The importance of the upcoming COP27, taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6, cannot be overstated. António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said in October that the world was in a ‘life-or-death struggle’ for survival, adding the climate emergency was ‘a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.’
So with concerns especially heightened, what can we expect from the event? Sustainable Future News has brought together a panel of contributors to gauge their opinions on what they are expecting, what went well last time – and what didn’t – and the political and economic scenarios surrounding the event.
Our panel includes:
What are you hoping will come out of COP27 – and what are you expecting to see?
Jamie: I’d like to see a climate hero emerge. Perhaps it’s because I watched too many Marvel movies this year, but it gives me hope to believe that a country could be a radical leader, committing to meaningful, systemic action on climate change and then following through on that commitment, thereby serving as a model for the other parties and proof that with courage and grit, change is possible.
Jack: Obviously, I’m hoping that COP27 continues making progress on the political stage in a way that we’ve seen a little bit in the past couple of months.
There was a massive amount of rhetoric for COP26 and a sort of rhetorical progress there. But what I really hope is that COP27 doesn’t distract us from the work that we have to do beyond just the political stage. And it doesn’t make us feel that the governments have it in hand, and we can remember that investors and businesses and individuals actually play a really important role in this in supporting the solutions that matter. It’s not just governments, and we’re all part of it.
Sam: I hope that we will see meaningful action and not simply more empty words – too many commitments have been made without being acted upon over the years. The IEA just announced that global emissions from carbon will peak in 2025, largely due to an acceleration in the clean energy transition instigated by the war in Ukraine. That there can be that powerful a silver lining to such a horror, gives hope that despite past failures and the dire realities of the climate crisis, there is still a path for humanity to thrive.
My hope is that COP27 can provide similar breakthroughs, without the need for further tragedy as a driver.
What are the key issues and concerns for delegates this year?
Mark: Naturally, emissions sit at the heart of COP27 but what I have noticed in the communications surrounding this year’s conference is a further shift in focus towards adaptation policies; looking at what can be done to limit the effects of the climate change that is taking place and has already taken place on the planet and its people.
By current projections, it is enormously unlikely that we will meet the 1.5 degree limit set out in the Paris Accord, not without rapid huge-scale change that slow-moving governments, businesses, and whole economies are very unlikely to allow.
Therefore, looking into how to protect communities, particularly vulnerable communities, against the effects we are already experiencing across the globe should be enormously welcome. The ongoing devastating floods in Pakistan which have claimed over 1,700 lives as a result of heavy monsoon rainfall, glacial melt, and an earlier heatwave, should demonstrate to us that the issues being discussed at COP conferences are not solely about preventing future catastrophe, but about addressing emergencies that have already befallen many communities across the world.
Sam: The fact that the IPCC has made it clear that we have maybe five years left to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, meaning that COP27 is one of our last chances to come together as a global community to act.
The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have showed us action is possible at the scale we need – if we can only find the will to do so.
Jamie: COP27 will pick up where previous conferences have left off on the debate over how much developed countries should help developing countries to not only reduce their own climate impact, but to deal with the damage that climate change has already wrought. This is certainly a worthy goal, but arguably should not top the agenda in the same year that carbon dioxide emissions tipped past 420 parts per million. The focus should be on reducing the global CO2 concentration – dramatically, rapidly, and sustainably.
It’s also time for the delegates to get serious about collaborative, systemic change. The talks bring together delegates based on the belief that climate change is too massive of a problem to solve alone, but we rarely see evidence of cooperative efforts outside of the conference itself. The antidote is an ongoing, uninterrupted push toward our collective goals that also harnesses corporate and technological advancements to speed up delegate successes.
What were you impressed/not impressed by at COP26 and what has changed since then?
Jamie: While COP26 resulted in significant progress on transparency in terms of how countries will report their successes and failures on curbing emissions, it has become clear that resilience needs to be part of the discussion in the wake of disrupted progress due to the war in Ukraine and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Mark: I was pleased to see that the impact of coal was finally addressed at COP26. Though previous climate conferences have focused on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the huge impact of coal – at least a fifth of total emissions, according to the IEA, and the biggest single source of emissions – has received little attention historically. COP26 saw the first explicit plans to reduce coal usage across the world, with a 190-strong coalition declaring their intent. I, like many others, was disappointed, however, to see the final wording of the agreement change from a commitment to ‘phasing out’ instead into ‘phasing down’.
