Analysis | InCOPacitated: The illusion of “change” on climate change
Sunday, November 6, marked the beginning of the COP27 Climate Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) offers an opportunity for states, private, and third sector organizations to discuss how to address climate change. Although the initial purpose of the conferences was how to prevent climate change, today the goal is to limit its effects. Areas, particularly in the Global South, have already been impacted. The world witnesses increased rates of climate oscillation and natural disasters leading to destruction of livelihoods, increased disease, and water, food, and energy shortages.
Moreover, this is the seventh COP since the Paris Agreement (2015), agreed upon by 196 parties at COP21 in Paris, and the first after the Paris rulebook was agreed upon at COP26 in Glasgow last year. The rulebook, which was first initiated at COP24 in Poland and took two years to agree and finalize, offers guidelines on how to implement the agreement. Therefore, we are no longer at the stage of negotiations on tackling climate change. Instead, we are at the point of urgent implementation of the Paris Agreement. However, the parties have not agreed on what successful outcomes look like. One of the foundational issues going into this year’s COP is how the parties can implement an agreement if they cannot agree on the intended results.
Sharm el-Sheikh is a highly relevant location for COP27. Egypt has been one of the many countries experiencing extreme weather as a result of climate change, such as droughts, sandstorms, flash floods, and locust swarms — all of which heavily impact Egypt’s agricultural sector and subsequently its access to vital resources. Sharm el-Sheikh sits on the northern tip of the Red Sea, an area where the effects of climate change have been heavily concentrated. Much of these area-specific impacts come from global trends related to supply chain management, the remnants of conflict in the region, and the lack of funding to address such issues.
Financing and compensation are at the forefront of the parties’ conversations at COP27. At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, “developed countries” pledged $100 billion per year by 2020 for climate action in “developing countries,” those most affected by climate change. Yet the largest financial contributors have not mobilized these resources, leaving many states and individuals quite rightly frustrated. As the years go on, more funding will be required not only for climate action but also emerging aspects of the climate change agenda, including loss and damage as well as adaptability. Loss and damage financing refers to aid to address the damage already caused by climate change in developing countries. Adaptability is funding to help these governments become more resilient in the face of climate change. The World Bank has claimed that low- and middle-income states will need approximately $1.6 trillion per year between now and 2030. It is also important to note that these pledges made by developed countries are not always as transparent as they seem. Many states do not increase their budgets for international aid. Instead, many of them declare a portion of their budget as climate change reparations, reallocating funding for other international aid commitments.
Both the COP27 leadership and the Egyptian government designated the first day for financing, indicating that it is a top priority this year. Some states have already individually committed funds for loss and damage compensation. For example, Denmark pledged over $13 million earlier this year, and Scotland at least $1 million last year. The itinerary for COP27 will flow accordingly, dedicating one day per discussion. This thematic approach will hopefully leave room for leaders to engage with and provide a platform for other parties working in the field of climate change, particularly researchers, non-governmental organizations, and youth.
The selection of Egypt to host COP27 has also been significant to the country’s commitment to cooperate in the agenda against climate change. Since the announcement of this year’s location, Sharm el-Sheikh has become the center for Egypt’s climate change projects, including wind farm initiatives, desalination plans, and flood prevention infrastructure. Moveover, Egypt has become the first Middle East and North African (MENA) state to issue “green bonds,” which have already raised “$750 million toward clean public transport and sustainable water management.” On the other hand, 90 percent of Egypt’s power generation capacity still comes from natural gas and fossil fuels. Thus, Egypt’s dependency on fossil fuels could “undermine its climate leadership at COP27.”
Likewise, there has been backlash against the decision to host COP27 in Egypt due to alleged human rights abuses. In the past few weeks, Egyptian security forces arrested approximately 70 people, primarily in Cairo, who called for protests during the summit. Many of these civilians were charged with spreading misinformation. The Egyptian public has also witnessed an increase in spot checks, which include mobile phone and social media investigations. Unlike Glasgow last year, protests are set to be smaller and more controlled in Sharm el-Sheikh. The government has designated certain areas around the meeting location for demonstrations. However, many fear that there will be crackdowns if the protests were to receive a large following, which is very unlikely. Alaa abd al-Fattah, an Egyptian-British activist imprisoned in Egypt, is currently on a 200-day hunger strike. He decided to stop drinking water at the start of the summit. As intended, the strike has brought media attention to Egypt’s questionable handling of political opposition and has brought many to doubt the Egyptian government’s morality behind the motivation to host COP27.
Although COP27 has a progressive lineup, the implementation of these plans is not expected to be easy. One of the initial flaws of this COP is the lack of pre-assessed mandates, meaning that no clear final targets of this conference have been laid out. This will make it hard not only to reach conclusions but also to communicate decisions and target expectations to the media and subsequently the general public. Furthermore, as highlighted above, there will undoubtedly be friction on the topic of “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) — each country’s self-defined climate mitigation goals — as well as the tension over whether governments are prepared to reduce coal dependency in the short-term due to the ongoing energy crisis — a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Therefore, the parties at COP27 will need to address many polarizing issues. Despite the urgency required for success, most of those involved are unclear about what it looks like at this point. Even if the conference achieves small victories by way of increased funding for projects on adaptability as well as loss and damage — still fundamental to addressing climate change — they are likely to be badly communicated to the public. The additional problem at hand is how this funding is distributed to and implemented in developing countries. The ongoing energy shortages, particularly in Europe, could result in even poorer communication between “developed countries” and “developing countries” over climate change action. Furthermore, although it is significant that a Global South country has hosted COP27, which might benefit other “developing countries” in this dialogue, controversy over human rights will still be relevant at COP, as climate change action is here to protect humanity and not to overlook individuals’ rights.
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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