- Decade-long discussions finally fruitful – parties create a Loss and Damage fund
- War in Ukraine and global uncertainty impede wished-for climate commitments
- Parties fail to agree on fossil fuel phase-out
While our main passion is fighting plastic pollution, we just must cover this important event. After all, pollution has many facets, and the world needs desperate action in all of them.
Amidst some of the biggest crises in decades, the world’s leaders attended the 27th Conference of Parties (COP) in November to discuss pressing topics around climate change. This year's Climate Conference was attended by over 30,000 delegates and took place in Sharm el-Sheikh from November 6th to 20th. The conference provided an opportunity for member countries to adopt new policies and monitor progress of previous pledges.
If you’re wondering what exactly the media mean when they refer to “The Paris Agreement” or what “Loss and Damage” is supposed to be, this article is for you! We introduce all concepts you’ll need to know to understand this year’s discussions. If you’re just interested in the results, we also got you covered. Just skip to chapter three and check the outcomes.
Let’s dive right in!
To understand the COP, we first need to understand another abbreviation – UNFCCC. UNFCCC stands for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The framework is a commitment that was established 1992 and signed 1994 by 198 UN parties with the goal to stabilize human emissions of greenhouse gases and avoid dangerous human interference with the climate system.
While above definition is vague at first glance, dangerous human interference relies on scientific reports provided by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is a scientific body that was established by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988. The IPCC reports are the foundation for many climate regulations and serve as one of the key inputs for COP discussions.
In 1995 at the first ever conference, the parties agreed to meet every year to discuss climate change and align on related rules and regulations if needed. This year marked the 27th of these conferences.
2. What do I need to Know About the Previous COPs?
While every year had its decisions and regulations, some of the conferences mark essential milestones that are important for the context of this year’s COP27. Starting with The Rio Earth Summit, which established the UNFCCC in, the infographic below gives you an overview of the most important outcomes in the 30-year COP history.
You will notice that we have not listed all conferences. That does not mean nothing happened in these other 20 conferences. It just means that the events we listed are key outcomes still relevant to date and they form the basis for many of the discussions in Sharm El-Sheikh.
It also means that navigating world politics is complex, and decisions often take a long time to come to fruition. Especially the nine years between Kyoto and Bali, and the six years between Paris and Glasgow were mainly spent reshaping the agreements, convincing all parties to sign the agreements, and navigating small crises (e.g., Donald Trump abandoning the Paris Agreement after his election in 2016).
With that background, many environmental organizations criticize the event for a lack of outcomes, which is why they anticipated COP27 with pessimism.
Let’s go ahead and understand what the world was hoping to get out the conference this year, before we answer the question of questions:
Will COP27 leave its mark on history as a milestone that set us up for a better future or will the parties run in circles with vague rhetoric and a lack of concrete outcomes?
3. COP27 - Expectations vs. Outcomes
This year’s COP took take place against a backdrop of global crises. COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to soaring energy markets, an economic downturn, and the highest inflation in decades. At the same time, unprecedented climate disasters are fueling widespread and devastating disruptions that show the urge to act vividly. 2022 had historic levels of rain, heat, drought, fire, and storms slamming almost every corner of the world.
Pakistan and southern Africa have suffered from deadly floods and storms killing thousands of people. In the Horn of Africa, hundreds have died, and food production has been severely disrupted by devastating droughts. China is suffering from its worst drought in history and the European Union (EU) is facing its worst drought in 500 years, along with scorching heatwaves across Europe.
All these events left their mark in the emotional opening speech from UN secretary general António Guterres, in which he pleaded leaders for cooperation and action, saying that “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. Delegates needed to “[…] cooperate or perish”.
Under these circumstances, participants were expected to show accountability, implementation, and concrete outcomes, as COP president Sameh Shoukry asked delegates in his opening remarks: "Our common objective is to adopt consensus decisions and conclusions on Friday that will constitute comprehensive, ambitious and balanced outcomes of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference […]"
Let’s see if the conference could deliver these concrete outcomes the whole world was hoping for. We have structured the expectations and outcomes against a set of four key issues.
A key issue at COP27 was financial support for developing countries, firstly for the climate-induced losses and damages that they need to deal with and secondly to support enhancements in emissions reduction with a promised investment of $100 billion per year.
What we expected:
The Warsaw International Loss and Damage Mechanism is a protocol developed by COP19 in 2013 to address the economic and social consequences of climate change for developing countries, which feel the biggest impacts of climate change, while contributing significantly less to the climate crisis than developed nations.
In Glasgow last year, the most vulnerable developing countries made it clear that they expected the conference to make further progress on the issue. Developing countries jointly proposed the creation of the Glasgow Facility for Financing Loss and Damage following a call by Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, who chairs the group of over 50 most vulnerable countries known as The Climate Vulnerable Forum.
