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COP27 paves the way for loss and damage, but protects fossil fuels, leaves key issues for COP28

A young girl in a school uniform holds her backpack above her head as she wades through flooded streets.
Image Credit: Wix

This year, COP27 was held in the immediate wake of fatal floods in Pakistan, unusual monsoons in Nigeria, a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane in the Caribbean and United States, and astronomical heat waves and droughts across Europe and China. India recorded a natural disaster almost every day of the first nine months of 2022: thunderstorms, incessant rains, cyclones, droughts, heat waves, lightning, floods and landslides.

Scientific evidence supports that our warming world worsened every single one of these events. Climate change in West Africa, for example, made Nigeria’s deadly floods 80 times more probable. The urgency made this summit the second most attended Conference of the Parties in U.N. history. Disagreement, however, made it the second-longest running as well.

As the slew of extreme weather events heightened the tensions among the 112 world leaders, loss and damage for developing and emerging nations most impacted by climate change, was at the forefront in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

After 30 years of climate talks, days of gridlock in Egypt, and nearly 40 hours of overtime at the conference, a plan for loss and damage passed the Red Sea. The fund will help rescue and rebuild poorer nations struck by climate-related disasters. While the details remain to be fleshed out, the fund is historic as vulnerable, small island nations have called for loss and damage since the 1992 COP in Rio, Brazil.

Despite the historic victory for the Global South, burdened by the primarily Western and Northern-fueled crisis, the final deal does not call for a phase-out of fossil fuels, or bolster many ambitions set last year in Glasgow such as broadening the phase-down of unabated coal emissions. As the planet experiences some of the warmest temperatures to date, the lack of fossil fuel restriction agreements asks: What about 1.5°C?

A young girl holds a sign that reads Save the Planet
Image Credit: Wix

Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate science and policy investigative newsroom analyzed COP27’s Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan. Going in-depth, the report outlines the formal negotiations regarding, but not limited to, loss and damage, mitigation, adaptation, and finance, as well the events around COP, from greenwashing, protests, and International climate pledges.

Carbon Brief explains that this year, Egypt’s presidency wanted COP to be all about implementation, putting plans from last year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in action. The most contentious agenda item was loss and damage, which for the first time ever the fund made it on the summit’s agenda.

At conferences in the past, wealthier Global North nations historically blocked loss and damage, sometimes framed as “climate reparations.” At COP26, the EU and U.S. both opposed the fund, making clear they did not want to pay compensation for their historical emissions, subsequently blocking it from making final texts. Despite previously serving as an obstacle, the States’ envoy, John Kerry, arrived at COP “ready to discuss” loss and damage.

However, loss and damage remained an item of dispute over the two-week summit. Kerry reportedly said “That’s just not happening,” at the end of the first week, reiterating U.S. opposition to compensation, in spite of his initial comments. Over the course of the next week, watered down versions of loss and damage appeared, some including high-emitting, but emerging economies like China and Saudi Arabia as benefactors, and others restructuring loss and damage as insurance schemes.

On COP’s last scheduled day – the compensation did not appear in the draft deal, which instead was riddled with “urgency,” “sympathy,” and “concern” around the issue.

In a surprising turn of events, rich nations relented to loss and damage. The final agreement “establishes a new funding arrangement to assist developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change,” the text reads, and mobilizes new and additional resources.

Separately, a wave of funding pledges to address loss and damage were announced throughout the summit, amounting to millions from Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany, and the first, Denmark. COP27 also finally saw the set-up of the Santiago Network. Established at COP25 in 2019, the agreement creates a formal advisory board to assist countries in “averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage.”

While the main loss and damage fund is seen as a major breakthrough, there are still several question marks. No set amount of money was committed in Egypt and the rules governing how the fund would work is left to be decided at next year’s COP28, set to take place in Dubai, India. Henry Kokofu, Ghanaian politician and head of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, warned that without further concrete steps there is a risk of simply creating “an empty bank account.”

Aside from loss and damage, how the world will navigate the energy transition was also an apparent theme throughout the conference.

Last year in Glasgow, parties endorsed a call to “phase down” unabated coal power. In Egypt, India, backed by other nations, reiterated its viewpoint that this call should extend to all fossil fuels, establishing the energy transition as a major theme. However, since the summit began, the use of fossil fuels was affirmed for the near future

At this year’s summit, oil and gas lobbyists were more present than ever before. Combined with the call from electricity-poor nations like those in Africa to develop natural gas reserves, the final text called for the phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Still, like COPs before, it ignored pleas to formally phase down fossil fuels.

Throughout the conference, there was even worry that COP27 would undo Glasgow’s commitment to 1..5°C, as some parties aspired for the looser, Paris Conference-era commitment of “well below 2.0°C.”

While the final text leaves uncertainty for our global emission reduction goals, the Sharm el-Sheikh implementation plan does have a number of noteworthy firsts, as Carbon Brief highlights.

For the first time, a COP summit called for a transformation of global financial architecture to better align with global temperature targets. Known as the “Sharm el-Sheikh dialogue,” it expresses “serious concern” that the goal set by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion annually for net-zero commitments has yet to be realized. It urges for a new financial system in order to invest the necessary $4 trillion a year into renewable energy and reach net-zero by 2050.

Separately, COP launched a “work program on just transition,'' enabling next year’s summit to include a “high-level ministerial round table” concerning climate justice in the energy transition. In another first, the final text mentions food, rivers, nature-based solutions, tipping points and the right to a healthy environment.

Notably, more countries signed on to the methane pledge. Launched in Glasgow, the pledgers aim to cut emissions of the super-powerful greenhouse gas 30% by the end of the decade. The pledge now includes 150 countries. While China – which is now working with the U.S. again on climate – declined to sign the pledge, it developed its own draft plan to curb methane emissions.

Unfortunately, this summit leaves a number of issues on the table for Dubai. For one, it failed to establish a “mitigation work program.” While loss and damage was a contributing factor to COP running over, the mitigation work program was the issue that held up negotiations the most.

The idea of the program is to ensure countries set clear targets, plans and metrics to reduce emissions on pace to meet climate goals. Globally, countries do not follow the same criteria and baselines for targets. Lacking a common system can riddle many pledges to just that: pledges without actual reductions.

Despite attempts from global powers like the U.S., India and the European Union, all-in-all Egypt’s conference did not raise ambitions on reducing emissions. In many ways, it instead stagnated them, bringing worry that we may miss the 1.5°C target set six years ago in Paris.

Calls to phase out all fossil fuels and to peak global emissions by 2025 were shot down by both nations who export oil, and those which are emerging, hoping to increase their oil revenues, just as the West has. Still the International Energy Agency says fossil fuels may peak by the mid-to-end of the decade anyway. COP27 the world’s chance to prepare for it. Despite a phase-down of fossil fuels not making it into the final text, 80 countries now support it, which could prove beneficial on the road to COP28.

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