A global ‘disconnect’ in full view


For the first time since the pandemic struck, world leaders gathered in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, with plenty to discuss.

Today I will talk about what we saw at the General Assembly and at the Climate Week, a series of parallel events in the city.

In addition to the war in Ukraine and the food shortage it helped unleash, global warming was high on the agenda.

As diplomats, heads of state and activists talked about the challenges of coping with the extreme weather brought on by a warming planet, a clear rift emerged. It was all about what developing countries experiencing climate impacts need and what rich countries — many of which produce the emissions that warm the planet — should provide.

That gap caught the eye on Tuesday at a Climate Forward event.

The forum started when former Vice President Al Gore called David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, a “climate denier.” In a separate public session later in the day on climate finance, my colleague David Gelles asked Malpass if he accepted the scientific consensus that fossil fuel use is warming the planet to dangerous levels.

Pressed three times, Malpass wouldn’t answer the question. “I’m not a scientist,” he said

It caused a worldwide 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 countries grapple with flooding, extreme heat, drought and other effects of climate change. But this week’s episode spotlighted a long-running debate about whether the bank’s leadership, elected by rich countries, takes that work seriously.

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 learned from Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

He criticized rich countries for not fulfilling their commitments supporting developing countries with $100 billion a year for climate projects, even if it’s clear, he said, it will take trillions.

Andry Nirina Rajoelina, President of Madagascar, said that even as his island country faces cyclones and flooding, it has never seen a dime from the Green Climate Fund, the program set up under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. climate change that is supposed to be money from rich countries to climate projects.

Shoukry also called on rich countries to pay “loss and damage” reparations to developing countries suffering the worst effects of the climate crisis. Developing countries have contributed little to climate change, Shoukry noted, but are the most vulnerable to its effects. “So world, show me the beef!” he said.

The comments were especially important as Egypt will host COP27, the next global climate summit in November, and Shoukry will lead the discussions.

Leaders from developing countries had suggestions about where rich countries should start. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley spoke in New York on Friday morning listed more than a dozen measures that the multilateral financial institutions controlled by rich countries could take.

She called on the World Bank and other global institutions to increase their risk appetite and expand lending by at least $1 trillion. And she called on the International Monetary Fund to channel at least $100 billion from a global line of credit it manages to countries that need it.

“There is a mismatch between obligations and capacity,” she said, referring to rich countries. “We can’t be good at saving banks, but we can’t be good at saving countries.”

President Biden, for his part, reiterated his pledge from last year to provide $11 billion annually in climate finance. But Congress has so far only approved $1 billion.

And Denmark promised 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 led a push for reparationsbut it was clear during the General Assembly that the topic will be harder to ignore this year during the talks in Egypt.

The tone has been set for COP27. Expect developing countries to increase pressure on rich countries for reparations and a more inclusive global financial system.

“A just transition means that no one or every country is left behind,” António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, said in a speech to the General Assembly. “Polluters have to pay.”

The climate effect of a volcano: The undersea eruption off Tonga that shook the world in January may also have triggered a short-term spike in global warming.

Twofold success: For the first time in 30 years, the US Senate has approved a climate treaty. Lawmakers voted to join a pact to phase out a category of planet-warming chemicals.

Norway’s ‘net zero’ target: The $1.2 trillion fund investing the country’s oil revenues said it would decarbonize its assets by 2050.

More lithium: A mine in Quebec could make electric cars more affordable. It also shows how difficult it is to get lithium out of the ground and break China’s dominance in the sector.

Manchin’s pipeline: The West Virginia senator received special attention for a planned gas pipeline if he supported climate legislation. Now some lawmakers are hesitant.

More than a third of the food we produce is thrown 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 proliferating. They avoid waste. And there are some great bargains.