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COP27 Review and Analysis

COP27 Review and Analysis
Photo by Matthew TenBruggencate on Unsplash

COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, from the 6th November to the 20th November 2022. Approximately 45,000 people attended the conference. The location of COP27 was mired in controversy due to human rights abuses in Egypt. In addition, sponsorship by brands such as Coca-Cola brought concern ahead of the summit.

A word of thanks and acknowledgement

Before launching into the COP27 review, I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to the fantastic environment team at the Guardian, for their incredible coverage at COP27. Each day of the summit brought a new Guardian live blog keeping us abreast of developments. So useful was this feed, that much of my review below was informed by the Guardian’s reporting.

As such, I’d like to say thank you to Fiona Harvey, Damian Carrington, Bibi van der Zee, Natalie Hanman, Patrick Greenfield, and the rest of the Guardian environment team. Not just for the COP27 coverage, but also for tackling this depressing, urgent and all-encompassing issue with unwavering resolve. It’s because of the Guardian’s unparalleled climate reporting that I became one of the ‘founding’ partner members of the Guardian back in 2015, and why I remain a paid supporter, and proud supporter of the Guardian’s journalism to this day.

Supporting media outlets which provide accurate and ongoing climate reporting is absolutely vital and I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to support reliable and trustworthy outlets. Contributions to the Guardian can be made here.

Reports and books released prior to COP27

Prior to the start of COP27, a barrage of bleak reports about the climate crisis were released. They showed that we were on track to overshoot the 1.5C target from the Paris Agreement, instead heading towards 2.5C of warming by the end of the century. The stark findings from these reports (a summary of which can be read here) should have served as a wake-up call for leaders ahead of the summit. But this failed to be the case. In fact, the current UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, initially intended to miss the summit altogether, but eventually attended after global pressure mounted.

The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg was also released ahead of COP27, in late October. Greta, gathered 100 experts to contribute their knowledge to the book, which I believe is one of the best available in terms of providing a holistic overview of the climate and ecological crises.

Expectations for COP27

Hopes going into the summit were very low. A significant item on the agenda was the issue of a loss and damage fund. The idea behind the loss and damage fund is that developing countries are most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. As such, under this fund, they’d have access to money to help cope with climate disasters. An example of a vulnerable country is Pakistan, who this year suffered devastating floods, and could have used such a fund to help rebuild the country.

The topic of loss and damage was so contentious, that debating how it could be incorporated into the agenda for COP27 delayed the commencement of the talks. An inauspicious start to a key summit.

Lead up to the final text at COP27

A first draft of the text was released on Thursday 17th November, and Fiona Harvey wrote an excellent review in the Guardian here. The first draft was criticised for failing to call for fossil fuels to be phased down. This was covered by Sandra Laville and Bibi van der Zee’s story for the Guardian here.

A second draft of the agreement was released, which Fiona Harvey analysed in detail here. There was wrangling over loss and damage, particularly in regards to which countries should be contributing and which should be receiving the funding.

A significant problem around this stretches back to 1992, when the UNFCCC set out which countries would be classed as ‘developed’ or ‘developing’. As such, despite the fact that many countries have now massively grown their economies, they are still part of that original definition of ‘developing countries’, which hasn’t been updated in the past 30 years. This would mean in theory that some of the countries with the largest economies in the world, would stand to be beneficiaries of the loss and damage funding. Whereas the argument is that they should instead be contributing to the funding. Fiona Harvey gave a great overview of this here.

COP27 – Final Agreement

As is custom with the COP summits, COP27 overran the scheduled deadline by 40 hours, as countries argued over the final text. The Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan was finally released on the morning of Sunday 20th November.

The 10 page document reaffirmed the outcomes of previous summits including the 2015 Paris conference. It acknowledged that indigenous peoples’ rights, as well as those of migrants should be respected. The importance of climate justice was noted, as countries in the global south suffer more than those in the global north as a result of climate breakdown.

In regards to the geopolitical upheaval in the world, the Implementation Plan stressed that this, “Should not be used as a pretext for backtracking, backsliding or de-prioritizing climate action.” This is key, given that the climate has been put on the backburner repeatedly, as the world deals with other crises.

The Implementation Plan resolved to continue to aim to limit a global rise in temperatures to the 1.5C target agreed in Paris. However, this no longer seems realistic given the lack of political will to change tack in the extremely limited time we have left.

As Damian Carrington wrote in the Guardian, “Cop27 will be seen as the moment when the dream of keeping global heating below 1.5C died.” Carrington says that, “The 1.5C goal may not yet be physically impossible to achieve, but Cop27 has shown it is politically impossible.” Bill McGuire wrote a piece for the Guardian at the start of COP27 saying that the 1.5C target was dead and should be acknowledged as such by the conference. This didn’t happen.

