In the first days of COP27, UN Chief Antonio Guterres spoke plainly to the world’s leaders gathered at the summit, simply asking “what did you do for our world – and for our planet – when you had the chance?”
A great question, one that couldn’t be more timely.
For years, NGOs, climate scientists and the UN have been shouting warnings into what has seemed like an empty room, frustrated by inaction from developed countries prioritizing power, politics, and profits over the planet.
As report after report sheds more light on a present reality that scientists previously forecast for the future, the events at this year’s COP suggest many wealthy nations still seem more interested in what’s in their nation’s pockets than what’s going on with the planet.
But the scale of change now happening to our world is hard to ignore, and even more so are its devastating impacts on our societies, economies and environment. At COP26 last year, renewed hope for committed action materialized in the summit’s closing agreement: the Glasgow Pact, where a set of ambitious climate resolutions were designed to “keep 1.5°C alive.”
But after a year of turmoil, these renewed promises have derailed, and COP27 was largely regarded as a last chance saloon to backtrack, recalibrate perspectives, reinvigorate ambition, and unite as a planet to prevent further disaster.
Yet as the conference concluded today after almost a fortnight of urgent yet hopeful appeals from both world powers and climate victims, the momentum of change many hoped for never quite made it over the finish line.
Some voices have labelled this year’s COP as a failure, let down by the disappointing outcomes constrained by politics, hypocrisy, and unprecedented division.
Joseph Sikulu, of the activist organisation 350.org, stated that the agreement “does not represent the call from both the negotiation rooms as well as the civil society for a just, equitable and managed phase-out of all fossil fuels. Anything less than what we achieved in Glasgow will see COP27 branded a failure by the world.”
A fund for loss and damage is essential – but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert.
The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) November 20, 2022
The standoff that obstructed progress
The two chasms in negotiations that divided opinion, allies and continents at the summit were financial aid and fossil fuels. The delay in resolution on both topics served as a double-edged insult to the developing world, who not only had to fight for support in the present moment, but also saw a lack of commitment to the change required to ensure them a safe and prosperous future.
Remember, those facing the worst effects of the climate crisis, are also the ones contributing to it the least.
The talks on the two hot topics reached a fraught standoff on Thursday, leading to a less than hoped for deadlock between world powers with only 24 hours to go until completion of the summit.
Unfortunately, the next morning only made matters worse, as Egypt released a disappointing first draft of their shiny new COP27 agreement (this year’s equivalent of the 2015 Paris Agreement, or last year’s Glasgow Pact); intended as a binding decree of new climate goals and global priorities agreed on between over 200 countries represented at the conference.
After days of debate, the final agreement released today did reveal significant progress on providing funds to climate victims with establishment of a landmark loss and damage fund. But when it came to addressing fossil fuels, there was no mention of phasing-down (let alone phasing-out) of either gas or oil. Perhaps not surprising given the record number of over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists present at the conference.
This has of course led many parties to question global perspective on the summit’s priorities (and in some ways its purpose at all), and despite remarkable progress on financial aid for those facing the worst of the climate crisis, many are severely disconcerted by the agreement’s resolutions which in most other ways seem entirely misaligned with reality.
Tzeporah Berman of Stand.earth warned that the text completely “ignores the science of 1.5°C”.
Fossil fuels and finance
Though the loss and damage fund for climate-vulnerable countries is of course a vital component of climate justice, progress and preparedness, the impasse that ensued around its establishment dominated discussions, stalled resolution and overshadowed many other key talking-points.
Many of the world’s wealthiest countries — including the US and those in the EU — have historically resisted establishing such a fund in fear of being tied into paying high sums of money indefinitely. But after Chief Guterres (who had flown out for the G20 summit a few days earlier) returned to the conference on Thursday to compel leaders to make better decisions and “stand and deliver” on climate action within 24 hours, it seems his message got through to European leaders, as overnight the EU made a U-turn and intervened with a proposed compromise.
“Now is a moment for solidarity,” Guterres said, “We need action.”
This is no time for finger pointing.
The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) November 17, 2022
After gathering for a late night meeting, the EU proposed a new global fund as part of the UN’s “Santiago Network” early Friday morning, aimed at helping developing countries avoid, repair and minimize the loss and damage they face in association with climate change, a crisis that they themselves are not responsible for.
After 48 hrs of uncertainty, debate, and negotiation the landmark deal was agreed upon and signed into the concluding COP27 agreement.
