At the COP27 summit, diplomats and activists are calling for a fund to support vulnerable countries in the wake of disasters, but many worry that countries’ reluctance to adopt ambitious climate plans could put the planet on a dangerous warming path.
“Too many parties today are not ready to make more progress in the fight against the climate crisis,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told negotiators on Sunday morning. “What we have in front of us is not enough to move forward for people and the planet.”
The bilateral agreement, reached after a year of record-setting climate disasters and weeks of talks in Egypt, underscores the challenge of getting the world to agree on swift climate action while many powerful countries and organizations remain invested in the current energy system.
UN negotiators have reached an agreement to help vulnerable countries hit by climate disasters
Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, says the world will exceed what scientists believe is a safe threshold for warming. The only question is how much, and how many people will be affected as a result.
A study published in the middle of the COP27 talks shows that few countries have met the demands of last year’s conference and stepped up their pledges to cut emissions, and the world is on the brink of unacceptably high levels of carbon burning – pushing the planet away. Scientists say this limit will lead to ecosystem collapse, increased extreme weather and widespread hunger and disease.
Jackson blamed entrenched interests, as well as shortsighted political leaders and general human apathy, for delaying action toward the most ambitious goal set in Paris in 2015.
“It’s not just COP27, it’s the lack of action at every other COP since the Paris Agreement,” he said. “We’ve been bleeding for years.”
This year’s conference was held in unfavorable circumstances. The ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have created a global economic crisis, leaving governments scrambling to provide energy and food for their citizens. The world’s two biggest emitters – the US and China – did not talk to each other.
Developed nations have still not provided financial support to developing countries, delaying it for years and undermining the collective trust needed to secure a meaningful deal.
Civil society activists, who normally serve as the moral compass of UN negotiations, have also faced unprecedented restrictions on their ability to protest due to the host country’s severe restrictions on public gatherings. Press conferences highlighting the link between human rights and the climate crisis have been interrupted by cries for the jailing of political prisoners in Egypt.
Meanwhile, several world leaders, including the conference’s Egyptian hosts, used the event to promote fuel supplies and forge new energy deals. COP27 President Sameh Shukri called natural gas a “transitional energy source” that could facilitate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
A one-on-one meeting of African leaders during the conference showed how difficult it is for developing countries to give up their valuable fossil fuel reserves, especially when they face difficulties attracting investors for other sustainable projects.
“Africa needs gas,” African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said to applause. “We want to be supplied with electricity. We don’t want to be a museum of world poverty.”
But this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the world cannot build any new fossil fuel infrastructure to hope to meet the 1.5 degree warming target. Although burning natural gas emits less carbon than burning coal, the production and transportation process can leak methane, a powerful climate pollutant.
In closed-door consultations, diplomats from Saudi Arabia and other oil and gas-producing countries balked at language calling for a phase-out of all polluting fuels, according to multiple people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity. individual discussion. Many of those same countries opposed the proposal, which would open the door for nations to set more frequent and ambitious emissions reduction targets for specific sectors and their economies as a whole.
“We went into a mitigation workshop and it was five hours of trench warfare,” New Zealand’s Climate Minister James Shaw said. “Holding the truth was hard work.”
While more countries than ever before – including India, the United States and the European Union – called for a COP decision to reflect the need to phase out polluting oil, natural gas and coal, the overall agreement echoed last year’s Glasgow deal. A “phase-out phase-out of coal power” is needed.
“It’s a consensus process,” said Shaw, whose country also supports the fossil-fuel button-down language. “If there’s a group of states like that, we’re not against it, it’s very difficult to implement.”
China, the largest annual contributor to global warming, took a backseat for most of the conference. The country has not joined a coalition of more than 150 nations to curb methane, which is about 80 times more polluting than carbon dioxide, in the near future. Its diplomats also rejected suggestions that the Chinese government should join developed nations in providing financial support to vulnerable countries.
Delegates also rejected a proposal by the European Union and its allies that would have required all countries to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
Outside the meeting rooms, analysis by the advocacy group Global Witness found a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists among those attending this year’s conference. Climate justice activist Asad Rehman recalls meeting an industry executive on one of the conference buses who told him the COP was the best place to make deals.
“People think we come to these talks and we’re talking about climate. We’re not,” said Rehman, executive director of the nonprofit War on Poverty, which has called on the U.N. to create a conflict-of-interest policy at climate conferences.
“Really these climate talks are about the political economy of the future,” he said. “Who benefits and who does not benefit? Who will survive and who will not?’
The study shows that the world has nine years to avoid catastrophic warming
However, the historic agreement on a fund for irreversible climate damage – known in UN parlance as “loss and damage” – also showed how the COP process can empower the world’s smallest and most vulnerable countries.
Many observers believed that the United States and other industrialized nations would never make such a financial commitment, fearing liability for the trillions of dollars in damages that climate change would cause.
But after this year’s catastrophic floods inundated a third of Pakistan, the country’s diplomats led a negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing countries to push for “loss and damage financing measures” to be added to the meeting’s agenda.
“If there is any sense of morality and justice in international affairs … then there must be solidarity with the people of Pakistan and those affected by the climate crisis,” Pakistani negotiator Munir Akram said in the early days of the conference. “This is a climate justice issue.”
As leaders of developing countries made it clear that they would not go without a loss and damage fund, opposition from rich countries began to soften. As talks dragged into overtime on Saturday, diplomats from the small island nation met with EU negotiators to finally hammer out a deal the nations agreed to.
Cathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate representative for the Marshall Islands, said the success of the effort gave her optimism that countries can do more to prevent future warming — something she needs to keep her tiny Pacific nation from disappearing into rising seas.
“With the loss and damage fund, we’ve shown we can do the impossible,” he said, “so we know we can come back next year and get rid of fossil fuels for good.”
Harjeet Singh, head of global policy strategy at the International Climate Action Network, saw another benefit of demanding climate payments: it would finally convince major emitters to stop exacerbating the problem.
“COP27 sent a warning to polluters that they can no longer be harmless with climate change,” he said.
While many doubted whether Sunday’s agreement would change the overall trajectory of warming, US climate envoy John Kerry worked to secure the final deal even as he was forced into self-isolation after contracting Covid-19 while in Sharm el-Sheikh. – predicted what would happen.
“Every tenth degree of warming avoided means less drought, less flooding, less sea level rise, less extreme weather,” Kerry said. “It means saving lives and preventing casualties.”
Timothy Puko and Evan Halper in Sharm el-Sheikh and Brady Dennis and Michael Birnbaum in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.
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