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UN climate chief’s blunt message: Fewer loopholes, way more cash to really halt climate change

Feb 2, 2024, 5:29 AM

FILE - United Nations Climate Chief Simon Stiell speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. ...

FILE - United Nations Climate Chief Simon Stiell speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, Dec. 13, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

To keep Earth from overheating too much, the nations of the world need to put fewer loopholes in climate agreements and far more money — trillions of dollars a year — into financial help for poor nations, the United Nations climate chief said Friday.

In an unusual and blunt lecture at a university in Baku, Azerbaijan, the host city of upcoming international climate negotiations later this year, United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell called gains made in the past not nearly enough. Without the proper amount of cash, he said those could “quickly fizzle away into more empty promises.”

Much of it comes down to money: $2.4 trillion a year, Stiell said. That’s how much a United Nations High-Level Expert Group on Climate Finance estimated that developing nations — not including China — need to invest in renewable energy instead of dirtier fossil fuels, as well as to adapt to and recover from climate change harms such as floods, storms, droughts and heat waves.

Richer nations have promised less than 5% of that amount in climate financial help to poor nations — and they often haven’t even delivered that much.

“It’s already blazingly obvious that finance is the make-or-break factor in the world’s climate fight,” Stiell said. “We need torrents — not trickles — of climate finance.”

United Nations climate officials emphasized the next two years are crucial for curbing climate change, with 2024 negotiations in Baku followed by a critical meeting in Brazil in 2025, when countries are required to come up with new and stronger pledges to cut emissions of all heat-trapping gases. To do that, officials said money is the great enabler of action.

“The time has passed for business-as-usual in all aspects of the world’s climate fight,” Stiell said.

After briefly praising last year’s climate agreement that said fossil fuels cause warming and the world needs to “transition away” from use of them in many instances, Stiell offered a rare but subtle rebuke.

“Hiding behind loopholes in decision texts or dodging hard work ahead through selective interpretation would be entirely self-defeating for any government as climate impacts hammer every country’s economy and population,” Stiell said. Stiell’s office declined to detail which loopholes he was talking about.

Activists, scientists and small island nations that are most vulnerable to warming’s worst effects criticized last year’s deal specifically for what they called loopholes. Samoa’s lead delegate Anne Rasmussen blasted the deal as business as usual, saying it could take the world backward, not forward. Stiell, a native of the vulnerable island nation of Grenada, leapt to his feet to applaud the Samoan’s complaint — much to the chagrin of the president of the negotiations, an oil executive from host United Arab Emirates.

“The problem with the text is that it still includes cavernous loopholes that allow the United States and other fossil fuel-producing countries to keep going on their expansion of fossil fuels,” Center for Biological Diversity energy justice director Jean Su said in December. Su cited a “pretty deadly, fatal flaw” in the text for allowing “transitional fuels” — a code word for carbon-emitting natural gas — to continue.

Joanna Depledge, a climate negotiations historian at Cambridge University in England, said the idea that the weak language in the Dubai agreement is “somehow seen as a triumph” shows the world is in trouble.

“It will take an Olympian effort over the next two years to put us on track to where we need to be in 2030 and 2050,” Stiell said.

Climate negotiators, he said, should adopt the Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger.”

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Read more of AP’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/climate-and-environment

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Follow Seth Borenstein on X at @borenbears

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

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