To grasp what is going down at the COP26 ‘last chance saloon’ in Glasgow besides Scotch whiskey, it is worth revisiting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s most ambitious creation, the Green Climate Fund. In climate politics, the devil resides in the detail and the history.
The Green Climate Fund is to become the main instrument for multilateral climate finance in the future. It will channel a significant share of international climate finance needed to keep global temperature increases to below 2° Celsius. GCF statement, Bonn, September 9, 2014
On November 14, 2014, the White House announced a ‘unique development in the U.S.-China relationship’. The ‘carbon pollution’ targets trumpeted that day would be torn up and replaced by the rhetoric of NetZero in less than a decade. Another case of climate déjà vu all over again.
The G20 Brisbane Summit kicked off the next day. Paragraph 19 of the Summit Communiqué reads:
We support strong and effective action to address climate change. Consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its agreed outcomes, our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth, and certainty for business and investment. We will work together to adopt successfully a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015……We reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund.
Despite much media excitement, there was little new. UNFCCC’s search for ‘another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force’ for ‘mobilising’ developed world finance had been going on – with increasing urgency – since the 2009 Copenhagen COP15 debacle.
How did we get to this point?The UN climate-control and ‘climate-protection’ racket began in earnest in Mexico four years earlier at the Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort, Cancun. More than 15,000 delegates danced to the COP16 theme song: ‘Let’s put the CAN in Cancun!’ This event in early December, 2010, still sticks in the mind, if not the gullet, for some people.
It was here that UNFCCC’s new Costa Rican executive secretary, Christian Figueres, first warned that ‘the environmental stakes are high, because we are quickly running out of time to safeguard our future.’
The stakes were high too. Ms Figueres wanted the ‘multilateral UN climate change process’ to remain ‘the trusted channel for rising to the challenge’. To protect its ‘effectiveness and credibility’, GCF was conjured up as the mechanism for transferring eagerly anticipated billions of dollars from the developed to the developing world.
The ‘world’s poorest and most vulnerable’ were already facing nasty – invariably assumed to be human-induced – climate impacts. They urgently needed assistance – payment of ‘climate debt’ – to tackle ‘a problem that they did not cause’. Translation: Every extreme, random, unusual or destructive weather – or climate – event in the developing world was, is and would be – by dodgy definition – conveniently attributed to carbon dioxide emissions by the developed world.
Ms Figueres urged attendees to embrace the wisdom of Ixchel – a Mayan goddess with a writhing serpent headdress and crossed bones embroidered on her skirt. It worked. Governments – with the exception of the US under President Trump – continue to promote the novel notion that a huge bureaucracy – should, could and can – control the planet’s elusive thermostat; while demanding billions of dollars for ‘climate reparations’ and future ‘climate protection’ money from the developed world by demonizing – and monetizing via ‘carbon credits’ and grants on a grand scale – an invisible atmospheric trace gas crucial to global plant photosynthesis and all organic life, including homo net zero.
Four years later, Ms Figueres described the challenge of driving the greatest wealth transfer in history as:
probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model , for the first time in human history. We are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the industrial revolution. February 3, 2015)
For some, it was a shrewd eco-Marxist tactic designed to solve other challenges, such as population growth and poverty. Saving the planet was an easy sell in a world awash with slogans and young eco-worriers.
On March 15, 2011, a decade ago, UNFCCC released The COP16 Cancun Agreement” (FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1, Decision 1/CP.16). Under Clause 103, GCF would be governed by a 24-member Board comprising equal numbers from developing and developed countries; representatives of relevant UN regional groups, small island developing States and least-developed countries.
Clause 98 spelt out the key commitment:
developed country Parties [shall] commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.
Yet many developed countries remain reluctant to share with their electorates precisely why, how – and for how long – they intend to fund multi-billion dollar ‘climate-resilient development pathways’ in the developing world – and help it ‘adapt’ to all the ‘adverse impacts of climate change’.
How the West came to agree to this goal — to pay the developing world annual ‘climate reparations’ of a ‘meaningful’ USD100 billion from 2020 remains a mystery. Was it the Tequila Effect or the Ixchelian spell of the Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort? Whatever it was, President Obama woke to the occasion.
There’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other. And that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate. — President Obama, September, 2014
What, then, of the President’s USD3 billion pledge at the University of Queensland that week, which had local climate-crusaders urging Australia ‘to lead on the front foot’? An article in the Times of India described it (correctly) as ‘just peanuts’. Likewise the developed world’s total early pledges of about USD7.5 billion – USA ($3 billion), Japan ($1.5 billion), Germany ($1 billion), France ($1 billion), Sweden ($500 million), Netherlands ($125 million) South Korea ($100 million) and Mexico ($10 million).
Yet the UN’s grand decarbonisation mission powers ahead at the ‘make or break’ COP26, driven by the hope this COP will deliver finally a very big bag of money: ‘climate finance’.