In response to pushback by developed nations, like the United States and European Union, countries instead agreed to create the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage, dedicated to discussing possible funding arrangements and scheduled to run through 2024.
Since then, we’ve seen symbolic pledges from Scotland (~$2m) and Wallonia in Belgium (~$1m), as well as Denmark pledging $13m dedicated to loss and damage. With Loss and Damage on the Agenda for COP27, this was one of the key issues watched by developing countries, with high hopes to see specific decisions on funding. Alongside the compensation for loss and damages, developing countries desperately need support to enhance the transition to clean energy.
Furthermore, in 2009, developed countries pledged in Copenhagen to support the clean energy transition of developing countries with $100 billion per year between 2020 and 2025. A UN report from September 2022 shows that developed nations were not able to deliver against that target. The report shows that financing for developing countries only amounted to $83 billion in 2020.
End of October, Canada and Germany released a Progress Report that urges partner nations to focus on four key areas to meet their $100 billion promise
- Enhancing transparency and committing to double adaptation finance
- Reducing the barriers for developing countries to access allocated funds
- Enhancing the delivery of climate finance by Multilateral Development Banks (MDB are responsible to distribute and operationalize the allocated funds)
- Improving the effectiveness and mobilization of private finance
Both Loss and Damage, and the 100 billion goal were important discussion topics on the COP27 agenda and a clear action plan needed to be provided.
What we got:
Unfortunately, the discussions around financing for developing countries were not as straight forward as many had hoped for.
As António Guterres told reporters shortly before the event wrapped up: “There is clearly a breakdown in trust between North and South, and between developed and emerging economies. This is no time for finger-pointing. The blame game is a recipe for mutually assured destruction […]”
He eluded asking negotiators to deliver concrete solutions to resolve one of the thorniest issues on the table at this year’s COP: “The most effective way to rebuild trust is by finding an ambitious and credible agreement on loss and damage and financial support to developing countries. The time for talking on loss and damage finance is over. We need action.”
We have summarized the main talking points for you in below.
What made us smile:
- A new fund was created to finance Loss and Damage encountered by developing countries, an important decision that closes the decade-long discussion and pushback by developed countries since Warsaw 2013. Details on the specific funding mechanisms and sources are moved to next year's COP
- The final statement pressures MDB to deliver reforms for distributing more money, a significant tool to deliver the $4-6 trillion needed to fight climate change. MDB are expected to act by spring 2023
- Talks on loss and damage will from now on be part of the official COP agenda going forward
- New Zealand and a small group of European countries made first pledges around $ 100mn to compensate for loss and damage. A step in the right direction
- The event focused media attention about a combined lawsuit by 19 local governments across the United States who are seeking billions compensation from fossil fuel companies for false claims. While not directly related to COP27, journalists noted that a successful lawsuit could be a breakthrough for more accountability of the private sector
What made us frown:
- While the final report states grave concern about the missing achievement “[…] of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020” and urges the countries to do so, COP27 was missing a clear commitment to the goal
- The U.N. development chief called for more finances, as developing countries fight the economic pushback by COVID-19 and other crises. He elaborated that current investment plans will not be enough to support developing countries
What we expected:
As opposed to mitigation, which tries to prevent further climate change, adaptation is the necessary response to climate change by changing our actions, decisions, and practices. To date, adaptation efforts have received far less funding than mitigation efforts, but as the world experiences more frequent and intense storms, floods, fires, and other climate-fueled disasters, COP27 focused more on adaptation efforts that protect the people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The need for adaptation finance is clearly shown by a 2019 report by the Global Commission on Adaptation. The report shows that a global $1.8 trillion investment in new climate-resilient infrastructure, warning systems, and nature-based solutions could generate $7.1 trillion in total benefits by 2030.
The challenges of climate change are so manyfold that they can only be addressed by unanimous effort. A coordinated response at COP27 had to deliver strategic financial investments, new partnerships between private investors, businesses and public entities, and support for innovative solutions to adapt to climate impacts.
What we got:
What made us smile:
- The UN presented a new plan to distribute a series of high-tech warning systems to warn vulnerable communities of imminent weather threats. The program called for $3.1bn investment between 2023 and 2027
- $230 million were made available to the Adaptation Fund at COP27 to support vulnerable communities adapt to climate change
- A new partnership is promising to enhance the resilience of 1 billion vulnerable people and restore ecosystems impacted by climate change by 2030
- The COP presidency launched a shared agenda that would benefit 4 billion people, rallying global action around 30 adaptation outcomes to address the adaptation gap and achieve a resilient world by 2030
What made us frown:
- A UN report presented at the event warns that the impacts of climate change “[…] are already worse than predicted” and adaptation efforts will not be enough to counter the effects. It emphasizes that adaptation as a lever can only be successful with more substantial emission reduction efforts
Seven years ago, the COP parties signed the Paris Agreement, in which they committed to limit global warming in this century to 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The 1.5-degrees target is backed up by research from the IPCC, which concludes that this would limit the worst impacts of climate change, including floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms, and other weather induced catastrophes. Every increment above this level would significantly worsen the effects of climate change on ecosystems, people, and wildlife according to the research.
