Rod Oram analyses the final, teeth-pulling outcome of the global climate summit in Egypt – a step forward but wide steps sideways as well
The COP27 climate negotiations staggered to an historic agreement on finance for developing countries on Sunday morning. But failed abysmally to curb fossil fuels or greenhouse gas emissions.
Intense political wrangling between nations made for a marathon closing plenary session that began on Sunday at 4am and concluded at 9.20am, after a third night running of negotiations at the end of the 14-day summit.
For the first time in the 30 years to date of the United Nation’s climate convention, the agenda included the issue of Global North finance to help the Global South cope with escalating physical damage and economic losses from extreme climate.
Just before COP27 started at Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, it had taken 40-hours of lobbying by developing countries to get the vital issue on the agenda for the first time.
Then, debate of the issue deadlocked COP until the EU proposed on Thursday a new finance facility. Lengthy negotiations ensued, with the US being the most important country to set aside on Saturday its long opposition to such a fund and support the facility.
But only the broadest outline was agreed. A committee with representatives from 24 countries will work over the next year to propose what form the fund should take, which countries should contribute, which countries will benefit from the fund and for what purposes.
However, deep scepticism remains among developing countries, given the failure of rich countries to fulfil the US$100 billion of climate finance rich countries promised their poor neighbours to win their support for the 2015 Paris Agreement.
As COP27 agreed on the fund, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley said: “When we came here there was a great philosophical chasm on how we’d approach these issues, particularly on loss and damage. Thanks to the countries who took the leap, it’s a significant move forward.”
One of the most creative and effective negotiators on behalf of the Global South, she added: “There have been complaints that the text is not perfect and indeed it is not … but we have all moved forward, and must not allow the search for perfection stop us from doing what is possible and pragmatic.
“We have to concede that action and ambition have lagged behind our advocacy, the time has come to make sure they catch up. We must recognise this historic moment in this historic country when we took a big step for climate justice.”
COP27 was widely condemned, though, for failing to offer any strong language in support of 1.5C, the critical climate threshold for humanity. While realistic hope of reaching the target is all but exhausted, striving to get as close to it as possible remains imperative.
Moreover, on fossil fuels COP27 merely cut-and-pasted words from COP26 in Glasgow last year about “phasing down” coal. Strenuous efforts to get all fossil fuels in the final agreement failed given strong opposition from major fossil fuel producing nations.
Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the emissions trajectory is “dangerously off course” and the agreement does little to alter this.
Moreover, key language was weakened in the final text, creating confusion and potential loopholes around “low emissions” energy being used alongside renewables. The hand of petro-states, that say their products are crucial contributors to the transition to clean energy, was feared to be the driver of the change. Some analysts said it could cause use of gas to accelerate even more, while also encouraging more development of fossil fuel projects.
At the start of COP27, the United Arab Emirates, hosts of COP28 in Dubai next year, stated its fossil fuel strategy. “The UAE is considered a responsible supplier of energy and it will continue playing this role for as long as the world is in need of oil and gas,” said its President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “Oil and gas in the UAE is among the least carbon intensive around the world and we will continue to focus on lowering carbon emissions emanating from this sector.”
But that statement applies only to production. Emissions from using UAE oil and gas would be as copious as from any other source, far outweighing the production emissions.
In a statement after COP’s close, Climate Minister James Shaw said: “Global progress is slow, but right now we still have a choice about the future we want to build. Every tenth of a degree of global warming prevented matters; every tonne of pollution we cut makes a difference; every decision we take counts.”
Thus, it was up to countries to step up their own emissions cuts, he said. For it’s part “Aotearoa New Zealand will continue to do everything we possibly can to urgently cut climate pollution and build a safer, cleaner future.
“At COP 27, we once again stood alongside our Pacific neighbours and pushed for greater ambition on emission cuts; a faster phase out of fossil fuels; joined-up action to cut climate pollution and protect nature; and more support to help countries adapt to, and cover the losses that will result from, a warmer world.”
Among other subjects, the new carbon market rules – article 6 of the Paris Agreement – will likely be one of the most controversial and far reaching deals of the summit.
Critics say it lacks transparency, allows questionable accounting practices, backtracks on human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, and locks in loopholes for polluting industries and countries to greenwash and delay greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Rachel Rose Jackson from Corporate Accountability said: “These outcomes are only worthy of celebration if you are either a carbon marketeer about to profit immensely, or the Global North governments who are locking in their ability to recklessly use offsets and removals – without required human rights and other safeguards – to ignore their obligation to actually reduce emissions. This is not reflective of keeping 1.5 alive.”
In terms of progress, though, this was the first COP for which climate ‘tipping points’ such as the melting of Greenland ice and Antarctic ice sheets has ever been mentioned in a COP cover decision text. The sentence is: “Recognises the impact of climate change on the cryosphere and the need for further understanding of these impacts, including of tipping points.”
And to conclude my final report on COP 27, here are notable quotes about its successes and failures.
The chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Sir Molwyn Joseph, Environment Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said:
“We have literally exhausted all of our efforts here at COP27 to bring home the climate action commitments our vulnerable people desperately need. Our ministers and negotiators have endured sleepless nights and endless days in an intense series of negotiations, determined to secure the establishment of a loss and damage response fund, keep 1.5C alive, and advance ambition on critical mitigation and adaptation plans. But after the pain comes the progress.
“Today, the international community has restored global faith in this critical process that is dedicated to ensuring no one is left behind. The agreements made at COP27 are a win for our entire world. We have shown those who have felt neglected that we hear you, we see you, and we are giving you the respect and care you deserve. Now we must solidify our ties across territories. We must work even harder to hold firm to the 1.5C warming limit, to operationalize the loss and damage fund, and continue to create a world that is safe, fair, and equitable for all.
Mohamed Adow, who runs the Power Shift Africa thinktank, said: “After 30 years of hurt, climate action is finally coming home on African soil here in Egypt.
“At the beginning of these talks loss and damage was not even on the agenda and now we are making history. It just shows that this UN process can achieve results, and that the world can recognise the plight of the vulnerable must not be treated as a political football. It’s worth noting that we have the fund but we need money to make it worthwhile. What we have is an empty bucket. Now we need to fill it so that support can flow to the most impacted people who are suffering right now at the hands of the climate crisis.”
Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the landmark Paris Agreement, said: “This COP caused deep frustrations but it wasn’t for nothing. It achieved a significant breakthrough for the most vulnerable countries. The loss and damage fund, a dream at COP26 last year, is on track to start running in 2023. There is a lot of work still to be done on the detail, but the principle is in place and that is a significant mindset shift as we deal with a world in which climate impacts cause profound loss.
“The influence of the fossil-fuel industry was found across the board. 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.”
“Elsewhere in Sharm el-Sheikh, it was a silent and fearful COP for many activists. The legacy of those fighting for civic space and human rights will endure.”
Ashok Sharma, the British Cabinet minister who chaired COP26 in Glasgow last year, said:
“I promise you if we do not step up soon and rise above the minute to midnight battles to hold the line we will all be found wanting.
“Each of us will have to explain that to our citizens to the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities and ultimately to the children and grandchildren to whom many of us now go home.”
Thank you to Newsroom readers who helped fund my COP 27 coverage from Egypt. I’ll offer analysis of the meeting in my Newsroom column this week, available on NewsroomPro on Friday and Newsroom.co.nz on Sunday – Rod Oram