It is clear from statistics that we need to re-channel trillions from the existing assets entrenching today’s unsustainable economy into greener growth. However it is less clear where the necessary finance to deliver the change will come from and how to mobilize it to enable this transition. — United Nations Environment Program
In early September 2014, the GCF held its second Initial Resource Mobilization (IRM) meeting in Bonn, just weeks after Germany pledged up to USD1 billion. At the informal consultation, Ms Figueres told representatives
the Green Climate Fund is up, but it is not yet running. In order for that to happen, governments need to move from words to deeds. Between now and the next Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Lima, Peru, the capitalization of the Fund must begin. Initial funding of US$ 10 billion would be a good start and a good signal of intent as the world looks forward to a new climate agreement in 2015 that is both universal and meaningful.
Once GCF is ‘appropriately capitalized’, it will make grants and loans ‘for projects and programmes that enable developing countries to boost sustainable development, whilst curbing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change’.
What formula was used to determine the GCF’s annual dollar pledges and targets? There are clues in how the UN’s approach or ‘architecture’ has evolved over the past two decades – and, crucially, in the contraction-and-convergence ideology that informed its early development. That ideology is now imbedded with another core concept in the agency’s quest for global peace and happiness: ‘sustainability’.
The COP16 Cancun Agreement preamble reaffirmedthat:
climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that all Parties share a vision for long-term cooperative action in order to achieve the objective of the Convention under its Article 2, including through the achievement of a global goal, on the basis of equity and in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities; this vision is to guide the policies and actions of all Parties, while taking into full consideration the different circumstances of Parties in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention.
All signatories – including Australia – continue to commit to that ‘global goal’ based on ‘equity’. They accept the notion of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. For those who came in late, the first principle of the 1992 UNFCCC Agreement (Article 3) states:
The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
When Presidents Obama and Xi made their joint announcement in late 2014, it was not about a formal agreement. They merely referred to future targets that have turned out not to be achievable. Nevertheless, they threw a much-needed bone to a UN climate bureaucracy anxious about another crisis of credibility – and a grenade into the procrastinator-camp.
The world’s two largest emitters – China then with 26 per cent and the US 17 per cent – did something else. They publicly endorsed the contraction – of US and developed world’s emissions – and their convergence – with China’s and the developing world’s emissions. They provided specific targets for the first time, even if they were provisional and lacked ‘legal force’.
This was indeed consistent with the Cancun Agreement, where signatories reaffirmed their intention to
cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries, and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-carbon development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development; in this context, further agrees to work towards identifying a time frame for global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available scientific knowledge and equitable access to sustainable development.
The key date in the 2014 Obama/Xi announcement was 2030. This is the year when China’s national greenhouse gas emissions – and population – were projected to peak and reach ‘parity’ with the US. Last week it became 2060 for China and Russia, and 2070 in the case of India.
If one accepts the UN’s climate alarmism – ignoring for the sake of argument its many flaws – how are carbon dioxide emissions to be shared between countries – equitably and sustainably – in a world where the human population continues to grow and is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050?
For contraction-and-convergence fans, the best way would be by convergence on an agreed per person amount of emissions by an agreed date, according to an agreed global contraction budget and schedule (see graph). Developed world wealth transfers, they argue, are required to settle past ‘climate debt’ and to fund urgent ‘adaptation’ projects forced on vulnerable societies by the West’s profligacy.
If last century’s Utopia was populated by Soviet Man, he has been superseded this century by Green Person and Net Zero, yet with eerily similar yearnings – this time for a ‘sustainable’ world free of ‘inequity’.
Paradoxically, the contraction-and-convergence concept’s surprise creator, Aubrey Meyer, is not a UN climate bureaucrat. He is a musician (viola) by training and former member of the UK Green Party. Now a climate campaigner and composer, he co-founded the Global Commons Institute in 1990.
Both the UN Charter and the US Declaration of Independence declare everyone is born equal. This proposal takes equity as the starting point for the whole world to resolve the twin problems of global warming and global inequity. Contraction and Convergence, along with the practice of Allocation and Trade, can be used to provide a structure for human societies to reach sustainability with the earth and its ecosystems. Without a plan of this sort, there will be an increasingly visionless future and many people will perish. — Aubrey Meyer, Pacific Ecologist, Summer 2006/07
According to Mr Meyer’s site, his first public “Contraction & Convergence” statement was published in The Guardian on June 18, 1991, with 250 signatories, including 50 UK Parliamentarians. The following year, he presented what appears to have been an influential paper on it — ‘The Unequal Use of the Global Commons’ — to Policy Working Group Three of the IPCC Second Assessment Report.
Meyer later said the world must collaborate with musical discipline to avert runaway climate change: that is, play his “contraction-and-convergence carbon reduction score in time, in tune and together”.
Was someone in the UN at that time tempted to put the dollar-cart before the dangerous climate-horse? Surely not. Yet Mr Meyer’s concept appeared years before UNFCCC’s emphatic reliance on attribution pseudoscience, the surge in activist “blah-blah-blah” waffle and the pandemic of climate anxiety that has led us to where we are today.
But that’s another story, perhaps one titled with a proverb: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’.
This essay first appeared in Quadrant Online on November 8, 2021.