As the climate crisis has converged with others – Russia’s war on Ukraine, the global energy crisis, and runaway inflation – the stakes were higher than ever for the 27th United Nations Climate Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Following two weeks of intense negotiations, COP27 concluded in November 2022 with a mixed package of decisions: on the one hand, ministers reached a landmark deal to compensate developing nations for climate damages, but on the other, they did not go nearly far enough in addressing the root causes of global warming.
A historic win
In some ways the 2022 conference represented a significant breakthrough: merely an idea at COP26, the Loss and Damage Fund, an agreement to help vulnerable nations cope with climate disasters engendered by the greenhouse gas emissions of wealthier states, is on track to start running in 2023.
The Loss & Damage Fund is thus a landmark in climate negotiations by strengthening the foundations for cooperation between developed and developing countries. By proposing the initial text for this new fund, the EU also demonstrated strong climate leadership, proving that it is ready to move forward on this matter.
Little to stop fossil fuels
While the new climate agreement dealt with the damages from climate change, it did far less to address the greenhouse gas emissions that are at the root cause of the crisis.
With a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27, the industry’s influence could not be ignored. Countries did not demonstrate sufficient progress on their previous commitments on climate mitigation, and the summit weakened nationally determined contributions (NDC) requirements for countries to make new, more ambitious pledges. Additionally, the final text failed to mention the need to phase down fossil fuels – missing the chance to build upon the Glasgow Climate Pact: the agreement reached at COP26 which sees signatory countries increase climate ambition and action from the Paris Agreement in 2015, and sets out new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions including phasing down coal and a global carbon market.
However, this COP has weakened requirements around countries making new and more ambitious commitments. The text makes no mention of phasing out fossil fuels and scant reference to science and the 1.5C target. The Egyptian presidency has produced a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil fuel industries. This trend cannot continue in the United Arab Emirates next year."
The devil will be in the details, but at the very least, the principle of compensating developing countries for climate damages is now enshrined. In addition, COP27 saw growing discussions around the need to reform the international financial system, restructuring the World Bank and IMF to make them fairer for the most vulnerable while also ramping up financing for renewable energy projects. These discussions are likely to further accelerate in 2023.
Additionally, there were other developments that could help control greenhouse gas emissions and protect people from severe weather. One hundred and fifty countries signed a pledge to reduce methane pollution, a new plan was presented to beef up weather forecasts and disaster warning systems, and there were concrete pledges to spend billions of dollars on clean energy in rapidly growing countries.
Yet overall the power of fossil fuel interests was deeply felt, especially in contrast to representatives of civil society, many of whom had no real voice at COP27. Meanwhile, the calls to address the root causes of climate change and ensure a more liveable planet are louder than ever. With the historic Loss & Damage Fund now in place, 2023 can be a chance to build and reinforce climate justice even further.