Sunday marked the end of the year’s most important climate summit, the UN Conference of the Parties, or COP27. World leaders and representatives from more than 190 countries gathered in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss global strategies and progress in dealing with global warming. After more than two weeks of intense negotiations, countries reached a hard-fought deal to provide compensation for climate change damages to vulnerable developing nations. But there’s much more to it. To answer the question of whether COP27 was successful or not, we must look at the bigger picture.
What Was Achieved at COP27?
1. Loss and Damage
Climate compensation was without a doubt the most discussed topic this year. From day one, developing nations demanded that an agreement is reached to set up a funding mechanism to pay them for ‘loss and damage’, a COP term for paying up for losses and damages caused by anthropogenic climate change to natural and human systems.
In an unprecedented move, delegates from more than 200 countries reached a deal on the first day of the conference to put the issue on the summit’s agenda, something that had never been done in nearly 30 years of COPs.
Following tense negotiations, the final agreement presented in the early hours of Sunday included a long-awaited provision to establish a fund to help developing countries that are “particularly vulnerable” to global warming bear the immediate costs of climate change-fuelled events such as storms and floods.
“A mission thirty years in the making has been accomplished,” said Antigua and Barbuda Minister and chair of the AOSIS group of small island nations Molwyn Joseph. “Our ministers and negotiators have endured sleepless nights and endless days in an intense series of negotiations – but after the pain comes the progress.”
Despite the historic win for poor nations, details as to who would pay, how much, and who would benefit will be decided next year, when a transitional committee is expected to make recommendations for countries to adopt at COP28 in November 2023.
Progress on methane at this year’s COP is definitely a cause for celebration. More countries have now committed to the methane pledge launched in Glasgow last year to cut emissions of the incredibly powerful greenhouse gas by 30% by the end of the decade, bringing the total to 150 signatories. Australia, Austria, Egypt, Bahrain, and Qatar were among the countries joining the pledge advanced by the EU and the US at COP26. However, the top two methane emitters China and India as well as Russia have stopped short of joining the agreement.
US Climate Envoy John Kerry described the progress as an “absolutely critical [step] to our ability to keep 1.5 degrees in reach.” Indeed, methane – a gas that is 84 times more potent in trapping heat over a two-decade period and with a global warming potential 25 times higher than that of carbon dioxide (CO2) – is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Methane emissions have skyrocketed in recent years and are currently 162% higher than pre-industrial levels.
Other deals to slash methane emissions were reached at COP27, including the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to protect food security among vulnerable rural communities in Africa, South America, and Asia, as well as funds to support research on enteric fermentation and methane baseline assessments on landfills and dumpsites, which alone account for one-fifth of all methane emissions.
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3. Net Zero Targets
During COP27, two new Just Energy Transition Partnership funding deals were announced. They will help shift Vietnam and Indonesia away from coal power and speed up the renewable energy transition in both countries. South Africa, which signed a JETP partnership with the UK, US, France, Germany, and the EU in Glasgow last year, also got a final sign-off from donors on its own $8.5 billion JETP plan.
Some COP27 countries announced more ambitious climate targets. The European Union – which recently passed a bill to phase out fossil fuel cars by 2035 – pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57% on 1990 levels by 2030. Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard also announced a tougher new target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2030 from a 2000 baseline, a 5% increase from the previous goal.
Turkey followed suit by presenting a new climate plan that includes a pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 41% in 2030, compared with its business-as-usual scenario. However, the newly proposed cut still means the nation’s carbon footprint will increase by 32% at the end of the decade, with emissions expected to peak in 2038 at the latest. Moreover, the new plan does not commit to halting new coal projects or phasing out existing power plants.
Perhaps even more significant is a draft political decision published at COP27 calling on a reform of the global financial architecture to better align it to climate goals. The idea is to adjust the mandates of multilateral development banks (MDBs) and international financial institutions (IFIs) to ensure greater financial flows to energy transition and climate adaptation projects.
“The moment is right,” said chief executive officer of the European Climate Foundation Laurence Tubiana. “Climate impacts are beginning to be understood as a macroeconomic risk.”
Significant steps were taken in Sharm El Sheikh also in terms of ending and reversing deforestation.
On the summit’s first day, 26 countries – which together account for roughly 35% of the world’s forests, launched the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP). The voluntary partnership and first major announcement following the Glasgow forest pledge, will unite action by government, business, and community leaders to accelerate momentum to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.
Moreover, during the first week of talks, countries including the UK, the US, Norway, and Korea committed to the largest-ever public-private effort to protect tropical forests under the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) coalition by agreeing to mobilise US$1.5 billion in finance for tropical forest countries that are devoted to protecting their forests.
