COP27 is right around the corner, and the key talking points this year range from finance and adaptation to decarbonisation and agriculture. This year’s negotiations will focus heavily on how developed countries plan to honour their plans to provide finance to developing countries and build on the outcomes of COP26 to deliver on the Paris Agreement. But what can we really expect from COP27, and what do we need to see to achieve these goals?
What Is A ‘COP’ Negotiation?
The United Nations has been congregating world leaders for climate change negotiations for decades, and these negotiations are called ‘COP’, which stands for Conference of the Parties. Since 1995, the world has seen climate change go from a problem we should probably look into to a global priority that must be addressed, and time is ticking as the climate continues to warm.
Last year’s COP talk, COP26, secured an abundance of press coverage after the year of what is possibly the closest our planet has come to environmental bliss after the COVID-19 pandemic. Take David Attenborough‘s documentary ‘The Year Earth Changed’, for example. It showed us a silver lining to being cooped up away from the virus. We saw for the first time turtles able to nest in peace again, penguins waddling through city streets, and animals no longer required to hide away from the all-encompassing presence of humans on earth. The suffering we endured through 2020 wasn’t all in vain, and we witnessed how efforts to reduce emissions and waste have a positive impact, just like climate scientists have been telling us for years.
Following these events, all eyes were on the COP26 summit last October to deliver what we hoped would be successful negotiations to enable us to continue on a positive climate trajectory. However, negotiations didn’t go exactly according to plan. At COP26, the main goal of reducing coal use and greenhouse gas emissions was narrowed down from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’, and people weren’t happy about it. So naturally, world leaders at COP27 are under immense pressure to stick to their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this time, as the Earth is on track to warm well above 1.5C by 2030.
Professor of environmental psychology at the University of Bath and Director of the Centre for Climate Change, Lorraine Whitmarsh told Earth.org that “there has been hardly any progress on demand and how we actually use energy”. She adds that rather than an overarching goal of “decarbonisation”, perhaps this year’s COP27 negotiations need to place a “lot more emphasis on the roles that people play and the role of behaviour change” if we genuinely want to see decarbonisation.
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What Should We Expect From COP27, And What Needs to Happen?
At COP27, set to begin on 6 November in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, world leaders are expected to discuss a variety of themes. Key focus areas include Finance, Science, Youth and Future Generations, Decarbonisation, Adaptation and Agriculture, Gender, Water, Civil Society, Energy, Biodiversity and Solutions.
COP27 will aim to build on the outcomes of COP26, of which an important topic was decarbonisation. Developed nations must agree on a plan to phase in green energy to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, G20 members made very little progress in reducing CO2 emissions, with the global rate of decarbonisation being at its lowest in over a decade at 0.5%, according to a study by PWC. G20 (or group of twenty) is a forum comprised of 19 countries and the EU, which work together to tackle major issues related to the global economy. To limit our warming to 2C – which climate scientists agree is our next best option since the previous goal of 1.5C is out of reach – the study outlines that G20 members will have to agree on an annual decarbonisation rate of 6.3%.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is looking at ways the world can better adapt to the climate crisis, where all eyes are naturally on younger generations. A recent report by Save The Children found that nearly 710 million children are currently living in countries considered at the highest risk of environmental devastation from climate change. Here, extreme weather events such as storms and floods, could cause not only structural damage to housing and infrastructure but also cause life-threatening dangers such as breathing difficulties, malnutrition, and exposure to infectious diseases.
Learning to adapt is something that countries will have to do, “there’s no doubt about it”, says Whitmarsh. However, the Director of the Centre for Climate Change also states that “finance needs to be an essential part of [COP27’s] efforts as poorer countries are not going to be able to adapt by themselves”. So, this year’s summit must include in-depth discussions in financing countries that cannot simply ‘adapt’.