This ambitious goal would require almost halving global CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050. With reaching 1.1 degrees last year, we are currently not on track to reach this goal. That’s why at COP26 in Glasgow, leaders pledged to strengthen their so called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) – essentially the national carbon reduction targets backed by local policies – to get back on track with the target. While only 24 countries had published new NDCs before COP27, leaders were asked to commit to more ambitious climate targets before the end of the event that are also backed by policies and financing to implement them.
Especially major emitters like the EU were under scrutiny. Against the backdrop of a major energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, some countries’ return to “dirty” energy supplies like coal and oil caused a lot of uncertainty if the event will show results.
A UN report from October 2022 summarizes the expectations for COP27 as “We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world. To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years.”
What we got:
The 1.5-degrees target was certainly part of many negotiations and plenaries held at this year’s COP. There were various outcomes (or lack of such) on the happy and sad side, as we summarized below.
- The US proposed a new carbon-credit program that aims to increase funding from businesses and governments in wealthy private businesses to finance the decommissioning of coal and accelerate the transition to green energy in developing countries. Campaigners reacted with skepticism and pointed out potential risk for greenwashing and loopholes (we still believe the concept is on the happy side, if executed well)
- The Carbon Disclosure Project will incorporate the upcoming climate-related disclosure standards into its platform, which fosters hopes to increase the effectiveness and consistency of climate-disclosures and sustainable investing
- The non-profit organization TRACE, a coalition of environmental groups, tech companies, and academic scientists, announced it is working on enhancing emission tracking by using satellite data to estimate emissions from industries, countries, and individual facilities
- US president Joe Biden announced several new policies and partnerships – in addition to this summer’s $370 billion investment in climate action that aim to reduce the amount of methane emitted globally
- A US$20 billion investment was introduced to motivate Indonesia to shut down its coal power plants by 2030. Indonesia will be able to access the funds when it has capped its power sector emissions at 290 million tons by 2030. Reporters say it is the most ambitious effort yet by wealthy nations to persuade a developing country to abandon coal
- The European Union announced a new plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57% until 2030, accelerating its previous target
- Israel and Jordan moved forward with negotiations around the Water for Energy deal, an agreement to trade 600 megawatts of solar power capacity (Jordan) in return for 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water (Israel) between both countries. An enhancement for both clean energy and water security
What made us frown:
- The final report only states a focus on phasing-down coal and unfortunately fails to deliver concrete measures or a time frame for phasing out fossil fuels in general, as requested by the EU and India. A strong signal against the 1.5-degrees target and a win for the strong fossil fuel lobby
- Still not all countries have updated their emission reduction targets and the final report again asks all countries to do so until the end of 2023. Especially large emitters like China failed to increase their reduction commitments
- The Global Carbon Project initiative warned that carbon emissions increased 1% ins 2022 and there is a 50% chance that the global temperature increase will breach the 1.5°C threshold by 2030
- A current report by the UN Environment Programme warns that with current pledges the world is on a path to 2.4-2.6°C temperature rise by end of century
- A new analysis by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) claims that carbon emissions from fossil fuels are hitting a new record high this year
- A new UN report on Greenwashing exposes false claims by companies including major players from the fossil fuel industry (ironic side note: Coca Cola as major polluter is a main sponsor at COP27 – some UN supported greenwashing right there)
- A report found 636 people with links to the fossil fuel industry attending the event—a 25% increase from those who attended COP26. These lobbyists outweigh the African and Indigenous attendance
- Planned natural gas projects globally that have emerged from the global energy crisis could emit 10% of the world’s remaining carbon budget, leading the planet closer to the dangerous 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold
- Turkey submitted a new NDC that pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 41% in 2030. Journalists are criticizing Turkey’s unwillingness to halt coal projects and say that the NDC still means a 32% increase in emissions by the end of the decade
- A report found that 125 billionaires produce 393 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, which is equivalent to France’s entire CO2 output
- Japan received the infamous “Fossil Fuel Award” by the NGO Climate Action Network for its lack of interest in ending investments into fossil fuels
Protecting Nature, Food, and Water
What we expected:
The natural ecosystem and the 5 million species that share our planet are integral to the global economy, human health, and food and water security. Yet they are being pushed to the brink of extinction by human activity. In recent decades, humans have cleared forests, drained wetlands, and filled waterways with contaminants. This has damaged ecosystems on which we and other species depend.
