Many people in the UK will probably remember COP26 two years ago in Glasgow, and the UK Government certainly looked to take a high profile at the event. They urged a strong lead from the wealthier countries of the world in making commitments to reach ‘net zero’ and providing support to poorer countries to mitigate against the effects of climate crisis.
Perhaps not everyone will be aware that COP meetings take place every year, and in November of last year we had COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, hosted by Egypt. This was to be a first opportunity to ‘check in’ on progress since commitments made at COP26. However, it is important to say that the world looks to be in quite a different place one year on, with the global impact on energy prices arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, and this spiralling into a cost of living crisis with inflation at levels unseen for decades.
From a UK perspective we had a ‘will he or won’t he’ question as to whether the new UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, would attend COP27 or not. In the end he did attend and spoke positively:
‘The world came together in Glasgow with one last chance to create a plan that would limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C. The question today is: can we summon the collective will to deliver on those promises?’ He went on to add: ‘By honouring the pledges we made in Glasgow, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth. And we can bequeath our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future.’
Prelude to COP
However the latest report from the UN’s weather and climate body highlighted that the rate at which sea levels are rising has doubled since 1993.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the report as a ‘chronicle of climate chaos’ and urged governments at COP27 to answer the planet’s ‘distress signal’ with ‘ambitious, credible climate action’.
The report also headlined that Global temperatures have risen 1.1°C and are heading towards 1.5°C, according to those UN climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
If temperatures rise 1.7 to 1.8°C above 1850s levels, the IPCC estimate half the world’s population may be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity.
Climate change commitments progress since COP26
The UN Climate Chief, Mr Stiell, said just 29 states had strengthened their climate pledges since last year, which was ‘not enough’. A number of larger countries were still not committed to reducing use of coal, and reductions in using oil were being resisted by major oil production states.
The world is on track to produce more than double the fossil fuels that are compatible with a 1.5°C target. The fossil fuel industry is also earning 11-figure profits from this addiction while many households struggle to afford basic needs and over one billion people live with almost no modern energy. Africa alone is home to 600 million people without access to electricity.
Talks were clearly very difficult, and the UN Secretary General made a clear statement on the Thursday before COP27 was due to close on Friday 25th November:
‘COP27 is scheduled to close in 24 hours – and the Parties remain divided on a number of significant issues as it was referred. There has been clearly, as in past times, a breakdown in trust between North and South, and between developed and emerging economies. This is no time for finger pointing… I am here to appeal to all parties to rise to this moment and to the greatest challenge that humanity is facing. The world is watching and has a simple message to all of us: stand and deliver.’
Three distinct areas were highlighted as vital:
- Countries working together in the most effective way to rebuild trust, is by finding an ambitious and credible agreement on loss and damage and financial support for developing countries.
- All countries looking to forcefully address the huge emissions gap and maintaining the 1.5 degrees target.
- Taking forward delivery of the $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries. It means clarity on how the doubling of adaptation finance will be delivered through a credible roadmap.
Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister who was president of the Cop27 UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, called on countries to make progress as the talks ran on well into Saturday afternoon, nearly a day after their scheduled close on Friday evening, with no end in sight:
‘It is the parties that must rise to the occasion,’ said Shoukry. ‘The world is watching, time is not on our side, and all must show flexibility.’
There were very real concerns that countries are rowing back on the global goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, agreed at last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow. The proposed final text also seemed to have abandoned the key commitment for countries to improve their national plans on emission cuts each year, also agreed in Glasgow.
Some delegates described descriptions of ‘highly unusual’ conduct of the negotiations by the Egyptian hosts, which meant countries were not jointly consulted on draft texts that involved changes to key decisions. Wording in an unpublished draft text seen by delegations removed the need for countries to ratchet up their commitments on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, a key commitment made at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year.
The EU made a proposal for a new fund to pay out to afflicted countries, but it insisted that the donor base for such a fund should be broadened beyond the group of countries classed as developed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. It argued that contributions should be sought from countries with economic substantial resources, many of which have high greenhouse gas emissions. They were not named, but could include China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Korea and Singapore.
The EU also wants to limit the countries that can be aided by such a fund, to those which are economically and physically vulnerable to the ravages of extreme weather. However, there was an effort to change any draft text to prevent the broadening of the donor base, and to make the fund open to any countries classed in 1992 as developing such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait.
Any reasons to be cheerful?
There were some important outputs. The biggest is that the proposed new fund was agreed to help developing countries.
Nabeel Munir, chief negotiator for the G77 negotiating block stated:
‘This is the beginning of what will be a slow and painful process, for developed and developing countries, and it wasn’t easy to get it on the agenda, but it’s there and it’s a beginning, and we wanted that to happen at a COP hosted by a developing country. It’s a big achievement that the other side is beginning to accept that what we’re saying is fair. Loss and damage is not charity, it’s climate justice.’
This fund is absolutely vital, because the more fossil fuels are burnt, the greater the losses and damages will be. The key issue now becomes how to resource the fund – many suggest that polluting fossil fuel companies should contribute through a windfall profits tax.
A smaller positive from COP27 was that a new work programme was launched including an annual meeting of ministers to discuss the just transition – providing a forum for conversations that have already begun.
Finally there was a huge step change in diplomatic support for the end of the fossil fuel era. In the end, 80 countries made statements calling for a transition away from all fossil fuels. While this was blocked from being included in the final text, it is a huge step forward.
It is clear that vested interests will continue to try and delay progress to net zero, but more individuals and countries are looking to take action, and this gives hope for the future.