The Implementation Plan recognised the need for greater understanding of tipping points in relation to the cryosphere. According to Leo Hickman, the Director of Carbon Brief, this is the first time tipping points have been mentioned in a cover decision from a COP summit. Hickman also noted that this was the first time that “nature-based solutions” were mentioned in the cover text, in addition to “food”.

The Implementation Plan stressed the importance of increasing the clean energy mix, including ‘low-emission’ and renewable energy. There has been a bit of concern around what ‘low-emission’ energy sources would include, as many fear it may still include gas or coal power stations with carbon capture technology, which would still leave fossil fuels as part of the mix. This would be foolish to say the least.

The biggest outcome of the entire summit was the inclusion of loss and damage, which the Implementation Plan welcomed as a historic first. Under loss and damage, funding will be provided to vulnerable nations which are hit by climate-related disasters.

“We have determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change,” said Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, in the post-summit press release.

However, while the loss and damage fund sounds promising, I can’t help but feel cautious. The reason for my caution is due to a similar topic mentioned in the Implementation plan; it expressed “serious concern” that the goal agreed in 2009 about developed countries providing $100bn annually to developed countries by 2020 has yet to be met. In 2020, the amount being given stood at $83bn. As such, I can’t help but wonder how loss and damage funding will turn out.

The Implementation Plan also welcomed the call to protect everyone through universal early warning systems for extreme weather. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General has called for an investment of $3.1bn by 2027 to make this a reality.

Notably, there was no mention in the Implementation Plan of phasing out fossil fuels – the very things that have caused this crisis. This is jaw-droppingly crazy.

Good news that emerged during COP27

A few positive things that stood out for me:

  • On Tuesday 8th November, Oliver Milman reported that Tuvalu called for an international fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The idea behind such a treaty is that all signatories would phase out oil, coal and gas use. Tuvalu followed in the footsteps of Vanuatu, another vulnerable Pacific island nation to rising sea levels, in calling for such a treaty to be created and implemented.
  • Patrick Greenfield challenged David Malpass, who is President of the World Bank about climate science denial, in this video.
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Brazil signed a strategic alliance in their capacities as three of the largest rainforest countries. The alliance is for coordinating together at the G20 conservation summit.
  • Indonesia is currently the 5th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, a coalition of countries including the US and Japan have come together to provide $20bn to help Indonesia close down their coal power stations.
  • On Tuesday 15th November, the Guardian led a media initiative which saw a joint-editorial published by over 30 media outlets in more than 20 countries, calling for fossil fuel companies to pay a climate tax, the money from which will go towards climate action in developing countries. The editorial explains that since COP26, “Countries have only promised to do one-fiftieth of what is needed to stay on track to keep temperatures within 1.5C of pre-industrial levels.” It also says that, “This is no time for apathy or complacency; the urgency of the moment is upon us.”
  • Electric car sales could exceed 10m this year, reports Damian Carrington.

Bad news from COP27

Unfortunately, the bad seemed to very much outweigh the good at the summit. Some examples include:

  • Al Gore notes that leaders have a ‘credibility problem’ in regards to acting on the climate crisis. This is putting it mildly given that we’ve had 27 COPs, and that we’ve been aware of this problem for 34 years. In this video, Gore explains the worsening crisis.
  • A new report released during COP27 showed that oil and gas companies are jeopardising our chances of a liveable future with expansion plans which, “Would result in 115bn tonnes of climate-heating CO2 being pumped out,” according to the Guardian. We know that no new fossil fuel projects can go ahead, yet $160bn has been spent on exploration alone since 2020. The Guardian also reports that 655 out of 685 companies involved in the exploration and production of fossil fuels, have plans to expand.
  • The Guardian reported a study looking at 12 of the world’s largest carmakers, which found that they plan to build up to 400m petrol and diesel vehicles, over and above the threshold for meeting the 1.5C target. To put it another way, in order to meet the 1.5C target, the study estimated that 315m petrol/diesel vehicles could be sold, but carmakers are planning for sales between 645m and 778m vehicles – a massive overshoot.
  • Extremely concerning news emerged that once again fossil fuel lobbyists had a major presence at COP27. The Guardian reported data which was compiled by Corporate Accountability, Global Witness and Corporate Europe Observatory. It showed that there were 636 oil and gas industry lobbyists present. Only one country had more attendees at COP27 than this collective of lobbyists, and that country was the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 1,070 delegates. For reference, the UAE will be hosting next year’s COP28 summit. The 636 fossil fuel lobbyists present this year were up from 503 at last year’s summit. When you think about the staggering number of people who are present to push negotiations in the wrong direction, it amounts to sheer lunacy. It’s a bit like inviting thieves to operate security firms.
  • As if that wasn’t bad enough, research by DeSmog found that there were 160 delegates from agribusiness at COP27, which is double that of last year’s summit. Around 27 lobbyists were from the five largest producers of pesticide. I still can’t understand how those who are worsening our climate and ecological crises are being allowed to attend a conference at which countries should be pushing for heavy regulation of these exact industries. It feels like an incredibly flawed and broken process for this to happen in 2022.
  • Anxiety of any kind of meaningful progress at COP27 was being shared as early as Monday 14th November, with Alok Sharma worried that the 1.5C target could be lost at this summit, according to the Guardian. This now seems to be the case.
  • At COP27, the fossil fuel industry struck 12 large gas deals… at a climate summit…

