One month from now, and in the midst of a worsening and increasingly dangerous climate crisis, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) will last from November 6th to November 18th. The stakes are high, the negotiations face complex challenges and the need to overcome differences and work collaboratively is crucial. In this coming month, each one of us has the power to help build momentum and push for stronger political will and more ambitious climate action.
The effects of climate change are increasingly tangible, severe and widespread. Almost 8 million people have been displaced from their homes, and over 1,500 have died due to the recent floods in Pakistan. The last European summer was among the warmest on record. Droughts, cyclones and wildfires have been devastating communities from China, to Africa all the way to the United States. Despite alarming evidence, our collective response is not nearly enough. There is still more investment in fossil fuels than in climate mitigation and adaptation. Simply said, this means we are feeding the problem more than we are the solution. Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, reinforced that “the planet already is 1.2°C hotter, yet new fossil fuel projects every day accelerate our race towards the precipice.” On similar lines, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell warned that if we do not correct our course, we will “fall off a cliff.”
Experts and scientists have referred to the 2020s as the critical decade for climate action. If we are to keep global warming within the 1.5° C limit (as set in the Paris Agreement, in line with the scientific consensus), we must reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at least by half by 2030. In the last COP (Glasgow 2021), countries agreed to present more ambitious plans to reduce their emissions, referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). However, few countries have done so. If we add up the plans presented so far by countries and model the expected GHG emissions, the global temperature rise will go beyond 2°C by 2100. The consequences of such an increase are hard to predict, even for scientists, yet they represent a threat to life as we know it. As Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General put it: “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”
Pope Francis has stated that COP27 “represents the next opportunity for all to join in promoting the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement.” The focus of this COP and the main issues that should be addressed are: (1) Raising ambition of climate action, so that countries commit to reducing their GHG emissions more aggressively, at least in line with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target. The responsibility of the G20 is especially relevant, since these countries emit 75% of GHG; (2) Finding and developing a proper way for countries to collaborate and implement targets, so that they do not remain merely as goals but actually lead to reduced emissions; And (3) agreeing on and establishing a Loss and Damage facility for developed countries to provide financial support to vulnerable countries that are already suffering the effects of climate change.
The COP begins on Sunday November 6th and ends on Friday November 18th. Attendants include delegates from more than 190 countries, non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations, United Nations specialised agencies, private companies and media. Parties organise themselves in negotiating groups according to their interests and/or circumstances. Some of the most important negotiating groups are the G77 and China, which includes developing countries and China; the Umbrella group, which represents several developed countries; and the European Union. The COP has a busy schedule with more than 35,000 expected participants and more than 2,000 speakers. The agenda includes a world leaders’ summit, panel discussions, roundtables, side events, press conferences, plenaries and negotiations.
There are a number of challenges to the successful outcome of COP27. The Russian Federation’s war on Ukraine has led to economic setbacks, as well as energy security and food security problems. Specifically, the energy supply difficulties have led some states to a return to coal consumption, the worst offender among fossil fuels. Additionally, due to this complex geopolitical context with its associated challenges, climate change is not as high in the political agenda as it ought to be. Another difficulty is the distrust among countries and negotiating groups for several reasons, including unfulfilled promises and targets like funding from developed countries to developing countries. Furthermore, most developed countries do not want to commit to providing loss and damage finance, arguing that there are other existing mechanisms to provide funding, whilst developing states counter argue that such systems are not working. Moreover, countries ask themselves why it should be them reducing emissions and not others, as explained by Tom Evans, climate diplomacy researcher at E3G think tank.
Antonio Guterres recently warned that “we are in a life-or-death struggle for our own safety today and our survival tomorrow.” There is a clear and urgent need for climate action. COP27 cannot remain as another COP, another complicated, bureaucratic high-level summit. Our representatives must agree on how to reduce GHG emissions by half by 2030 (less than 8 years from now! Or as Simon Stiell puts it, two World Cups away). “The success of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement is vital to securing a future for all peoples across the world”, according to a paper recently published by senior African church figures. Our representatives must agree on a Loss and Damage facility to provide funding for those suffering the effects of climate change today. And each of us can play a role in helping the COP be as successful as possible, by helping put climate change high in the political agenda and pushing our politicians to commit to ambitious climate targets. Some possibilities for action include:
- Signing the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty. As Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ has stated, “The proposed Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty holds great promise to complement and enhance the Paris Agreement.”
- Enrolling in the Laudato Si Action Platform.
- Making (or strengthening) lifestyle changes to reduce your carbon and overall environmental footprint and sharing them to inspire others to change too. For ideas on lifestyle changes, we suggest visiting the UN Act Now website.
- Finding, supporting and joining local or national movements that are asking for enhanced climate action.
- Learning about additional ways you can make a difference.
- COP27 website: https://cop27.eg/#/
- COP27 calendar https://cop27.eg/#/presidency/eventsThematic
- Signs of the Times: A Theological Reflection on Loss and Damage https://www.cidse.org/2022/09/08/senior-african-bishop-calls-for-action-on-loss-and-damage-at-cop27/
- UNEP Act Now – Speak up https://www.unep.org/interactives/things-you-can-do-climate-emergency/
- Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty https://fossilfueltreaty.org/
- Laudato Si Encyclical https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
- Chatham House podcast on COP27 https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/08/climate-briefing-what-aim-cop27
- E3G Report – A COP27 work programme for 1.5˚C https://www.e3g.org/publications/cop27-designing-a-work-programme-to-scale-up-pre-2030-mitigation-ambition-and-implementation-for-1-5c/
- WWF COP27 Expectations Paper https://wwfint.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_cop27_expectations_paper.pdf
- MOOSMANN et. al., The COP27 Climate Change Conference: status of climate negotiations and issues at stake. Study for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Policy Department for Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policies, European Parliament, Luxembourg, 2022. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2022/733989/IPOL_STU(2022)733989_EN.pdf