COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6th – 20th November 2022. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is a supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This COP was largely viewed as a golden opportunity for all stakeholders to rise to the occasion and effectively tackle the global climate challenge facilitated by Egypt on the African continent. This COP was dubbed the ‘Implementation COP’ in the hopes of being a turning point in climate regulation and a sustainable future. However, negotiators and all concerned parties could not achieve the standards they laid out for themselves.
The three major topics of COP27 were: closing the emissions gap to keep 1.5°C alive, loss and damage, and climate finance. Loss and damage featured on the COP agenda for the first time since it was first referred to in the formally negotiated UN text of the 2007 Bali Action Plan. COP27 marks a decided shift and realisation of loss and damage beyond what has been seen to date. Any topic featured on the COP agenda must be formally discussed in negotiations. While progress on this topic has remained slow, there have been a small number of pledges from countries to contribute to loss and damage, as well as climate finance, in varying ways and to varying degrees. Initial funding comes mainly from Germany, which pledged €170 million, with smaller pledges from Canada, Scotland, Denmark, France, and Ireland.
COP27 officially ended on the 18th November, but due to the nature of negotiations, an outcome text and the final press conference were not held until Sunday morning (20th November). The final cover decision was entitled the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, and this document removed much of the text of the previous drafts and many critical key points. The key outcomes of this plan were:
- Retaining the language of ‘Coal Phase Down/Out’
- Keeping the 1.5°C Pathway alive
- Climate Finance and a Loss and Damage Fund
Notably, while tabled for discussion during early negotiations, the cover decision removed calls on developed nations to reach net zero by 2030 and to take more decisive action to assist developing nations. However, one could argue that this call was delivered in another manner. A still unnamed loss and damage fund was established at this COP, to discuss the need to aid developing nations disproportionately affected by climate change. While the details have yet to be laid out, it marks a historic moment in climate action.
Coal phase down/out
In Glasgow last year, the final agreement was delayed due to the stance of China and India, among others, who were not comfortable with the ‘phase out’ of coal wording in the draft text. This led to the watering down of this commitment to a ‘phase down’ of coal use. Despite this disappointment, it was the first time any COP had agreed to formally phase down the use of any fossil fuel. The hope was that COP27 would work to include further language on coal and fossil fuel reduction efforts and be matched by increased ambition and action to meet agreed pledges. Paragraph 13 in the Mitigation Section of the Implementation Plan states:
‘[c]alls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition; …’
Initial texts represented more serious language than used at COP26 in Glasgow. However, the above final text retains the language of Glasgow, phase down of coal, which does not discuss any binding language to reduce use and is still only applicable to coal, not oil and gas. The wider commitment to phase out all fossil fuels, led by India, and backed by the US and the EU, was taken out and can be marked as the biggest disappointment of COP27. If we are going to observe tangible work towards the 1.5°C goal we must have a reference to the need to accelerate the phase out of coal, oil and gas and invest rapidly in cleaner energies. There is a need for an orderly transition away from fossil fuels in an equitable manner, benefiting everyone. The multilateral processes under the UN are critical to helping countries commit and cooperate as these crises cannot be solved by any one country alone.
On a positive note, 1.5°C is in the draft text and still alive. While UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that keeping it alive is a ‘life-or-death struggle’, there has been a degree of reassurance in the outcome that there is no room for backsliding. The Implementation Plan gives the key political signals that the phase down of all fossil fuels is happening. There has been the setting of a work plan for 2023 to help articulate the nature and components of a global collective goal on adaptation and resilience and how it can be formatted to consider the Global Stocktake. More work needs to be done by countries, cities and organisations as currently, the numbers on the NDCs don’t add up and no country currently has a NDC in place that can meet the Paris Agreement goals. This makes net zero by 2050 challenging to envision and 2030 commitments near impossible.
Efforts to keep 1.5°C alive have been staggering and efforts by Climate TRACE, a non-profit coalition, have just provided a critical tool to help plug emissions gaps that plague negotiators, climate experts, and scientists alike. Climate TRACE’s map of emissions is a new programme demonstrating the actual emissions of major emitters from around the world that represents the world’s first comprehensive account of GHG emissions based primarily on direct and independent observation. This is one of the major products of the past two weeks that will significantly contribute to achieving the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement and keeping 1.5°C alive.
Climate finance and loss and damage
Regarding climate finance, the Global Shield Against Climate Risk (GSACR) initiative was launched by the V20 and G7. The intention of this initiative has been framed almost as an insurance policy backed by the World Bank to prepare and protect those most vulnerable to climate change disasters. . Climate finance is currently working in the form of loans, typically with high-interest rates and repayment requirements. Countries already facing significant debts cannot afford to take on more, GSACR will also work to reform the World Bank and other development banks to remedy this. The fund primarily revolves around pre-arranged funding. Many have pointed out several important caveats that come with an insurance lens to climate disasters; these include two fundamental problems that will be extremely difficult for the GSACR to surmount: who pays and what risks can be covered. Many are concerned with the frequency in which climate disasters occur, insurance typically covers events that aren’t likely to happen, not that those are increasingly likely. There are also concerns about what will trigger this shield to aid. Will it cover gradual ecological damage and associated agricultural measures that need to be taken to ensure key crops can grow? Will it require a specific scale of disaster or a specific level of harm? As funding appears to be given in a pre-arranged manner, what will this result in? The early indicator systems as called for in New York in September of 2022 during the 77th United Nations General Assembly High-Level week. Many questions still need to be answered as negotiations close in Egypt.
Loss and damage will be the big phrase from this COP, it was discussed almost every day of the two week-long event. Vulnerable countries want compensation for the unequal distribution of harm caused by climate change and the unequal contributions of emissions. There are many questions, such as: which countries should be paying into this fund? Should countries whose economies have grown exponentially and are now emitting significant emissions pay? Which countries qualify as vulnerable and will benefit from the fund? There were also questions and disagreements about linking vulnerability to emissions. While this is how it was finally agreed upon at the closing hours of COP27, this will limit the ability of developing countries to grow their economies and take advantage of their resources. There has been a lot of attention around the EU who say in principle, they approve of a loss and damage fund. Still, they haven’t agreed on specific details and claim they will not commit to a fund unless China agrees to contribute. It has taken around three decades for loss and damage even to be discussed on the COP agenda, and while details will be discussed at a later stage, this establishment is the big success of COP27.
Once again, we are faced with a COP outcome best described as a mixed bag. As we enter the last month of 2022, there is a need placed on every country, city, organisation and individual to look into and act ambitiously and adequately as climate action continues to move forward on the international stage.