COP27 has been heralded as arguably the least transparent process seen so far since the formation of the Collation of Parties.
Observers — and even some of the delegates — were reported to have been kept in the dark until the last moment about additions to the infamous text that comes out of the summit.
There were some quite remarkable achievements, however these were somewhat ‘off-set’ by some regressive moves that stand to prevent the world’s climate agenda from taking any realistic steps forward.
Two shuffles forward, one leap back
The first win — and the one everyone is talking about — was an agreement to a new finance package on what’s known as ‘Loss and Damage’. The second was the idea that in order to properly address the different elements of climate change, there’s a need to re-think the global financial system.
The loss, however, was that in thew midst of all of this, was that the momentum that was generated in Glasgow at COP26 towards increased, accelerated decarbonisation was lost.
Money is moving (at least in theory)
For 30 years, the idea of loss and damage has been swatted away. When countries are hit, for instance, by extreme weather event, they likely suffer loss and damages. If that event was caused (or made worse) by climate change, then those losses and damages can be attributed to the historic practices by fossil fuel dependent countries — typically those in the Global North.
It’s import to note, these events don’t have to occur immediately after an extreme weather event; you can get slow on-set loss and damage. A classic example of this, is the result of sea level rise resulting in a country losing territory or agricultural land.
Losses and damages are felt all around the world, but the big issue here is the point that many of the countries that are suffering the greatest losses and damages, are poorer and likely haven’t contributed to (or very much) to the problem of climate change in the first instance. It is therefore incumbent upon the rich world to help.
What we got in Egypt at COP27, was a first real conversation about this, with all of the actors present including the rich world, and the first real acknowledgement that this is an issue that will contribute to global instability if not addressed.
The solutions that were, on the one hand, brought to the table included what the Europeans call a mosaic of solutions: Pots of money offered here and there, but also different and innovative solutions for debt relief. And then under the auspices of the UN, what the poorer countries really wanted was a new fund for losses and damages that would be supplied by a wider donor pool, and that would go to what they termed the ‘most vulnerable’ countries.
Realistically, particularly when countries have been scrambling down the back of the sofa for pennies to pay for adaptation, the odds that suddenly vast amounts of money (we’re talking many billions here), are going to flow towards the poor world for loss and damage would be optimistic at best. What was agreed within the formal process of the UN, however, was that there would be a new fund supplied by a wider donor base. Questions remain open, however, whether countries like Singapore will contribute to it, and stipulations that the funds will be directed towards the ‘most vulnerable’ further threw into question whether China would be a benefactor or recipient of at least a portion of the money.
Innovation comes out on top
Arguably one of the more impactful issues addressed by COP27, however, was the innovation needed to address financing — not just for loss and damage, but for climate action in general in poorer countries.
Another conversation that has been bubbling under the surface also arose, in the suggestion that the global financial system needs to be restructured and rethought in order to address the all-encompassing crisis that is climate change.
There were a number of ideas that have arisen here, from debt for nature swaps to debt for climate — the idea that in order to address loss and damage, for instance, lenders might in the aftermath of an extreme weather event, suspend a recipient country’s debt repayments for a period of time.
There was also a discussion of the ‘Bridgetown Initiative’ — floated by the Barbadian minister at COP26 in Glasgow last year — which would overhaul the system of international system of financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank).
The one that seems most likely to succeed, is changing the rules that operate these institutions to expand their lending capacity, so they can take greater financial risks and potentially unlock an additional one trillion dollars as a result.
The (warming) elephant in the room
All that said, the one thing that’s import to remember is that losses and damages are the things you want to avoid with climate change. What you cannot loose site of if you’re serious about the climate issue and want to spend the least amount of money on it, is that all of this comes back to cutting emissions.
We may sound like a broken record, however unless we mitigate, costs on adaptation and costs for loss and damages are just going to continue to spiral. And this is why COP27 ended up being a real disappointment.
In his final closing plenary speeches, last year’s COP president Alok Sharma echoed this sentiment:
“Emissions peaking before 2025 as the science tells us, is necessary: not in this text. Clear follow through on the phase-down of coal: not in this text. A clear commitment to phase-out all fossil fuels: not in this text.”
After the momentum generated in Glasgow last year, there was a sense that many of the delegates pushing for greater action on mitigation had to do a lot of hard work just to keep the moment and maintain the agreements put in place at COP26 alive; not actually to push them forward. Many delegates came to Egypt this year hoping there would be further targets for peaking emissions before 2025 — they did not achieve that.
It’s not a question of either/or
This was a difficult COP, and there was a clear warming that should come out of the event. We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s ‘either/or’ when it comes to adaptation and mitigation.
Now we have three pillars to climate action: Loss and damage, mitigation, and adaptation. All three are inextricably linked, and all need attention in order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.