Just a few weeks ago, on November 20th, COP27 came to an end in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. It was the 27th annual global summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Given the threatening and worsening state of our planet’s climate, this COP was extremely important and expectations were high. Reflecting on what happened at the COP, there were certain achievements that can be celebrated. However, the COP failed on one of its crucial priorities: addressing the root cause of climate change: fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.
Loss and damage
Civil society and developing countries have been pushing for compensation for the loss and damage caused by climate change for 30 years. They argue that vulnerable countries that have least contributed to climate change, and are currently suffering the most from its effects deserve compensation from developed countries who have historically emitted higher levels of greenhouse gases. Vulnerable countries that are in the forefront of the climate crisis state that they need help facing the worsening impacts of climate change.
The fact that in COP27 countries agreed to develop a loss and damage mechanism has been referred to as “the biggest highlight agreement” by Alden Meyer, Senior Associate at the think tank E3G; “a historical milestone” by Simone Tagliapietra, Senior Fellow at Bruegel; and a “breakthrough” by Mia Moisio, Climate Action Tracker Project Lead, New Climate Institute. Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, referred to the progress on loss and damage as a “significant mindset shift as we deal with a world in which climate impacts cause profound loss.” However, there are associated and remaining challenges as well as contradictory opinions regarding the loss and damage mechanism. It still remains unclear how the facility will operate, who will provide the funds and how they will be used, among other questions. These are some of the most difficult issues, according to Tagliapetra, from Bruegel. Tagliapetra also warned that until these issues are addressed, momentum will most likely not be reached. Pedro Walpole, Ecojesuit global coordinator warned that monitoring is crucial, especially to make sure that funds “are not wasted on pet projects or diminished by corruption, and truly reach their destination of pulling people out of disaster.”
On the other hand, many have referred to loss and damage funds as merely addressing the symptoms and not the causes of the climate change problem. In these lines, MEP Lidia Pereira stated that necessary steps towards climate mitigation are necessary, otherwise “whatever we do on loss and damage will be just with a one-off approach because we are not dealing with the problem in a sustainable way”. Milan Elkerbout, Research Fellow and Head of the Climate Policy Programme at CEPS clearly expressed that “the best way to limit loss and damage financing would be to limit the amount of loss and damage in the first place.” Similarly, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Climate and Energy Lead, and COP20 President said in a WWF press statement that “the loss and damage deal agreed is a positive step, but it risks becoming a ‘fund for the end of the world’ if countries don’t move faster to slash emissions and limit warming to below 1.5C.” According to ECF, “while the new climate agreement dealt with the damages from climate change, it did far less to address the greenhouse gas emissions that are at the root cause of the crisis.”
Insufficient action to address the causes of the climate crisis
COP27 has been referred to as the ‘implementation COP’ – a time in which promises, commitments and pledges would be organised into concrete plans in order to be implemented. Specifically, many looked at COP27 as an instance in which the 1.5 °C global warming limit would be kept alive and revived. In this sense, the COP has, to a large extent, failed. In the IPCC’s 6th assessment report (you can read JESC’s synthesis here), the scientific consensus pointed towards the need to peak GHG emissions by 2025. In Egypt, this deadline did not make it to the final agreement.
Furthermore, no agreement was reached regarding the phasing out of fossil fuels. According to Lindlyn Moma, Director of Advocacy at Laudato Si’ Movement, it is a sign of hope that 80 countries asked to formally include the elimination of fossil fuels in the text, even though this request did not make it. Lindlyn Moma also stated: “the outcome of COP27 is deeply disappointing for the Catholic community who hoped and worked for an advanced agreement on fossil fuel phase-out. Instead, what was agreed upon was a copy and paste of the Glasgow accord referencing a phase-down of unabated coal power, phase-out of inefficient oil subsidies, and the inclusion of a transition to low-emission energy, which is essentially gas that is a source of GHG emissions.” As Adam Morton wrote for The Guardian, “COP27 continued the fundamental failure of the UN process – a refusal to accept that fossil fuels are driving the climate crisis and must be curbed.” According to Laurence Tubiana, ECF’s CEO “the Egyptian presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil fuel industries.” In similar lines, E3G’s Alden Meyer declared that Egypt put more focus on defending its own national interests as a gas producer and ally of Saudi Arabia and others than on its role as president of the conference.
Growing presence of fossil fuel industry representatives
Since last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, the number of representatives from the fossil fuel industry grew significantly and reached record levels. In Egypt, there were more than 630 of them. As stated by ECF “the power of fossil fuel interests was deeply felt, especially in contrast to representatives of civil society, many of whom had no real voice at COP27.”
Besides the loss and damage agreement, there were other encouraging initiatives launched and/ or reinforced during COP. Some of them include plans to invest approximately 3 billion USD and develop early warning systems within the next five years. The FAST initiative, which aims to provide funding for agriculture and food systems by 2030, was launched with the overall expected outcome of improving food security. Additionally, the Climate TRACE Coalition, with the support of former US Vice-President Al Gore, presented an emissions’ measuring tool, which uses satellite data and artificial intelligence. Another relevant initiative was the Declaration for Ambition on Melting Ice, which was signed by 17 countries at the COP, committed to keeping the 1.5 °C limit alive in order to protect the cryosphere. UNICEF also launched a climate financing initiative aimed at helping countries deal with worsening climate impacts. Lastly, there was relevant progress regarding food systems, as reported by Bryan Galligan, SJ, Research and Policy Analyst at the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA).
Conclusion and what next
Although the loss and damage agreement and some initiatives (a few of them mentioned in this article) are encouraging, the progress made at COP27 is not nearly enough to address the climate emergency we are currently facing. As Mia Moisio, from the New Climate Institute put it: “we need to do things that were previously unthinkable. That’s really the mode we need to be in. We’re in the middle of an emergency and we need to treat it as such.” Europe is in a privileged position that allows it to have an influence on the rest of the world, helping to push for climate action. MEP Lidia Pereira reflected that “one of the lessons learned from this COP is that we still need to go further in multilateralism with a multilateral approach. We have to insist on climate diplomacy. And Europe… we have been saying that we are the leaders in the fight against climate change, but we also have to act as one, as a leader”. Lars Peter Riishojgaard, Director of Earth System branch at the World Meteorological Organization agreed with her saying: “we need much more active climate diplomacy.” Tzeporah Berman, Chair of the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty stated “there are moments in history when citizens are called to stand up because our leaders are too heavily influenced by those who stand to benefit from the status quo. This is one of those moments…. We call on the world’s governments to pick a side – people or polluters and have the courage to stand up to the oil, gas and coal companies…”.
Beyond the difficulties of COP27, each of us can and needs to play a role in helping address the climate crisis. Even though COP27 was a crucial event which gathered leaders from across the globe supposedly with the common goal of fighting climate change, it is just one instance of the numerous opportunities we have as a society to individually and collectively face this unprecedented challenge. As the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”. It is up to each one of us to help urgently shift our collective direction.