The best part of COP27

The most urgency at the summit came from António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, who gave a truly historic speech on Monday 7th November. Guterres is one of the few global leaders who seems to understand the seriousness of the climate crisis and is determined to make others realise the need for climate action. António Guterres’s full speech from the High-Level opening of the COP27 climate summit can be viewed here, with some highlights listed below:

  • “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”
  • “We are in the fight of our lives. And we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing. Global temperatures keep rising. And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.” 
  • “That 1.5 degree goal is on life support – and the machines are rattling. We are getting dangerously close to the point of no return.”
  • “Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact – or a Collective Suicide Pact.”  
  • “I am asking that all governments tax the windfall profits of fossil fuel companies. Let’s redirect that money to people struggling with rising food and energy prices and to countries suffering loss and damage caused by the climate crisis.” 
  • “A window of opportunity remains open, but only a narrow shaft of light remains. The global climate fight will be won or lost in this crucial decade – on our watch. One thing is certain: those that give up are sure to lose. So let’s fight together– and let’s win.”   

With a warning like that, it’s hard to see how countries failed to act. Moreover it’s hard to see how the fossil fuel producing nations and fossil fuel industry with all their lobbyists, were allowed to get away with so much. The Guardian’s coverage of this momentous speech, alongside a video can be accessed here.

Critical summary of COP27

The major outcome of COP27 was the agreement to create a loss and damage fund. However, with the details yet to be fleshed out, and with previous financial promises falling short of targets, I feel less than optimistic about this ‘historic’ breakthrough. But, as with a lot of things relating to the climate crisis, I hope I’m wrong.

Despite other small pieces of good news emerging, the overall outcome was depressingly bad. A combination of fossil fuel producing countries with the aid of over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists, stymied any kind of action on phasing out fossil fuels. In other words, they cocked the gun they’re holding to the world’s head.

As Damian Carrington said, COP27 has shown that the 1.5C target isn’t politically feasible. That means we’re almost guaranteed to live in a radically altered world, filled with relentless extreme weather, devastating impacts to the ocean, rising sea levels, and an increased risks of new diseases and pandemics. We’ll also be running the risk of potentially surpassing tipping points which will push us beyond a point of no return. How many parents, or aspiring parents, genuinely understand what this means in reality? If they did, they’d surely be fighting tooth and nail for a chance at a liveable future for their offspring. That chance is slipping away hour by hour, day by day.

Another incredibly frustrating thing about this COP was that many progressive countries had to fight to simply ‘hold the line’ of what had been agreed at previous summits. This is because those with their hands on fossil fuels, as well as those whose pockets are lined with fossil fuel money, were trying to backtrack and prevent further meaningful resolutions in regards to climate action.

It has to be said that it’s beyond ridiculous that the fossil fuel lobby were represented by such a massive force at this summit. It’s also insane that in 27 years of COP summits, not once has any cover text mentioned the need to phase out fossil fuels. Imagine being in a steadily sinking boat, where everyone is banned from talking about the leaking hole through which the water is pouring – in other words, no one is talking about the source of the problem, from which the solution must stem!

Some are optimistic that by getting a historic solution like loss and damage funding across the line, they’ll be able to tackle the fossil fuel problem next year. My view is that if they’ve failed to do this for 27 years, then when the UAE, an oil-producing country, hosts COP28 the chances of that happening will be very slim. Here’s to again hoping that I’m wrong.

Change must come, and it must do so urgently. It will only happen when a critical mass of people campaign relentlessly for politicians to simply listen and act on the science. We’re not asking for miracles, we’re asking for a chance at a liveable future. We’re asking politicians to do the job they’ve failed to do since 1988, and in the intervening 27 COP climate summits. Politicians who fail to listen will forever have a tarnished legacy in the history books.

What are the COP conferences about?

You can read more about the COP climate summits in my explainer guide from COP26. You can also find my coverage of last year’s COP26 climate summit here and here. For information on previous COP cover decisions, see Leo Hickman’s spreadsheet here.

My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Published inThe Climate Crisis