Participants at a Paris summit stopped short Friday of a deal to create a tax on greenhouse gas emissions produced from international shipping, leaving climate NGOs and activists lamenting the lack of ambitious responses to fight climate change and the world’s inequalities brought forward at the meeting.
The two-day gathering of world leaders and finance bosses ended without a major announcement, though organisers did release a promised “road map” aimed at fulfilling French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to assess reforms of the international finance system over the next two years.
“We need to be clear that if we don’t change the institutions, the world will remain the same,” Brazil’s President Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva said. “Those who are rich will stay rich. Those who are poor will remain poor. This is the way it is.”
The idea of a global tax on the greenhouse gas emissions produced from international shipping has been gaining traction and could potentially be adopted at a July meeting of the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency regulating shipping. The money could be directed towards developing countries to help them deal with climate change.
Some experts believe that a tax on shipping alone could raise US$100 billion a year, and a strong endorsement of it in Paris would have provided Macron with a symbolic win.
“This is tax-free sector. And there’s no reason why it’s not taxed,” Macron said. But the French president, who hosted the summit, suggested that China and the United States were not supporting the idea.
“If China and the US and several key European countries are not on board, then you would put a tax in place that would not have any impact,” he added.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who attended the summit, called the tax “a very constructive suggestion” and said the US would look at it.
It was unclear which countries at the summit supported the proposal, which could be an important step towards getting a heavily emitting industry to pitch in to the cost of fighting climate change. The French presidency said 23 nations, which were not identified in the official statement, backed the initiative.
Shipping accounts for almost three per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization. A European Parliament report has warned that share could increase dramatically by 2050.
The gathering had no mandate to make formal decisions, but Macron had pledged to deliver a to-do list that would be accompanied by a progress-tracking tool. A 15-page document released soon after the summit ended relied heavily on calls for action by groups like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others, such as changing the way risk is calculated on projects in the developing world and financing projects with local currency.
Both moves could reduce borrowing costs that are typically much higher for low-income nations that often face massive challenges in adapting to climate change at the same time they’re confronted by poverty and myriad other issues.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said during the closing ceremony that African nations are not “beggars”.
“It’s important in the new era where the world is in now, that there should be a good measure of equality among sovereign nations … We should go to demonstrate that Africa should never be seen as a continent that needs generosity. We want to be treated as equals.”
During the summit, the World Bank announced a plan to provide a pause in debt repayments for the most vulnerable countries when they are hit by a crisis or catastrophe.
The International Monetary Fund has made US$100 billion worth of assets — called Special Drawing Rights — available to certain vulnerable countries. The French presidency then said France would share 40 per cent of its own assets from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summit’s first day included announcements of a pair of deals. French officials said debt-burdened Zambia reached a deal with several creditors including China to restructure US$6.3 billion in loans. And Senegal reached a deal with the European Union and western allies to support its efforts to improve its access to energy and increase its share of renewable energy to 40 per cent by 2030.
NGOs and climate activists noted some positive outcomes from the summit, yet said it doesn’t go far enough.
“We are disappointed to see that most leaders of the world’s richest nations and most powerful institutions have once again gathered and emerged with insufficient solutions and lightly held promises,” Global Citizen and its partners said in a statement.
“By steering closer to private finance sources and tweaking on the edges of existing multilateral development banks, the summit merely dressed the old in new packaging, such as by suggesting ‘debt pauses’ for poor countries hit by disasters rather than full debt cancellation,” Climate Action Network said in a statement.
Activists have hoped for a tax on the fossil fuel industry and another one on financial transactions, but neither proposal appeared to have much support from wealthier nations.
“Silence on the fossil fuel industry paying for the mess they have caused was deafening at this summit,” Tracy Carty, climate politics expert at Greenpeace International, said.
Many officials from poor and climate-vulnerable nations attended, with only two top leaders from the Group of Seven most developed countries — Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — in the audience. The US was represented by Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry. Other attendees included China’s Prime Minister Li Qiang, World Bank head Ajay Banga and IMF President Kristalina Georgieva.
Climate activists gathered in central Paris on Friday to ask for polluters to pay for climate damage.
“There will be no climate justice without making the polluters pay,” said Patience Nabukala, part of the Fridays for Futures Uganda activist group. “People from countries like mine, we cannot afford to lose more lives, we cannot afford to lose more properties.”