The theme that ties together every discussion point is finance. Without the financial aid of richer developed countries, developing countries that cannot adapt to the consequences of climate change risk being enveloped by damage and destruction caused by extreme weather events. When speaking in New York ahead of COP27, Secretary-General António Guterres stated that developing countries will need to agree on delivering US$100 billion in finance to developing countries that are facing the worst outcomes of climate change.
Oxfam estimates that between US$21-24.5 billion is the “true value” of the climate finance provided by developed countries in 2020, against a reported figure of $68.3 billion that rich countries stated was provided. Unfortunately, there was also very little progress made on the ‘loss and damage’ financing discussed at COP26, which was initially meant to help countries cope with the impacts of climate change that cannot be adapted to, such as sea level rise.
When it comes to the reality of how much finance is really needed, developing countries are estimated to require hundreds of billions of dollars a year if they are to navigate the destruction caused by climate change. This year’s summit needs to provide certainty around the delivery of this figure by 2023 the latest. This can be done by increasing donations to the Climate Adaptation Fund (a fund to finance developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change) and by communicating new and additional pledges to multilateral funds. There are already signs that this will be discussed in detail, as the presidency vision highlights the need to address loss and damage by “finding a balanced solution to the funding issue”.
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What Will Be the Final Wake-Up Call to Kick-Start Real Action?
When it comes to financing poorer countries, the $100 billion needed by 2023 may look unlikely considering the poor success of financing in the past. However, climate scientists have warned that global warming may begin to wreak havoc on developed countries as well as poorer countries who we are used to seeing at the receiving end of global warming’s devastating effects. Could this be the final wake up call that developed countries need to start placing more importance on climate change, and perhaps make real pledges for financial action at COP27?
Whitmarsh says that “[COP27] is not just about people from poorer countries potentially suffering famines, but also about cities like London potentially being on fire”, which hasn’t been a prominent concern until recent years. Take Miami in Florida, for example. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned at COP26 that the city could be “lost beneath the waves” if global temperatures rose by four degrees. By 2040, sea levels are expected to be 10 to 17 inches higher than 2000 levels, resulting in immense devastation for the US state as well as many other cities and nations across the globe.
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Not only this, but the impacts of climate change that we have already seen in developing countries for decades are becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore. Take Africa, for example. A recent study found that droughts in sub-Saharan Africa have tripled between 1970-1979 and 2010-2019, and severe flooding in western and central Africa has caused mortality and forced migration due to loss of shelter, land, and livestock. With agriculture playing a major role in African economies, this further damages the economic and financial tussle Africa is currently wrestling with. The study also found that malnutrition has shot past 50% since 2012, and changes in disease-carrying parasites have increased due to flooding. This has caused a spike in diseases such as Lyme, malaria, and Ebola.
Considering that developed nations such as North America and Europe have contributed 62% of carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution – compared to Africa’s contribution of around 3% – perhaps it is time for developed nations to attempt to resolve this damage, even if just for moral reasons.
“Increasingly, we’re going to have to think about the impacts that people will be living with, and that’s why COP27 is focusing on loss and damage”, says Whitmarsh. Developed countries are “causing all the damage that will be inflicted on [poorer countries], and there is going to be some tough decisions on who pays.”
Even though the COP27 agenda is full of many issues that must be urgently addressed, it is not all doom and gloom. We are all hyper-focused on the negatives, but positive news also came out of last year’s COP26 negotiations. For instance, the US and EU set up the Global Methane Pledge, and the Glasgow Financial Alliance was announced. The latter meant that $130 trillion was to be set aside to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy.
We can be hopeful that COP27 will follow in these positive footsteps and allow us to finally see some real reform in government finance. However, not all change relies on COP negotiations – we are also increasingly seeing change happening at a local level. As Whitmarsh explains, “even if the outcomes of COP27 are disappointing, we can still say it won’t stop people from taking action as they know it is the right thing to do. Not just for climate change but because it generally improves people’s well-being, health and prosperity. Even if you’re not worried about climate change, it’s worth doing.”
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