On another note, Brazilian President-elect Luiz Iñacio Lula da Silva made a meaningful appearance during the second week of COP27, just days after defeating his rival and current president Jair Bolsonaro at the presidential elections’ runoff. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon – the world’s largest rainforest and home to about three million species of plants and animals, as well as one million indigenous people – soared to a 15-year high, with scientists warning that the forest was nearing a tipping point beyond which there would be irreversible consequences that would be felt across the globe.
In a speech, he said climate change would have the highest profile in his government. “There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon. We will do whatever it takes to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes.”
Another Missed Opportunity
As many as 80 countries, including the US, backed a proposal advanced by climate-vulnerable India to phase down all fossil fuels. Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, said the EU would support India’s proposal, provided that Glasgow’s agreement on phasing down coal would not be affected.
Despite the efforts, several oil-exporting nations including Saudi Arabia shot down calls to phase out all fossil fuels and peak global emissions by 2025, effectively preventing their inclusion in the final agreement presented on Sunday. Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, expressed frustration at “being stonewalled by a number of large emitters and oil producers.”
As a recent UN report suggests, the world is already on track to warm above 2C by 2030, as greenhouse gas concentrations keep rising. Indeed, according to a UN weather agency study, all three gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – hit new record levels in 2021. The missed deal on emission reductions at COP27 means the world is now even more likely to miss the 1.5C warming target enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, even if emissions peak in 2030. Every fraction of a degree of global warming fuels catastrophic weather events and adds to human suffering around the world, especially in developing countries.
Controversies At COP27
It is not the first time and it will certainly not be the last time that the UN climate conference faces backlash for some behind-the-scenes issues.
Even before the summit began, a report from Ellen MacArthur Foundation called out on the organisers for choosing Coca-Cola, the world’s largest non-alcoholic beverage company, as one of its sponsors. The analysis found that the multinational had increased its plastic use by 3.5% since 2019. Calls among environmentalist groups, including Just Zero and Beyond Plastics, to kick Coca-Cola out as a sponsor, were all in vain. To justify their decisions, the conference’s organisers cited the company’s efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions, applauding the brand for its plan to reach net-zero emissions globally by 2050.
But Coca-Cola wasn’t the only controversial sponsor. Research compiled by Corporate European Observatory and Corporate Accountability found that 95% of COP27 sponsors – including banks, companies involved in building and operating gas-fired power plants as well as silicon valley giants – have links to the fossil fuel industry.
“After 30 years of allowing polluters to upend progress, governments need to finally put an end to the madness and kick big polluters out,” said Pascoe Sabido, Researcher and Campaigner at the Corporate European Observatory.
Criticism mounted as it became clear that COP27 was also shaped by the presence of hundreds of fossil-fuel representatives. Compared to Glasgow’s summit last year, fossil fuel lobbyists joining the climate talks in Egypt rose 25%, amounting to 636 people lobbyists.
“The influence of the fossil-fuel industry was found across the board,” said Laurence Tubiana, chief executive officer at the European Climate Foundation and an architect of the landmark Paris Agreement. “The Egyptian Presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil-fuel industries. This trend cannot continue in the United Arab Emirates next year.”
Even before having time to reflect on the outcomes of COP27, next year’s conference is already on everyone’s lips. COP28 will take place in exactly one year in Dubai, one of the world’s largest oil producers. In the past two weeks, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reiterated that oil and gas are key to a smooth energy transition and assured that it will keep providing fossil fuels to countries around the world “for as long as the world needs it.” This, naturally, has raised concerns among anti-fossil fuel campaigners about the outlook of next year’s talks.
Has COP27 Succeeded or Failed?
Answering the question of whether COP27 succeeded or failed is not easy and, given the mixed results, it would be a mistake to choose one or the other. What’s sure is that the decisions made at COP27 will shape the severity of climate impacts affecting every community on Earth.
There is no doubt that countries could’ve done much more and it is also unquestionable that powerful actors, petro-state governments, and the fossil fuel industry are to blame for the insufficient progress made in Egypt.
However, it is also true that without UN climate conferences, making steps forward on a global level would be nearly impossible. COPs and especially the Paris Agreement have created a space for discussion and collaboration among countries to manage the climate crisis. The progress made on climate change since countries agreed on the historic 1.5C goal in 2015 is way more than the world has made in the 25 years prior. And while that must certainly be attributed to breakthroughs in technology, it is also partly because of the new sense of urgency that global summits, scientists, and activists around the world have shaped.
Featured image by UNFCCC (Flickr)
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