Analysis | COP27 outcomes: Two steps forward, one step back

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Katherine Wells

Connect4Climate at COP27 — November 7, 2022. (Image Connect4Climate on Flickr)

The COP27 summit took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 through 18, 2022. Unsurprisingly, there were wins and losses, and the results were not all that clear. Catherine Brahic, the Economist’s environmental editor, called this year’s COP “the least transparent process I’ve seen so far. The observers were kept in the dark until the very last moment.” The question at hand is whether we can wholeheartedly trust our world leaders to follow through with their commitments to the final agreement of COP27.

One important success is the first-ever dedicated fund for loss and damage to those countries worst affected. The “Global Shield” initiative will be initially given to Pakistan, Ghana, and Bangladesh in the coming months. The goal of the initiative is to provide quick access to insurance as well as protection after natural disasters occur. Germany is coordinating the fund alongside the “V20” group, which represents 58 economies highly vulnerable to climate change This is a clear step toward COP27’s presupposed goal of developed states providing loss and damage financing to those states most vulnerable. The real focus now is how to follow through with the initiative’s implementation. Issues are likely to arise and complicate the fund as more countries become vulnerable to climate instability in the near and distant future, and the funders will need to quickly implement–and likely expand–the initiative.

Further progress was made when the summit addressed the movement to reconfigure the global finance system in order to help mitigate the impact of climate change for all stakeholders. Again, COP27 participants reached small victories when they agreed to reform institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on their commitments to climate-related “financial distress.” Only a small portion of their funding is currently delegated for climate-related issues, but reform would increase the percentage reserved for climate finance. Although no structural changes have been initiated as of yet, the recognition alone is a big advancement in digging into the deep-rooted issues hindering climate change progress in multilateral financial structures.

The COP27 deal also incorporated the recognition of “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger”, looking at the vulnerabilities surrounding food production and water preservation. This demonstrates a change in perspective around the dialogue concerning combating climate change, because it takes into account the complex spider web of elements affected by climate change, whilst emphasizing the urgency in which we need to act. This was supported by COP27’s decision to involve young climate leaders, many from UN Youth Advisory Groups, in analyzing the consequences of these issues at present and in the future. Moreover, the inclusion of corporations underlined the importance of non-state actors and their responsibility in this global challenge.

Despite these positive developments, one highly contentious point that the conference did not sufficiently address was the continuation of the previous momentum behind the path to decarbonization. At the G20 summit in Bali on November 15 and 16, participants agreed that they need to rapidly phase out coal use. They also pledged $20 billion to help Indonesia wean off coal. However, according to the research consortium Net Zero Tracker, the majority of cities that had previously pledged to reach net zero emissions have no plan to track and report their progress. This was not underscored enough during the summit. In fact, when brought up, many oil-producing states blamed the energy crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the slow progress on fossil fuels. The U.S. delegates were also hesitant to agree to high emitters accepting liability for their historical emissions with fears that this could lead to high reparation payments. In addition, the European Union was also skeptical at first but eventually agreed to discuss it at next year’s summit. It is therefore clear that the discussion of decarbonization has been placed on the back burner of countries’ climate agendas during the current energy crisis.

It is important to acknowledge that despite the lack of robust multilateral steps toward decarbonization at the summit, many states made promising announcements on their individual responsibilities. Brazil’s President Lula da Silva declared that he is ready to recommit Brazil to addressing the climate crisis. Moreover, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia, which contain the three largest rainforests in the world, have agreed to formally launch a partnership on forest preservation. Turkey also pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from the original goal of 21 percent to 41 percent by 2030. Egypt will sign agreements for two wind and solar projects, which aim to boost its renewable energy sector. Germany and Egypt signed an agreement to develop green hydrogen on top of liquified natural gas (LNG) exports. Senegal, Tanzania, and Algeria are exploring similar projects. India affirmed its priority to transition to cleaner fuels and to reduce household consumption in its pursuit of net zero emissions by 2070. The European Union announced its intentions to “update its emissions-cutting target under the Paris climate accord.” The United States also announced that it would manufacture and sell only “zero-emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicles” by 2040. On November 14, U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to cooperate further on climate change.

All these strides are going in the right direction. However, it is not the direction that is the issue; it is the pace that matters at this point in time; not to mention the efficacy of the implementation of these pledges. The continuation of the ‘global stocktake,’ a mechanism for implementing the Paris accord, will be imperative in holding all states accountable to their pledges. This will be essential in aligning progressive targets with realistic pledges so that we make an effective and sustainable front in addressing climate change. The next task at the core of this progression is tackling emissions while handling the global energy crisis — an uphill battle that states and multilateral organizations will need to move quickly on.

Katherine Wells is a research assistant at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and a graduate student in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. She is a former Middle East and North Africa security analyst at CitiGroup London, UK, and holds an Integrated MA in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Exeter.

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