Definition of the finer details of the fund’s design such as a timeline of availability, which countries will receive support first, as well as prioritizing which “vulnerable” countries will be eligible, is ongoing.
This proposal, though still in the preliminary design phase, marks a turning point in accountability for the developed world to acknowledge the damage they’ve caused, and not only that, the EU also attached a neat set of Ts & Cs (terms and conditions) in the proposal’s small-print that will inadvertently push for stronger climate commitment from all that are party to it.
Before the deal was finalised, the EU, Canada and the US pushed for a broader donor base to pay into the fund, expanded to include wealthy, heavy emitters such as (but not limited to) China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and India. The EU also called for the language used in the final COP27 agreement to address all fossil-fuels needs to be stronger.
“I have to say this is our final offer,” said European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans on release of the olive branch proposal. Some EU ministers also threatened a walkout of the final days of the conference due to “worrying” developments and conversations that could jeopardize international efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
“All ministers, as they have told me — like myself — are prepared to walk away if we do not have a result that does justice to what the world is waiting for,” warned Timmermans.
Tuvalu’s finance minister, Seve Paeniu, among others, hailed the EU’s proposal a significant “breakthrough.”
#COP27 is in overtime. The EU is united in our ambition to move forward and build on what we agreed in Glasgow. Our message to partners is clear: we cannot accept that 1.5C dies here and today.
— Frans Timmermans (@TimmermansEU) November 19, 2022
Rewrite the narrative, focus on the future
In the final days before the end of the conference, many pushed for a widespread rewrite of the COP27 agreement’s narrative to further underline emissions reduction and the 1.5°C target, expanding on the text’s “encouragement” of a “phase-down” of coal alone to be rephrased instead to a “phase-out” of coal, oil and gas. These requests were not adequately met, and many were let down by the concluding agreements lack of vision or commitment to the future.
Requests to rework the text to focus more on phasing-out fossil fuels was a commendable, yet possibly over-ambitious objective given that the world’s biggest producers of oil (e.g. United States, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia), were some of the most influential stakeholders at the summit.
As Tzeporah Berman of Stand.earth said, even in the parts of the agreement that did mention coal, the language used was insufficient to make any real change, remarking that the chosen words created “a loophole big enough to drive a drill rig through.”
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Some have also pointed out that the agreement’s terminology doesn’t appropriately enforce the shift to renewable energy, because the use of “low emission energy systems” still catches them all, fossil fuel systems included.
Not entirely surprising given Egypt’s excess of lucrative gas reserves. And perhaps to be expected from an Egyptian presidency given the political fact that historically Egypt is beholden to Saudi Arabia that has often given it economic support in the past.
“The COP27 presidency pushes the pedal to the metal on the highway to climate hell,” said Greenpeace’s COP27 representative, Yeb Saño.
“After initially failing to even mention fossil fuels, the draft text is an abdication of responsibility to capture the urgency expressed by many countries to see all oil and gas added to coal for at least a phase down. It is time to end the denial, the fossil fuel age must be brought to a rapid end,” said Saño.
Young people came together at #COP27 for a Friday Climate Strike — joining the call to revise the draft COP Cover Text. ✊
We need to see the equitable phase-out of ALL fossil fuels, no false solutions, & commitments to Loss & Damage Finance included in the final text! pic.twitter.com/eSrZ3t5Upq
— 350 dot org (@350) November 18, 2022
Talking-points going under the radar
Aside from the two overarching pinnacles of this year’s COP – fossil fuels and finance – there are many other key points in the agreement worth taking note of:
African voices do appear to be being heard, as although the COP27 agreement is still frustratingly vague and drawn-out, the mention of food and agriculture so high-up in the agreement does suggest Egypt has heard the voices of African nations that often go under the radar.
However, in the same inclusive breath there is also a possible veiled attempt to push sales of Egyptian gas, masked as a focus on providing millions of people with clean cooking fuel.
There is also a focus on renewables in the text, highlighting the urgent need for international cooperation on deployment of clean technologies, and emphasizing the role of the World Bank in investing in renewable technology and infrastructure.
The spotlight on renewables somewhat lacks substance however, as a quantifiable plan of how this scale-up would be organized, implemented and sustained is not mentioned.
Fossil fuel addiction is hijacking humanity.
Renewables are the exit ramp from the climate hell highway.
