Exposing the ‘hidden handbrakes’ blocking action to halt climate change

Issues range from legal obstacles to fossil fuel subsidies and the global financial system.

Press release, 18 April 2023

Action to halt or reduce further climate change is being blocked by a range of ‘hidden handbrakes’ that the public are broadly unaware of and which range from legal obstacles to subsidies for fossil fuel companies and the architecture of the global financial system. With funding from the Generation Foundation, IIED will be exploring these issues to better understand them and expose them to wider scrutiny.

Current plans by nations to cut their carbon emissions put the world on track for 2.7°C of warming this century, far in excess of the 1.5°C limit agreed to at negotiations in Paris in 2015. The countries’ most vulnerable to climate change are already suffering, causing irreversible losses and damage.

The spotlight falls each year on the UN-run climate negotiations and countries’ pledges to reduce their carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate. But outside of this process, many other factors are limiting the world’s ability to respond to the climate crisis.

They include investor state dispute settlements (ISDS), backed by international treaties and free trade mechanisms, which hand billions of dollars to fossil fuel investors in cases where positive climate action by governments is damaging fossil fuel asset values. As well as the issue of vast subsidies that exist for industries that damage the climate, including agriculture, animal feed supplies, and the manufacture of steel, cement and concrete. 

And the many countries with debt repayments that far outweigh the money spent on positive climate action. While public debt swaps are increasing, sovereign debt for many low-income countries is held by China’s state institutions and private investors in the global North.

Tom Mitchell, IIED’s executive director, said: “As we’ve seen with floods in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa, the impacts of a changing climate and the loss of biodiversity are catastrophic. We need action at speed and at scale to address this.

“While many of the reasons behind these crises are well known, there are several major blockers to tackling climate change and nature loss that are barely discussed and far from the public eye. IIED, with funding from the Generation Foundation, is aiming to shine a light on these hidden handbrakes so the world can begin to address them.”

IIED plans to build a web-based platform enabling individuals and organisations to share and exchange ideas on other ‘hidden handbrakes’ that they believe are slowing progress on tackling the climate and nature crises. This is intended to lead to direct action that exposes the deep code in society and economies protecting the status quo.

Other handbrakes already identified by IIED include:

  • The legal contracts or agreements that make the intended beneficiaries of climate adaptation finance liable for underperformance
  • Too little international climate finance reaching the communities that need it with a huge number of intermediaries often mandated in governance structures and reinforced by complex audit, due diligence, and fiduciary risk management requirements, and
  • Open competitive tenders or calls, often underpinned by procurement law and accepted practices, resulting in millions of hours of time from highly valuable climate change professionals invested each year in failed proposals.

Notes to editors

The Generation Foundation is a UK registered charity and was established alongside Generation Investment Management LLP, the sustainable investment firm founded in 2004. Its vision is an equitable society in which global temperature rises do not exceed 1.5⁰C. In pursuit of this, the foundation operates a proactive grant-making and research programme that focuses on four priority areas: investor climate action; carbon pricing; gender inclusion and empowerment; and action on economic inequality. For further information, please visit www.genfound.org.

For more information or to request an interview, contact Sarah Grainger: +44 7503 643332 or sarah.grainger@iied.org