Written by Pooran Desai (Founder of OnePlanet) and Niamh James (Researcher)

With climate changes ‘baked in’, adapting to climate change is going to be vital. A key aspect during COP26 was the extent to which richer countries might support adaptation in low-income frontline countries such as Tuvalu and the Gambia. Due to climate change, these countries are at risk from sea-level rise and coastal erosion. Frontline nations have described the agreements to support them as set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact as ‘grossly inadequate’. The imbalance of representation at key negotiations was also problematic as it led to important issues being overlooked. In an interconnected world, the effects of climate change will be far-reaching for all of us, not just the poor on the frontline. The likelihood of local conflicts and mass migration will increase, consequently leading to geopolitical instability.

Monday 8th November marked the second week of COP26 and its Adaptation and Loss and Damage Day. ‘Adaptation’ recognises that the effects of climate change are going to be unavoidable for millions of people regardless of what actions are taken going forward. Therefore, measures need to be put in place to adapt and protect people from extreme weather patterns. ‘Loss and damage’ refers to the events of climate breakdown that are so severe that they cannot be protected against or adapted to.

Alok Sharma, head of the UK Climate Leadership stated that ‘the spotlight will be on those nations and communities which are most vulnerable to climate change’.

Lack of representation

The truth of this statement, however, was called into question. Many representatives of vulnerable countries and communities, on the frontlines of climate change, had restricted access to the conference. Indigenous communities in particular have been excluded from important discussions even though they make-up just 6% of the global population yet protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Representatives of organisations related to climate justice, indigenous rights and women’s rights warn that their absence is a huge oversight as it could lead to devastation for millions of people. 

In contrast, the fossil fuel industry had the largest delegation at COP26, surpassing the size of any other country. This means that people representing the fossil fuel industry were having a say in key climate discussions over those who are most vulnerable to climate change.

Adaptation Fund for low-income nations

Despite contributing the least to the climate crisis, low-income nations will be the worst affected and are already experiencing devastating weather events. In 2009, rich nations promised $100 billion a year to low-income countries to aid them in climate-related issues. This has not, however, been followed through. In 2019, just $80 billion was provided. Of this, only $20 billion was allocated for adaptation and only 7% went to the poorest countries in need of it most.

Representatives of frontline nations state that the promise of $100 billion is ‘grossly inadequate.’ According to Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, Africa will need $325 billion a year to deal with the consequences of climate change. This may sound like a hefty sum, but when we consider that high-income nations have spent $3.3 trillion on the fossil fuel industry since 2015, it is not unreasonable to suggest that more money is put towards climate mitigation and climate adaptation instead.

Leaders of Antigua and Barbuda and the nation of Tuvalu declared that they should be able to claim compensation from countries whose emissions have contributed to climate disasters. Wealthy nations are resistant to this idea of being legally responsible for their emissions because they risk being charged trillions. Scotland is the only country promising to donate to a compensation fund for countries whose economies have been damaged by climate change.

The Glasgow Climate Pact

At the end of COP26, the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ was agreed by nearly 200 nations. Within the Pact, actions regarding adaptation had been outlined and further detailed than in previous years. High-income countries have pledged that the $100 billion sum will be met and have been urged to at least double their funds towards adaptation efforts for low-income countries. Improvements have been recognised by frontline nations however, they state that the changes are still very insufficient.

This year’s COP has not delivered the results that low-income nations were hoping for. In an interconnected world, the effects of climate change will be felt by all of us, not just the poor on the frontline. Therefore, a collaborative approach to solving it needs to be taken. High-income nations must drastically move away from fossil fuel investments towards investing in adaptation measures that regenerate the planet and create resilient communities. A failure to fulfil promises made at this year’s COP will not only break down our natural systems, it will also break down the trust between nations.