In the last few years, and especially after the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), private investors have seen an opportunity to midwife developing countries’ bumpy transition to net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions. After all, if BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and climate activist Greta Thunberg can find common cause, then the tantalising prospect held out by William Blake — “Great things are done when men and mountains meet” — comes into view.

The optimism is reflected in the numbers. Asset managers think that tens of trillions of dollars, mostly in the form of green finance, could be available for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) lending. Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney claims to have mobilised US$130 trillion ($177 trillion) to help finance the net-zero transition. The US$100 billion per year in climate finance that rich countries promised to provide to the developing world at COP15 in 2009 — a pledge that remains unfulfilled — is starting to look like chump change by comparison.

Developing economies’ response to the new push for net-zero emissions has focused on rich countries’ fossil-fuel hypocrisy. As Vijaya Ramachandran of the Breakthrough Institute and Todd Moss of the Energy for Growth Hub have noted, advanced economies are asking developing countries to phase out coal and natural gas while continuing to rely on the latter energy source. The rich world’s failure to cough up the necessary finance just compounds the hypocrisy.

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