For the first time since the pandemic hit, world leaders met in New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week, with plenty to discuss.
Today, I’ll talk about what we saw at the General Assembly and at Climate Week, a series of parallel events in the city.
In addition to the war in Ukraine and the food shortage it has helped to unleash, global warming was big on the agenda.
As diplomats, heads of state and activists talked about the challenges of dealing with the extreme weather caused by a warming planet, a clear fault line emerged. It was all about what developing nations experiencing climate impacts need and what rich nations — many of which are producing the emissions that are warming the Earth — should provide.
That gap was striking at a Climate Forward event on Tuesday.
The forum started with former Vice President Al Gore calling David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, a “climate denier.” At a separate public session later in the day about climate finance, my colleague David Gelles asked Malpass whether he accepted the scientific consensus that the use of fossil fuels is heating the planet to dangerous levels.
Pressed three times, Malpass would not answer the question. “I’m not a scientist,” he said
It caused a global uproar, with loud demands for his resignation.
As I wrote in a newsletter this summer, the World Bank has the power and resources to play a key role in helping developing nations that are struggling with floods, extreme heat, drought and other effects of climate change. But the episode this week put a spotlight on a long-running debate about whether the bank’s leadership, chosen by rich countries, is serious about that work.
By Thursday morning, Malpass had shifted his message. In an interview on CNN International, he said he accepted that human activity is warming the planet. But the calls for his removal continue.
Another example of the global divide came at a Climate Week event where my colleague Hiroko Tabuchi heard from Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of Egypt.
He criticized wealthy countries for not making good on their commitments to support developing countries with $100 billion annually for climate projects even when it’s clear, he said, that trillions will be needed.
Andry Nirina Rajoelina, president of Madagascar, said that, even with his island country facing cyclones and floods, it has never seen a dime of the Green Climate Fund, the program established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that is supposed to distribute money from wealthy nations to climate projects.
Shoukry also called for wealthy countries to pay “loss and damage” reparations to developing nations suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Developing countries have contributed little to climate change, Shoukry noted, but are among the most vulnerable to its effects. “So world, show me the beef!” he said.
The comments were especially significant because Egypt will host COP27, the next global climate summit in November, and Shoukry will lead the talks.
Leaders from developing countries had suggestions about where rich countries should start. Speaking in New York on Friday morning, Prime Minister Mia Motley of Barbados listed more than a dozen measures that the multilateral financial institutions controlled by wealthy nations could take.
She called on the World Bank and other global institutions to increase their appetite for risk and expand lending by at least by $1 trillion. And she called on the International Monetary Fund to channel at least $100 billion from a global line of credit it controls to countries that need it.
“There is a disconnect between commitments and capacity,” she said, referring to rich nations. “We cannot be good at rescuing banks but not be good at saving countries.”
President Biden, for his part, repeated his pledge from last year to give $11 billion in climate financing annually. But Congress has so far only approved $1 billion.
And Denmark pledged about $13 million for climate “loss and damage” to African countries. While that amount is relatively small, the precedent could be important.
Last year at COP26 in Glasgow, rich countries headed off a push for reparations, but it was clear at the General Assembly that the subject will be harder to ignore at this year’s talks in Egypt.
The tone is set for COP27. Expect to see developing countries increase the pressure on wealthy nations for reparations and a more inclusive global financial system.
“A just transition means leaving no person or country behind,” said António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, in a speech to the General Assembly. “Polluters must pay.”
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Before you go: Delicious climate action
Over a third of the food we produce gets tossed away, and it often becomes a source of planet-warming methane in landfills. But now, apps that connect customers to restaurants, pastry shops and supermarkets with leftover food are spreading. They avoid waste. And, there are some great bargains.