COP27 was never going to be a ‘Big COP’ in the way that COP26 in Glasgow was. It was not originally designed to be one of the five-year ratchet reviews of NDCs set out by the 2015 the Paris Agreement and there were no major new climate change texts due to be negotiated. Sharm’s value is likely to be assessed, at least in part, on whether it effectively tees up important items for next year, including:
- the Global Stocktake (the technical dialogue will conclude in June next year, and the political phase at COP28);
- the Global Goal on Adaptation, due to conclude next year;
- the New Collective Quantified Goal on climate finance, due to conclude in 2024; and
- the increasingly important future discussions on loss and damage.
However, COP27 remains an important waypoint – not least in how successful it eventually is in avoiding acrimonious debate and significant tensions over loss and damage.
Glasgow was a five-year review point. But the UNFCCC assessed that not enough progress had been made by countries’ emissions reductions targets towards the 1.5 degree target and required all member countries to return to COP27 with improved goals. So COP27 represents an important departure from the UNFCCC’s agreed timetable and in that sense demonstrates the increasing urgency of reducing emissions: an urgency juxtaposed against the record high attendance of representatives from oil and gas companies and the anguished debate about the role of gas as a transitional fuel.
And COP27 was set against a difficult geo-political and geo-economic backdrop. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused upheaval in international energy markets and pushed inflation up to record levels. Central banks have responded by raising interest rates, pushing countries already struggling with the hangover from the pandemic to the brink of recession. Europe’s search for non-Russian gas has put pressure on developing countries, which have turned increasingly to coal as a cheaper alternative source of energy (and an increase in interest in exploiting Africa’s untapped gas reserves), leading to the highest use of coal since 2013 and resulting in 2022’s emissions being the highest on record. Meanwhile, the UNFCCC has warned that the world is currently on target for temperature rises of 2.8 degrees by the end of the century (with the UN Secretary General warning colourfully that the world is ‘on a road to hell, with our foot hard down on the accelerator’).
As if this set of circumstances were not unpropitious enough, this year has seen a sequence of climate-related natural disasters, with appalling flooding, wildfires and droughts afflicting countries across the globe. The fact that COP27 was also billed as ‘The African COP’ gave extra impetus to the calls from developing countries, which are bearing the brunt of the rapidly changing climate, for assistance with more than adaptation. The issue of ‘loss and damage’ (financing to address the actual impact that climate change is now having on developing countries) has been steadily increasing in importance: a shift developed countries have resisted out of concerns about potentially unlimited liability.
Initial negotiations around the content of the agenda (which took over 30 hours to reach an agreement) suggested a fraught and tense COP was likely. But those negotiations resulted in loss and damage making its way onto a COP agenda for the first time. Now that it is on the agenda, it is highly unlikely it will be removed at future COPs, meaning the developed world will have to address the issue eventually. And in a welcome move on Saturday, John Kerry announced that the US was “totally supportive” of moves to address loss and damage and “100% ready” to discuss the issue in detail.
So COP27, which was supposed to have been about improved NDCs (though fewer than 30 countries came forward with revised offers), has been transformed into a COP which is all about the financing – both for adaptation and for loss and damage. Whilst there is normally intense focus on the negotiations over UNFCC texts, with the focus on financing, such texts as were due to be negotiated were something of a sideshow, with negotiations only beginning late in the week. This left negotiators working late into the night on Friday in order to try and finalize all decision texts before the closing plenaries of the Subsidiary Bodies on Saturday.
A COP of Few Announcements:
Although this COP has delivered fewer eye-catching initiatives than Glasgow, there are a few worth noting:
- A new US proposal to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations;
- US support for early warning systems for extreme weather disasters in Africa;
- US-Egyptian agreement to support solar and wind projects and decommission gas power plants;
- A UN plan for the Biodiversity COP15, due to be held in Montreal in December, to be “a Paris moment for biodiversity”;
- Support for proposals for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty;
- Israel, Lebanon and Iraq announced plans to work together to reduce emissions;
- Norway postponed development of the world’s most northerly oilfield exploitation;
- Israel and Jordan signed an MoU for a water-for-energy deal;
- The UK introduced “climate resilient debt clauses” by its export credit agency;
- France announced its support for the Bridgetown Agenda to reform the World Bank, to focus on providing climate finance;
- The US announced a new global carbon credit trading initiative;
- Barbados called for a global 10% tax on fossil fuel profits to fund loss and damage;
- China announced that Beijing and Washington are having ‘informal talks’ and indicated potential support for a loss and damage fund;
- Kiribati, Rwanda, Malawi, Cabo Verde, Suriname, Barbados and Palau called for increased funding for loss and damage;
- The EU called for additional support for climate financing in the Global South;
- A new Report by Lord Stern estimated the cost of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries would be $2 trillion/year by 2030;
- The UK announced a doubling of funding for the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership to halt and reverse global forest loss by 2030;
- France doubled its domestic decarbonisation budget to help French heavy industry deacarbonise;
- The UN called for “red lines” to stop support for new fossil fuel exploration and overuse of carbon offsets;
- The UN called for the creation of a new “climate solidarity pact” in which rich countries would help poorer nations financially;
- New Zealand announced a climate fund for land and resources lost by developing countries to the effects of the climate crisis;
- The UN launched a plan for a $3.1 billion global early warning system for extreme weather events.
The US position is clearly focused on mitigation on the basis that if not dealt with in a much more robust and accelerated way now and the world loses the opportunity to keep the goal of 1.5 degrees C within reach (it may already be in the rearview mirror), then the costs will continue to rise exponentially for adaptation and will make the feasibility of meeting those adaptation demands even more remote.
The developing world also recognizes the importance of mitigation. But their focus is increasingly on managing the impacts of climate change that they are already experiencing. They argue they need financing now to address those impacts and there is frustration that the developed world is not doing enough to demonstrate recognition of and engagement with the climate justice issue of loss and damage. Absent that recognition, the spirit of collaboration will be lacking: without that spirit, movement progress on mitigation is going to be slow at best, absent at worst.
John Kerry’s Saturday evening comments about loss and damage are welcome as they demonstrate that the US recognizes the importance attached to loss and damage: that may be enough to open the door for progress.
What that might look like is unclear, but one way forward would be a radical overhaul of the world’s public financial institutions. The Bridgetown Agenda has raised global attention on the need for the World Bank to shift its operational focus to the provision of climate finance for the developing world – in the form of grants, rather than loans. Such a change would demonstrate global commitment to finding sources of adaptation/loss and damage financing for the developing world, which might unblock the equally essential progress on mitigation. If Sharm were to deliver that, we would remember it as a ‘Big COP’ after all ….