In a 2019 report the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) concluded that: "[…] human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before". In the context of decarbonization, it will be critical to protect and restore natures carbon sinks like mangroves, forests, and seagrass populations in the ocean, which all have suffered from human pollution in the past (all can significantly reduce carbon in the atmosphere).
At the same time, global food production goes hand in hand with both global warming and global welfare. Over 40% of jobs and 12% of the global GDP are linked to the food industry and the industry and it contributes around 34% of all human greenhouse gas emissions.
We are faced with a global food crisis that was triggered by a variety of factors: a decline in arable land, an increase in demand for biofuels (which displaced food crops), export bans by exporting countries, speculation over commodity prices, and finally, the effects of climate change.
Additionally, the conflict in Ukraine had a particularly adverse effect on the global food crises. The conflict caused Russia to ban exports of grain, resulting in rising global food prices. Rethinking food production will play a key role in tackling climate change and fighting poverty worldwide. COP27 had several key sessions about these issues and had a dedicated food systems pavilion, which let us hope for some innovative outcomes.
Closely tied to food security is water security and the risk of a decline in available safe drinking water due to climate induced events (heat waves, draughts, floods, etc.). Especially Africa and other vulnerable regions would be suffering severely if climate goals are not met. With water security as a key priority of the Egyptian COP leadership, water security was a main topic on the agenda.
What we got:
While we found more news on the happy side, they all come with a sour aftertaste, given the unprecedented challenges that the world is facing.
What made us smile:
- The new Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) coalition plans to mobilize US$1.5 billion in finance for tropical forest countries that are committed to protecting their forests
- The forest and climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP), will unite 26 countries that are committed to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030
- Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to establish a funding mechanism to preserve their rainforests
- The new Brazilian president Lula promised to do “[…] whatever it takes to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes” (At the same he was blamed for travelling to the event in a private jet)
- The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced a fund of $200 million until 2025 to enhance water security and resilience in the APAC region.
- A new alliance was formed under the leadership of Spain and Senegal to share technology and expertise for fighting water scarcity
- The COP27 presidency launched an initiative to push for water and adaptation investments for the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems in Africa
What made us frown:
- A report presented at the conference says that glacier icefields in World Heritage sites in the US, Europe and China are likely to vanish by 2050
- Ukraine’s president Zelensky revealed that Russian shelling destroyed 5 million acres of forests in Ukraine, eluding “There can be no effective climate policy without the peace on the Earth”
- The European Commission is considering easing regulation on gene-edited crops. Critics say it is an untested risk being pushed by financial interests
4. Human Rights at the Event
We cannot close without a quick paragraph on a big side topic that floated above the conference this year. While it is not directly related to climate change, human rights were constantly in the spotlight at COP27. The choice of Egypt had righteously faced harsh criticism by human rights activists worldwide, who highlighted previous human rights violations of the Egyptian government and the exclusion of the Egyptian civil society of the event. These violations included unjustified arrests of activists, telephone searches, and the banning of protests of all kinds.
While the presidency had tried to change its public picture prior to the event, for instance by releasing several political prisoners and announcing a national dialogue, the government was still under careful examination of human rights groups.
During the event, human rights groups have criticized Egyptian authorities who have arrested dozens of protestors and allegedly implemented secret surveillance and additional security measures that restrict the right to protest. These allegations were supported by western security advisors warning officials to download the COP27 app, as it is giving the Egyptian government permission to access users' personal information, including e-mails and messages.
In a time of uncertainty and crisis, COP27 has spotlighted once again that true change can only be achieved with unified efforts. While the previous COPs and the resulting agreements showed some progress, the world has made a step back in tackling climate change in 2022. COP27 was anticipated with high hopes and had the chance to leave its mark in history.
After the final wrap up of the event, reactions are mixed. A reporter of the Guardian states that the event did go down in history, but not in a positive way: “When the history of the climate crisis is written, in whatever world awaits us, COP27 will be seen as the moment when the dream of keeping global heating below 1.5C died”.
He refers to the lack of commitment by the biggest emitters like China to adopt new climate targets and the failed calls for phasing-out fossil fuels that the EU and India fought for until the end.
Nonetheless, COP27 spotlighted once again the importance of a global forum to hold parties accountable and show progress. Especially the establishment of a new Loss and Damage fund is seen as a major acknowledgement by developed countries to compensate the most vulnerable that suffer most from decades of unsustainable decision-making by the global north. A step that had been discussed for decades and shows that the consistent pressure finally caused action this year.
We want to stay optimistic that the same pressure will achieve a commitment to fossil fuel phase-out at COP28 in the UAE. To make this happen, UN member states and the public need to demand an exclusion of the (at least private) fossil fuel lobby that will have even more influence on their home turf. While the 1.5-degree target might not be achievable anymore in the complex landscape of world politics, we must fight for every fraction of a degree!
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