Last week, the world witnessed the much-awaited and highly extravagant annual global climate meet, hosted by Egypt in Sharm El-Sheikh. The Conference of Parties 27, better known as CoP 27, is the conference of the 198 nations signatories to the United Nations Framework to Climate Change Convention or UNFCC. CoP 27 saw the presence of about 90 heads of states, each with their own perspective, commitment and agenda towards Climate Change. Amidst raging climate catastrophes and concerns around the globe and a desperate search for solutions, the question remains – can these world leaders provide with climate leadership?
“A third of Pakistan flooded. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. The Philippines hammered. The whole of Cuba in a blackout. And … in the United States, Hurricane Ian has delivered a brutal reminder that no country and no economy is immune from the climate crisis.” said UN Secretary-General Mr Antonio Guterres while addressing journalists. The UN Secretary- General has very successfully summarised the climate tragedies since CoP 26 last year and highlighted the increasing devastation caused by them. Be it thousands of casualties and the millions displaced because of the Pakistan floods or the hundreds dead and the critical infrastructure lost due to the hurricanes in the US – climate change will spare all or none. With a trend in motion of increased intensity of climate change-related loss of life & livelihood in the past decade, and major economies failing to uphold their climate pledges – CoP 27 was a pivotal moment for the global family to review, reflect and reaffirm their commitments towards Climate Change mitigation. Just that, this time – they have to bring their words to action.
Flowery pledges, cypher outcome:
Global climate conferences have been characterised by countries and their leaders making pledges, signing treaties and rambling their stances on Climate Change. Yet, the world fell short when it came to delivering on these pledges – as is evident from the figures suggesting the warming of the planet by 2.1% – 2.9% degrees celsius, compared with preindustrial levels, by 2100. This is much higher than the set threshold of 1.5 degrees celsius set by the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. The failure to achieve this target has led to the scientific community suggesting an increased likelihood of catastrophic climate ramifications shortly. To put things in perspective, a mere 26 countries out of the 193, that agreed in CoP 26 to step up their climate action, have followed through. An analysis by the World Resource Institute found that current promises by nations would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by around 7 per cent from 2019 levels, even though six times that, a reduction of 43 per cent, would be necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Therefore, without question, the world fell miserably behind the target it set for Climate Change mitigation. And now must simply prepare to face the consequences – which already are on the roll.
The Conflict for Consensus:
Egypt portrayed ‘climate action’ to be the crux of Cop 27, taking a step further from making pledges and promises. However, for this attempt of Egypt to be successful, the world needed to overcome the explicit divide between the global North & South on Climate Change, global warming and related issues. This is due to an explicit difference of opinion and perspective between the developed and the developing world. And this difference and divide have significantly hindered progress on Climate Change mitigation. While the developed countries want all countries to bear equal responsibility towards climate change and have pressed the developing countries to step up their climate change mitigation efforts. The developing countries argue that it is unfair for them to bear equal responsibility, in current circumstances by compromising on their economic needs, as it was due to the developed world’s industrialisation and commercial activities that put the world in the Climate Crisis in the first place. The global south, countries largely in Africa, Asia and the middle-east, view the developed world as more responsible and better equipped to tackle the climate crisis – they must be fairly held accountable for their behemoth share of the crisis. While over the years the western world has largely accepted its larger role in the crisis and responsibility to pay its fair share in the combat against it.
There remains this divide amongst nations and regions – on who should be responsible and how much should be responsible. According to the global north, Climate Change requires every country to ambitiously pursue mitigation efforts, while the global south calls for the ‘historic defaulters’ of the western world to lead the mitigation efforts with greater responsibility and accountability. This divide is conspicuous in the statements and drafts of almost all drafts and documents formulated in International conferences inter alia. And continues to be a major hurdle today.
Concept of Climate financing & funds:
The combat against climate change is multifarious and deep-rooted, it has to be fought from the level of an individual to that of an organisation, nation and the world together. Not only does the worsening climate crisis inflict a huge economic cost globally, but combating and mitigation efforts too rely on prolific funding for imperative infrastructural and other developmental macro & micro reforms. The argument of who must pay for the climate crisis has further evolved into a demand by developing countries for developed countries to finance their multifaceted climate change mitigation efforts. This is the concept of climate financing – where largely the western world, in consideration of the responsibility in bears, provides funds to set up multilateral development institutions and finance the needs of the developing countries in combating climate change. In CoP 27, climate financing and the emphasis on attaining it from the ‘historic defaulters’ was the focal point. This meant further development on the USD 100 billion pledged to be mobilised each year by the global north, from a variety of sources, to address the pressing mitigation and adaptation needs. Needless to say, the West has not fully responded to these demands by the global south. As per an October 2019 report by the World Bank – around USD 90 trillion worth of investments is required in infrastructure for a successful transition to a green economy.
