reversing deforestation and land degradation by 2030. It was the first substantial deal announced at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Twelve parties to the agreement — including the US and EU — committed $12 billion in public funding to protect and restore forests, in addition to $7.2 billion of private capital.

Climate finance scales ‘out of whack’

Gernot Laganda, the World Food Programme’s chief of climate and disaster risk reduction told CNN that climate finance needs “to immediately balance the scales” to get more funding to the people who are most vulnerable on the climate front lines close to starvation.

Mitigation focuses on making climate change less severe by transitioning to green economy and slashing carbon emissions. Adaptation is all about minimizing the impacts of the rising temperatures. Mitigation funding, for example, would be a grant to build a wind farm, while adaptation money would go into erecting flood defenses.

Laganda said “80% investment [is] in mitigation in energy and electric cars and only a 20% investment in resilience building — that’s woefully out of whack.”

Lagands said because the frequency of climate-driven weather extremes has accelerated, more needs to be invested in resilience. In 2020 alone, extreme weather drove 30 million people from their homes, according to WFP.

Bankers against climate change

Banks, insurers, pension funds, money managers and other finance firms with $130 trillion in assets have signed up to tackle the climate crisis, swelling the ranks of a coalition led by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

The more than 450 companies across 45 countries that have signed up to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) control over 40% of global banking assets. Its organizers predict it can deliver $100 trillion of finance over the next three decades — more than $3 trillion a year — to accelerate the transition to net zero carbon emissions.

While the pledge sounds great, net-zero commitments made by companies often include loopholes, lack transparency and don’t include enforcement mechanisms to ensure they follow through.

“We need to ensure that commitments that have been made are tracked and held to account. Ensuring the integrity of these commitments over time is fundamental to actually making a difference and we now need to focus resolutely on the quality of promises made by financial institutions, not just their quantity,” said Ben Caldecott, director of the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group at the University of Oxford.

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