Ahead of COP27, UN Urges Wealthy Nations to Deliver on Failed Climate Pledge

A longstanding debt owed by developed countries has increased by several hundred billion dollars, according to the United Nations.

Monisha Ravisetti Former Science Writer
Monisha Ravisetti was a science writer at CNET. She covered climate change, space rockets, mathematical puzzles, dinosaur bones, black holes, supernovas, and sometimes, the drama of philosophical thought experiments. Previously, she was a science reporter with a startup publication called The Academic Times, and before that, was an immunology researcher at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She graduated from New York University in 2018 with a B.A. in philosophy, physics and chemistry. When she's not at her desk, she's trying (and failing) to raise her online chess rating. Her favorite movies are Dunkirk and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Monisha Ravisetti
4 min read
White tents with the United Nations seal represent makeshift camps for people displaced by Pakistan's floods. A woman is seen cooking on the ground, as her family waits in one of the tents.

A family displaced due to floods in Pakistan cooks food at a makeshift camp at Sohbatpur, in the Jaffarabad district of the Balochistan province on Oct. 4, 2022.

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In preparation for its COP27 climate change summit, the United Nations released a report urging that developed countries dramatically increase how much funding they give developing countries to combat consequences of global warming -- things like increased and more severe hurricanes, floods, heatwaves and droughts. Such climate aid is crucial because, as it stands, the poor continue to be ravaged by a crisis created and fostered by the rich. 

During COP27, which officially began Sunday, swaths of international representatives are gathering to discuss ways to better manage and mitigate climate change devastation going forward from all angles -- including this one, which falls under the larger umbrella of climate justice.

Despite richer nations, like the US and Russia, historically ranking as top contributors to global warming, it's poorer nations, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, that don't even make the top 20 but are forced to deal with global warming's effects the most. In 2020, for instance, the US was deemed responsible for 4.7 billion tons of carbon emissions via fossil fuels. Pakistan emitted about one-twentieth that staggering figure

Yet this year, it was in Pakistan where deadly floods killed nearly 1,500 people and displaced more than 30 million -- a tragedy scientists confirmed was driven by global warming. And it's in Bangladesh where cyclones uproot coastal villages twice annually, and the finance minister puts $100 million of the country's own money toward a dedicated climate budget.

"Adaptation needs in the developing world are set to skyrocket to as much as $340 billion a year by 2030. Yet adaptation support today stands at less than one-tenth of that amount. The most vulnerable people and communities are paying the price," UN Secretary-General António Guterres explained in a statement about the report released Thursday. "This is unacceptable."

The UN's new report pushes that quantity up to $565 billion per year by 2050. 

Tents are seen in the background as women prepare food on the ground.

Flood-hit families live in tents in the Dadu District of Mehar in Pakistan on Oct. 22, 2022.

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And though there have been attempts from richer countries to help vulnerable ones manage the problem exacerbated by the former, one big promise of climate reprieve has been broken time and again.

An unjust crisis and a failed pledge

In 2009, industrialized nations proposed an almost tear-worthy solution during COP15, a major climate conference held in Copenhagen. 

Simply, they pledged to provide a collective $100 billion every year to aid developing nations, starting in 2020 and ending in 2025. That's a total of $500 billion. 

This pledge wasformally documented with a report that printed guidelines such as "this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance."

Then, 11 years later, in 2020, it was ruled the $100 billion target was out of reach. Only about $83 billion was scraped together at the end of it all, which, for context, is about one-ninth of the US defense budget that same year and less than half of Elon Musk's net worth.

Another $100 billion was called for in 2021, per the pledge, which meant rich countries, at that point, owed poor countries $117 billion altogether. But 2021 came and went, and that $117 billion was not paid. 

It's now 2022. 

It's time for another $100 billion to be delivered -- plus whatever debt has been accumulated – and according to the UN's latest report, an extra few hundred billion dollars because climate change has only gotten worse. 

And climate change has gotten worse, again, through primarily industrial activities conducted in wealthy, developed nations.

A diagram showing how much fossil fuel emissions exist per country. The United States is far ahead of everyone, Russia is in the middle, and Bangladesh and Pakistan are toward the far bottom.

Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. 

Our World In Data

"If the annual increase from 2019 persisted in the coming years, the US$100 billion target would not be met until 2025," the new report states. "This calls for significant acceleration in adaptation finance, especially if doubling of 2019 finance flows by 2025 is to be met, as the Glasgow Climate Pact urges," in reference to last year's COP26 summit.

On Friday, India also brought the failed $100 billion pledge back into the limelight as COP27 was set to begin the week after, in Egypt. Indian government officials requested that rich countries finally deliver what was promised more than a decade ago. 

"Developed countries also need to realize that overall costs have gone up, so the pledge to provide $100 billion per year cannot be static. It needs to go up," an Indian government source told Reuters

A flooded, ravaged field is seen with trees fallen over. A man looks at the consequences of a cyclone that just hit the village.

A man inspects a devastated field in the village of Ramdaspur in Bangladesh affected by Cyclone Sitrang, which hit this year.

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Though India is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses per Our World In Data -- the country's main energy source comes from coal -- its standing becomes more understandable when we consider emissions per capita because all power generated gets distributed among some 1.4 billion people. India is also a developing country, meaning that even as renewable energy becomes more affordable, transitioning poses a financial hurdle. 

With enough climate aid, such an evolution may be more manageable, allowing the country to continue to develop without risking the health and well being of its people as well as without contributing to the larger issue of global warming.

However, while countries with the means try to figure out fiscal allocation of the $100 billion -- or simply who owes what -- and reason through how long it'll take to pay up, it's important to realize countries without the means can't just press pause. 

They are still fighting a crisis they're unequipped to fight.

"Adaptation must be treated with a seriousness that reflects the equal worth of all members of the human family," Guterres said. "It's time for a global climate adaptation overhaul that puts aside excuses and picks up the toolbox to fix the problems."