CoP 27 was successful in setting up a fund deemed ‘historic’ – the loss and damages fund, aimed towards assisting climate change mitigation efforts of the most vulnerable countries. While the setting up of the fund is seen as a breakthrough for the global south, questions remain over who will contribute how much to the fund. The UN and other global organisations have emphasised ‘Climate adaptation’ in recent times as a strategy to combat the climate crisis. Climate adaptation too along with climate mitigation was high on the agenda at CoP 27. A positive aspect to ensure the efficiency of the loss and damages fund is the establishment of a ‘transnational committee’ to make recommendations on how to operationalise both the new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 next year. The first meeting of the transitional committee is expected to take place before the end of March 2023. Further decisions were made to operationalise the Santiago Network to provide technical assistance to relevant organisations, bodies, networks and experts, for the implementation of relevant approaches for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage at the local, national and regional levels, in developing countries. If efficiency is the code of conduct, the Santiago Network has immense potential to put into motion momentous feats of the future for climate change mitigation.
CoP 27 can partially be called successful in terms of addressing the financial needs of the developing countries, although a lot yet remains to be determined, and final results are to follow. New pledges, totalling more than USD 230 million, were made to the Adaptation Fund at COP27. The cover decision, known as the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, highlights that a global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investments of at least USD 4-6 trillion a year. Delivering such funding will require a swift and comprehensive transformation of the financial system and its structures and processes, engaging governments, central banks, commercial banks, institutional investors and other financial actors. A complete success depends on how quickly the shares of the contributors and the contributors themselves are determined. However, it would not be incorrect to say that the world has taken a step up on climate change.
Challenges or the Challenge:
Like many of its predecessors, CoP 27 brought together world leaders and provided a platform for negotiations and ideation on Climate Change. But, could not address the issue of implementation.
CoP 27 saw the launch of a new five-year work program to promote climate technology solutions in developing countries. A mitigation work programme was launched in Sharm el-Sheikh, aimed at urgently scaling up mitigation ambition. Governments were also requested to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their national climate plans by the end of 2023, as well as accelerate efforts to phasedown unabated coal power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Therefore, CoP 27 was bristling with pledges being made, programs being initiated and reviews and negotiations being undertaken. However, as is evident from history, if these declarations adhered to 100% – we would not have been in the crisis we are in today. CoP 27 had to work out a mechanism to ensure the implementation of its pledges and declarations. A review of which could then be taken in CoP 28, in all likelihood implementational issues would have persisted, but the world would have taken a step up on the issue.
Covertly, the combat against climate change relies heavily on the emotion of hope – and hope by all means exists. And CoP 27 did help here. CoP 27 intensified the efforts for climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance by:
Countries launched a package of 25 new collaborative actions in five key areas: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced a USD 3.1 billion plan to ensure everyone on the planet is protected by early warning systems within the next five years.
The G7 and the V20 (‘the Vulnerable Twenty’) launched the Global Shield against Climate Risks, with new commitments of over USD 200 million as initial funding. Implementation is to start immediately. (The recognition of the V20 or the Vulnerable 20 countries – in itself a momentous feat)
Announcing a total of USD 105.6 million in new funding, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Walloon Region of Belgium, stressed the need for even more support for the Global Environment Facility funds targeting the immediate climate adaptation needs of low-lying and low-income states.
The new Indonesia Just Energy Transition Partnership, announced at the G20 Summit held in parallel with COP27, will mobilise USD 20 billion over the next three to five years to accelerate a just energy transition.
Important progress was made on forest protection with the launch of the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, which aims to unite action by governments, businesses and community leaders to halt forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
The Way Ahead:
The way ahead remains full of challenges and uncertainty – CoP 27 like its predecessors was unable to significantly influence the prospects of the future. However, it did lead to the inception of the crucial loss and damages fund and also successfully contributed to enclosing the divide on climate finance. CoP 27 also witnessed increased participation of the youth, further signifying the increased participation of people from different age groups, ethnicities and communities in climate conferences. Although, not in parity with the range of action required towards climate mitigation and adaptation, CoP 27 was witness to an increment in financial and other resources mobilisation and also greater inter-governmental cooperation. It was successful in scaling ambition and setting targets & a mission for CoP 28 to be held in the UAE.
Egypt’s focus through CoP 27 was on implementation, while it might have not been up to Egypt’s expectations. CoP 27 has now *formally* placed ‘implementation’ at the core of the climate crisis and global warming mitigation efforts. CoP 27’s legacy hangs on the fate of the implementation and efficiency of the landmark decisions it was witness to on multifarious fronts.