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“We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” That was the crystal-clear statement made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the first week of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) held at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. COP27 had been hailed as the ‘Implementation COP’, but a shortage of climate actions and commitments to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C has been disappointing. The UN’s warning of ‘no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place’ and the results of the COP27 ‘Implementation Plan’ emphasize the shift in actions from mitigation to adaptation. However, both mitigation and adaptation must go hand-in-hand, as every fraction of a degree is critical to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.
At COP26 in Glasgow last year, 193 countries agreed to focus on the 1.5°C warming threshold. As their commitments on cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions called the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) were too weak to stay within this limit, they also agreed to return each year to strengthen them, a process known as the ratchet. However, in the lead up to COP27, only 30 of these countries1 had updated their NDCs. With the current rate of progress, these commitments are simply not enough to bring us closer to 1.5°C with 2030 targets2, though some progress has been made, for example, by the European Commission at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. While the final Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan emphasized the commitment to 1.5°C and the ratchet, a resolution to cause emissions to peak by 2025 was taken out, to the dismay of many delegates.
Loss and damage
One positive outcome from COP27 was the agreement to establish the Loss and Damage Fund, an important step forward towards a just and equitable transition. What started three decades ago with small island states and countries calling on wealthy nations for ‘loss and damage’ financial assistance related to climate change impacts has finally made headway. A lot of work still needs to be done and it remains to be seen whether this will translate into action. The parties agreed to set up a transitional committee to make recommendations for adoption at COP28 next year.
While COP27 covers longer-term goals to keep alive a 1.5 °C pathway aligned with the Paris Agreement, it failed to emphasize faster near-term actions to limit warming. With the backdrop of the energy crisis, this COP didn’t reach a consensus to build on the commitment to ‘phase-down coal’ made at COP26, and to include all fossil fuels as part of this. This is worrying as reduced dependency on non-renewables is still a challenge and bold action is needed to progress on the decarbonization agenda.
While ‘loss and damage’ finance was the big-ticket item, traditional climate finance for cutting emissions and helping people adapt to climate change was also a major topic at COP27. The COP failed to develop a new quantified goal on climate finance to replace the US$100 billion annual target which has not been met, and this is now delayed to next year. Further, developments around an action plan to double adaptation finance did not materialize, and the commitment here too was pushed forward to 2025. This is clearly a gap that needs to be filled with urgent action. Ahead of the summit, new analysis3 from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that the amount of adaptation finance flowing to the Global South is currently five to 10 times lower than what is needed. And, on the other hand, estimated annual adaptation costs are expected to reach $160-340 billion by 2030 and $315-565 billion by 2050, according to the report.
Notable, holistic developments
For the first time, a COP cover decision was made in key areas mentioning food, rivers, nature-based solutions, and the right to a healthy environment. Part of the conversation was focused on the role of the Western world, particularly nations that have played a role in the climate crisis, to invest more in funding a ‘just transition’ in the Global South, with a focus on climate vulnerable nations. A callout was made to financial systems and structures – multilateral development banks and international banks – to reform their practices and priorities to address the ‘global climate emergency’. The “Sharm el-Sheikh dialogue” stated that financial flows of funds should be aligned with global temperate targets. An annual ‘high level ministerial round table’ to map progress will take place at COP28 next year.