COP27: What was achieved, and what needs to happen now

Walking under an array of potted succulent plants in the Green Zone of the UNFCCC COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Walking under an array of potted succulent plants in the Green Zone of the UNFCCC COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Loss and Damage fund is a historic moment

Anna Aberg

COP27 will go down in history as the UN climate change conference where the Loss and Damage fund was agreed. After decades of pushing, this is a momentous victory for climate-vulnerable developing countries.

The shift in the conversation – and in the positions of developed countries – since COP26 is remarkable. It is critical parties continue to build on the positive momentum created in Sharm as challenging discussions on how the new loss and damage fund will work – and who will contribute to it financially – ensue.

Tim Benton

Overall COP27 was a hectic, sometimes chaotic, event that advanced some matters but left others trailing behind where they need to be to drive ambition towards the sort of climate action required to keep alive the possibility of restricting climate change within the envelope of the Paris agreement.

Loss and Damage progressed but, especially in week two, the risk was of going backwards in this COP relative to COP26 in Glasgow. The final cover declaration managed to avoid the worst, but also avoided the best.

Notably disappointing was that, although food systems were much in debate unlike in previous COPs, there was still significant political resistance to fully adopting a systems approach. COP27 maintained a firm focus on supply-side solutions to tackle food insecurity, avoiding the politically more contentious demand-side issues of ensuring nutritious and sustainably produced food for all.

Start of implementation phase demands renewed urgency

Bernice Lee

It has often been said that climate action is moving from target-setting into the implementation phase. What COP27 shows is that, as the implementation phase begins, integrity and accountability will be ever more critical, as the voices of the vulnerable economies and the youth remind the world time and time again.

This compromised outcome is also a reminder that the delivery of climate action begins at home, as does the bread-and-butter politics of money and influence. It is significant the link between fossil energy and climate impacts is made in the international arena, regardless of whether it appears in the final agreement.

As the dust settles, there will be many questions and reflection over tactics chosen by different parties and actors.

Antony Froggatt

There was insufficient progress on the energy transition both in and around COP27, with few countries increasing the ambition of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), although Australia and the European Union (EU) did.

The higher fossil fuel prices, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, can and should have resulted in an accelerated energy transition. The language in the final decision around carbon reductions and energy at best repeats the language of COP26 and does not reflect the renewed urgency of the situation.

At COP28, parties to the UNFCCC will finalize a Global Stock Take which will review national progress in meeting carbon abatement targets. This will be a key moment and unfortunately is likely to highlight once again how much faster the world needs to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.

Adaptation must now move to the forefront

Ruth Townend

There are three pillars of climate action: mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. This year progress was made on mitigation and loss and damage, but to avoid wild spiralling of the latter, adaptation must have its day in the sun in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at COP28 next year.

Adaptation lacks a concrete goal, akin to the 1.5 degree limit, and few countries have set out plans to adapt to climate change. Momentum will come when the promised ‘global goal on adaptation’ (GGA) is finally defined, to help mobilize finance and spur implementation.

The Glasgow-Sharm-el-Sheikh (GLASS) work programme to achieve this has so far lacked focus. At COP27, parties decided to define a framework to measure the goal’s achievement and enable reviews of progress over the next year.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for worldwide extreme weather early warning systems within the next five years, while the Adaptation Fund received more than $230 million for the most climate-vulnerable in 2022.

The call from Glasgow to double adaptation finance was repeated, but overall, progress on the crucial matter of adaptation was muted, when parties really needed to come together for implementation of this crucial element of climate action.

Fossil fuel discussions show failure of imagination

Glada Lahn

Overshadowed by the pain of developing country fuel importers and European attempts to replace Russian gas, discussion of fossil fuels was fraught. The text, which called for accelerating the ‘phasedown of unabated coal’ use for the first time only last year, failed to revise that to include oil and gas, despite calls to do so from India, the US, EU, and UK. Gas use also appeared to gain a pass via the inclusion of ‘low emission’ energy alongside renewables.

Given that extracting and burning oil and gas accounts for 40 per cent of all annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and that leaders agree on the need for ‘deep, rapid and sustained’ emission cuts, that language is beyond logical argument. However, current dependencies, fears of profit loss, and a failure of imagination won out.

Stronger than usual oil and gas industry presence led to a higher number of meetings focused on decarbonization of the sector. Major producer countries such as Canada and Saudi Arabia were keen to emphasize technologies to ‘clean up’ rather than phase down their fuels as the future.

Not all developing country governments with hydrocarbon reserves see the ‘phase down’ text in conflict with their economic interests. Large oil and gas exporter Colombia supported the inclusion of ‘all fossil fuels’ and Kenya, a country which had been pursuing oil and coal prospects, became a friend of the high ambition Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance which seeks a ‘managed phase out of oil and gas supply’.

A vocal contingent of African civil society meanwhile railed against health and ecology-damaging oil and gas projects and investments that would lock them into a high emissions future.

With stronger resolve to reorient finance towards net zero both in Sharm el-Sheikh and at the concurrent G20 summit in Bali, the practicalities of economic adaptation to the shift out of fossil fuels – including just transition for workers – rose up the agenda. These issues will overtake the wrangle over wording in the run up to COP28.

Not enough done for agriculture and food security

Richard King

It is welcome that the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture – adopted in 2017 as the first and only formal UNFCCC agenda item focusing on agriculture and food security – has concluded in a decision to implement a new four-year work programme focused on implementing solutions.

While this has an objective of promoting holistic approaches to addressing climate impacts both on and from agriculture and food security, it disappointingly falls short of taking a food systems lens, including all activities and actors from farm to fork.

There is now a small window of opportunity until March 2023 for governments and civil society to shape and broaden this agenda for the next four years. If not in the negotiating halls, then certainly in the myriad side events and discussions focusing on the issue, this year’s COP has clearly demonstrated a growing appreciation of the imperative of tackling food systems in their entirety.

An overarching and integrated approach to sustainable food production, distribution, and retail; nutrition and dietary shifts; and addressing food loss and waste will be vital to making comprehensive headway in addressing climate change and other planetary and social challenges.

It is important the parties at COP28 in the UAE seize this rising momentum to become the first climate negotiations to make tangible progress on transforming food systems to become sustainable, equitable, and resilient.

Rainforest leadership challenges traditional aid

Thiago Kanashiro Uehara

COP27 served well as a business fair for entrepreneurs wishing to benefit from new carbon markets. But forests, peatlands, and nature-based solutions did not receive the attention they deserve in guaranteeing climate security.

The good news is the COP26 pledges on forest finance, for the Congo basin, and for indigenous peoples (IP) and local communities’ (LC) forest tenure are pretty much alive, with disbursement rates at decent levels, albeit rarely directly to IP and LC-led organizations. The bad news is the financialization of forest governance and voluntary sustainability standards in global supply chains were exposed by scientists as solution ‘myths’.

Anna Åberg, Research Associate, Environment and Society Programme; Ruth Townend, Research Fellow – Climate Risk and Diplomacy, Environment and Society Programme; Professor Tim Benton, Research Director, Emerging Risks; Director, Environment and Society Programme; Antony Froggatt, Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director, Environment and Society Programme; Bernice Lee, Research Director, Futures; Hoffmann Distinguished Fellow for Sustainability; Chair, Sustainability Accelerator Advisory Board; Glada Lahn, Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme; Richard King, Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme and Dr Thiago Kanashiro Uehara, Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme.

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