Though India received much criticism in the media and from other nations for their influence on this change of wording – coal power accounts for about 70% of the developing nation’s energy production – it is understandable that their delegates may be hesitant to make the trade-off between fossil fuel consumption and increased quality of life for the citizens of a developing nation that has its progress and growth stymied by outside forces.
I hope that COP27’s focus for developed nations is on helping to fund, finance, and support developing nations through the climate mitigation and adaptation process – in addition to picking back up on the COP26 talks around loss and damage financing for countries in the global South that disproportionately feel the effects of climate change – ensuring that coal-heavy developing nations will be supported to entirely phase out fossil fuels at the same pace as themselves.
Do you agree with the concerns over Egypt’s hosting of the event given President El-Sisi’s crackdown on political prisoners and dissent?
Jamie: Human rights and climate action are not siloed concepts. Addressing abuses by Egyptian authorities is an essential aspect of making progress on climate change, not only because the environment and society are intertwined and symbiotic, but because tackling a problem this large and complex requires full commitment from all parties.
We cannot tolerate any attempts by authoritarian regimes to hinder progress on climate initiatives, and human rights must be a part of the plan to save the earth, because we’re also trying to save the people who live here.
Mark: The choice of location for the Sharm-El-Sheikh event at a secure tourist resort does indeed seem likely to deprive private citizens and climate justice groups of the opportunity to have their voices heard around the climate conference. That not one of the accredited NGOs this year is a human rights organisation, or any of the independent human rights groups working on human rights and climate justice in Egypt is also troubling given how closely climate change issues are entwined with economic prosperity, human rights, and political freedoms.
It should go without saying that any leader who seeks to undermine the rights of their citizens to public protest and demonstration should not receive the support of the international community, and it is troubling to see how El-Sisi’s policies are affecting not only the course of COP27, but also, of course, the rights of Egyptian citizens.
That said, there are some positives to COP27 taking place in Egypt, and climate conferences are not purely about governmental delegates and heads of state. Many commentators note that its location will give delegates from African nations – most of whom very keenly feel the effects of climate change due to geographical and economic reasons – the opportunity to make their voices heard.
Notably, one of the presidential goals covers collaboration – particularly around hearing from vulnerable African communities. About 30 million African people slipped into poverty last year, primarily due to COVID-19 and the climate crisis. I hope that some good can come of COP27’s location in Egypt by providing the delegates who represent these citizens with a fairer chance to articulate the continent’s dire need for true climate justice.
How important are the COP conferences in your opinion in creating and following through on wider-scale awareness and initiatives on climate?
Sam: Less and less so as time to act runs out. This is the 27th one, and yet the realities of the crisis have only gotten worse due to lots of lip service but little action. The world is losing hope.
Despite that, it is an opportunity to show the people of the world that all is not yet lost and that there are leaders across sectors and the globe who are willing to do the hard work to bring about a better future. Something we are finally seeing in the US with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – potentially the most consequential climate legislation ever passed.
How close are we to the last chance saloon to get things right from a geopolitical perspective – and what needs to be done to ensure COP27 doesn’t end in failure?
Sam: Four things need to be done: action on past commitments; meaningful new commitments with mechanisms to ensure they are followed through; acknowledgement and ownership of the failures to this point; highlighting of progress and the fact that there is hope, such as energy carbon peaking in 2025, technology coming online to accelerate decarbonisation, and the passage of the IRA.
Jamie: We are already entrenched in the reckoning on climate change, but I generally agree with UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “the climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.” The antidote to public cynicism about the effectiveness of our leaders in addressing climate change is ongoing collaboration that goes beyond repairing what is broken to implement systemic, sustainable change.
To win the race the parties must not only commit to widespread, ambitious strategies, but they must fund them generously, support them vocally, and then be transparent about what worked, what could be improved upon, and what should be the next move. In other words, to get things right, our leaders must act like leaders.
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