Just as previous years have divided opinion around the efficacy of the climate conference, the conclusion of this year’s COP27 summit has continued this tradition by receiving praise and criticism in equal measure. But what has been the outcome? Below are five key takeaways from the climate summit in Sharm El-Sheik.
1) Loss and Damage fund agreed
A new funding arrangement on loss and damage was agreed for countries most affected by climate change has been hailed as a historic moment. It is considered the most important climate advance since the Paris Agreement at COP 2015.
Loss and damage refers to the ravages of extreme weather on the physical and social infrastructure of poor countries, who themselves only produce a small amount of global emissions, and the finance needed for rescue and reconstruction after climate-related disasters.
Up to now, the victims of a changing climate were not considered a priority by richer nations. While money has long been available to cut carbon or help countries adapt to rising temperatures – there was nothing for those who had lost homes and business due to climate change.
“For someone who has seen his home disappear in the floods in Pakistan, a solar panel or a sea wall isn’t much use,” explained Harjeet Singh from the Climate Action Network.
The COP27 decision on loss and damage won’t fix that immediately. The fund comes with many unknowns. What will be the criteria to trigger a payout? Where will the money come from, and will it be enough? Compare the EU’s €60m contribution against the $30bn costs that Pakistan faces.
But the establishment of a loss and damage fund shows real solidarity and will go a long way to rebuild trust between richer and poorer countries.
Despite the dramatic impacts the rising temperatures will inflict on the world, this fund signals that no one will be left behind. It is a concrete demonstration that we really are all in this together.
2) A backwards step from COP26?
There has also been a lot of criticism over the last hours of the negotiation, seen by some as representing a step backwards in the fight against rising temperatures.
While the loss and damage text represented a big win, the overall cover decision is being seen as a missed opportunity in the fight against climate change.
“Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us, is necessary. Not in this text,” said Alok Sharma. “Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text.”
As well as all these limitations there was also a sharp U-turn on the language around fossil fuels. The text now includes a reference to “low emission and renewable energy”. This is being seen as a significant loophole that could allow for the development of further gas resources, as gas produces less emissions than coal.
3) Brazil is back
The election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s next president is already helping the country’s climate credibility at this year’s COP27 negotiations after the leader attended on Wednesday.
Just as he did in Copenhagen in 2009, Lula electrified the conference with his promise of zero deforestation by 2030. More than his commitment to the Amazon, Lula restored people’s faith in the power of the ballot box to solve the climate problem.
4) Phasing out all fossil fuels
A key takeaway from COP27 was the presence and power of fossil fuel delegates. Attendees connected to the oil and gas industry included 636 who were part of country delegations and trade teams. This influence was clearly reflected in the final text.
Demands from India and others for all fossil fuels to be phased down didn’t survive, despite the backing of the EU and many other countries rich and poor. Many African countries were also keen to use the COP as a platform to promote new oil and gas initiatives in their countries.
“The fact that the outcome only talks about ‘phase-down of unabated coal power’ is a disaster for Africa and for the climate,” said Babawale Obayanju, from Friends of the Earth Africa.
“We don’t need more gas extraction in Africa, devastating our communities for the benefit of rich countries and corporations. What we needed from COP27 was agreement to a rapid, equitable phase out of all fossil fuels.”
5) Keeping 1.5 °C alive
There’s a fifty-fifty chance over the next five years that we’ll go over the important marker of 1.5 °C, compared to pre-industrial times. We’re likely to pass it permanently by 2031.
But at COP27, the EU and other developed countries were adamant of strengthening the promise to keep 1.5 °C alive. However, the cover text failed to include a reference to the phasing out of all fossil fuels, seen as a necessary advance on last year’s decision to phase down the use of coal.
“I wish we got fossil fuel phase out,” said Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, the Climate Envoy of the Marshall Islands, who along with other island states fear annihilation if temperatures rise above 1.5 °C. The current text is not enough. But we’ve shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible. So we know we can come back next year and get rid of fossil fuels once and for all.”
There’s a deep sense of solidarity by the richer nations with the island states on this issue of keeping below 1.5 °C. Faith in the threshold has also become a key difference between the US, EU, and other richer countries and China, which is markedly less concerned about the goal.
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