By Macyn Hanzlik-Barend
On November 6th, 2022 over 35,000 attendees came together for the commencement of the 27th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP27. This conference was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, leading many to refer to it as the ‘African COP’ or the ‘Implementation COP.’
Despite an outpouring of praise from various media outlets, including the BBC and The Washington Post, regarding COP27’s outcomes as ‘historic’, gaining a comprehensive understanding of just what historic means has proven difficult for many. This article will attempt to break down what COP 27 tangibly accomplished.
First, some background on what COP is. This momentous conference was sparked by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty that acknowledges human contribution to climate change and commits to combatant efforts. The is responsible for all negotiations relating to this convention. Since 1995, this conference has met yearly to negotiate international decisions regarding climate action.
“COP27 worked to expand on these pre-established promises and aimed to put further functional practices in place”
Throughout COP’s history, multiple ‘historic’ agreements have been reached. Namely, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, and the Glasgow Climate Pact. A quick debrief on these three agreements will help clarify what was achieved in Egypt. The Kyoto Protocol, established in 1997 at COP3, ensured that member states of the conference committed to reducing greenhouse gases. This pact was the first global agreement to combat global warming, and each COP since is founded on this promise. The Paris Agreement, signed at COP 21 in 2015, established the goal of limiting global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This was agreed to by the world’s largest emitters. Finally, the Glasgow Pact, established in 2021 at COP26, re-emphasised the commitment to reduce greenhouse gases with a target temperature rise of 1.5°C. COP27 worked to expand on these pre-established promises and aimed to put further functional practices in place.
The lauded achievement of COP27 is known as the loss and damage fund. This fund would provide a resource for vulnerable countries to draw from following climate-fueled disasters. The establishment of this trust was the most contentious issue discussed when writing the Paris Agreement and came to no conclusion. Now the parties have reached an agreement to begin constructing this fund. According to a report from the UNFCCC, a number of multimillion-dollar pledges to the fund have been made from countries including Austria, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand. Although this promise is significant, it is far from being functional. The committee has yet to decide how the fund will be constructed and which member states will financially contribute. Additionally, they must decide which claims will be eligible for compensation. Though a committee has been delegated to discuss these obstacles, progress has been put off until COP28 at least, negating the goal of ‘implementation.’ Despite the headlines, the loss and damage fund was not the only accomplishment of this COP.
Various governments and global organisations contributed to funding. The United States government contributed $150 million in support of Africa’s efforts to combat climate change and assist in the inauguration of the Cairo Center for Learning and Excellence on Adaptation and Resilience. Egypt also secured $15 billion in funding for the Nexus of Water-Food-Energy (NWFE) project, which focuses on food and water security on the African continent. Several climate-focused foundations have also announced notable investments in sustainable energy. Regardless of these contributions, many world leaders concluded that they were not sufficient. The final statement of COP27 included a call for the “transformation of the financial system and its structures,” specifically the World Bank and other multilateral development banks, in order to make palpable changes with the shortening timeline. Though this pledge is a first, COP has once again left the decision-making up to multimillion-dollar organisations, simply suggesting that they do the right thing.
“As climate disasters are becoming more sudden and destructive each year, the global community must come together to help those that cannot bounce back so easily”
Priorities also slightly differed at this COP. There was a new focus on agriculture, dedicating a whole day of the conference to the topic. This led to the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative, which pledges to put funding towards adapting food sourcing systems to the changing climate. Many of these improvements have been made with low- and middle-income countries in mind. As climate disasters are becoming more sudden and destructive each year, the global community must come together to help those countries that cannot bounce back so easily. At the conference, UN Secretary General
António Guterres announced a plan with an investment of 3.1 billion USD to construct early warning systems for the whole world within the next five years. Though ambitious, this pledge shows a commitment to combating the inevitable consequences of climate change, not just prevention. In order to ensure that these promises are likely to turn into action, the first stocktake was taken at this COP, allowing countries to see what tangible progress they have made. This initiative was established as part of the Paris Agreement and will continue at future conferences.
Instituting a pivotal first, COP27 explicitly established climate stability as a human right. This demonstrates the changing attitude among leaders towards the climate crisis. This shift is likely due to the conference’s expanded audience. This year, COP27 held the first youth-led climate forum in an attempt to acknowledge the next generation of climate activists and hear an inclusive range of opinions on the issue.
“Greenhouse gas emissions must decrease by 45-50% before the year 2030 in order to reach the 1.5°C temperature target.”
Despite the many positives of this COP, the outcomes are inadequate. UN Climate Change released a report revealing that greenhouse gas emissions must decrease by 45-50% before the year 2030 in order to reach the 1.5°C temperature target. Despite numerous pledges made throughout the conference, the COP failed to enact legal consequences and thus cannot make any promises about the actions of the member states. According to the UN magazine Africa Renewal, COP27 “did not achieve much success around mitigation. It was unable to reach agreement, for example, on phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels or setting emission peaking periods.” So in short, COP27 was historic in words; however, the world is left wondering if governments will take substantial action to resist the climate crisis.