Negotiators at #COP27 have a chance to make a difference. They must make it here and now.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) November 18, 2022
Avoiding backsliding on previous climate pledges is also thankfully touched upon, as despite there being widespread general criticism of the strength of language used throughout the agreement, there is a notable mention of holding nations accountable to previous promises – a welcome addition in a rapidly changing world and economy.
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs, essentially each country’s individual pledges to cut emissions) should also be a part of the hot take. In this year’s agreement there seems to be a step backwards in comparison to the Glasgow Pact, as there is no clear process outlined as to how nations should report regularly on NDC progress, whereas at COP26 countries were requested to review their commitments annually.
The link between biodiversity and climate breakdown, though referenced, is not emphasized enough in the Sharm El-Sheikh agreement, and there is no mention at all of the UN’s upcoming COP15 biodiversity conference in December.
The language used in reference to temperature rise above pre-industrial level is more reminiscent of the Paris agreement than the updated contracts informed by renewed research in the years since. Most importantly, in this year’s COP27 agreement, the all-important targets for limiting temperature rise focused largely on the Paris target of 2°C, rather than the IPCC’s urgent recommendation that we should be pushing for 1.5°C.
The “just transition” is a contentious addition to this year’s agreement. This refers to the essential and inclusive infrastructure of support provided for workers of the fossil fuel industry as they are forced to slowly transition out of their roles. This of course is necessary, but many are concerned its inclusion reveals an ulterior motive to promote and sustain fossil fuel sectors.
“An exacerbated use of “just transition” can allow fossil fuel lobbies to postpone the transformation of economies and jobs, if it is not accompanied by a clear indication of renewables’ role as the only true gateway to a safe, inclusive, and sustainable transition to a net-zero world,” says the Global Solar Council.
Human rights are acknowledged in terms of gender equality, physical and mental health, and the right to development and standard of living, but concerningly the agreement actually recalls the UN’s previous resolution to recognize the “right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” as an essential human right. The presidency qualified this by saying it’s related to other rights and dependent on international law, but the deletion of the parallel between human rights and the environment is step backwards.
A “transformational approach” to adaptation is encouraged for all parties, calling for climate adaptation finance to be doubled. This is great to see, because a focus on adaptation is essential to promote resilience, regrowth and restoration of countries most at risk of extreme weather and natural disasters, as well as provide the funds for installation of the much-needed early warning systems to predict it.
Transparency in emissions reports is a timely inclusion given the emergence of reports that many countries and facilities have been misreporting as of late. This is especially important to connect the dots between the emissions we’re seeing build up in the atmosphere and the exact locations producing them, an objective which Al Gore’s fleet of Climate TRACE satellites and sensors will help with.
Where exactly are our greenhouse gas emissions coming from? Find out as @ClimateTRACE releases the most detailed global inventory of greenhouse gas emissions ever assembled, covering more than 70,000 of the world's largest sources. https://t.co/P920m6yuFY
— Al Gore (@algore) November 9, 2022
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Although financial aid for vulnerable countries like the EUs proposed global fund is of course a long-overdue and much-needed step forward, the COP27 agreement’s lack of focus on fossil fuels and emissions reduction, as well as concrete changes in action to “keep 1.5°C alive,” are overarchingly underwhelming.
Patching-up the damage done by climate change, but with no real emphasis on mitigating the cause, will not set the world on the right track to reach the 1.5°C target. Simply put, as well as reparation, reform is urgently needed.
For developed countries, the lack of focus on emissions reduction in the COP27 agreement is short-sighted, but for vulnerable countries in the crux of the climate crisis – it’s a death sentence.
1500 people have died so far in the Pakistan floods this year, and who knows how many more people will perish as they wait for world powers to make better decisions on climate change next year.
“What happened in Pakistan will not stay in Pakistan,” warns Pakistan’s climate minister Sherry Rehman, “that dystopia that came to our doorstep will come to everyone.”
Let’s hope that at next year’s COP28 — after 28 years of COPs — rather than national agenda, the pillars of science, people and the planet can form the primary basis of a new and improved global agreement. It’s only the future at stake after all.
Let us not tire of doing everything possible for the dramatic urgency of climate change. Let us put concrete, far-sighted choices in act, thinking of the younger generations first, before it is too late! #COP27
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 17, 2022
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Protests at COP27 on Saturday November 19. Featured Photo Credit: UNClimateChange/Flickr