COP27 Takeaways

At the COP27 meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, climate finance for frontline nations took center stage. 

As I reported last week, the COP27 meetings involved a combination of posturing, positioning, and persuasion by global leaders, business executives, sustainability professionals, influencers, and activists. 

After two weeks of negotiations, delegates adopted a final agreement that was both encouraging and disappointing. The agreement included a historic provision to create a loss and damage fund that would help poor, frontline nations meet the challenges of climate change. 

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), representing the countries most vulnerable to rising sea levels and catastrophic tropical storms, played a major role in the development of the fund, insisting that developed countries that emit the largest amounts of carbon must pay their fair share to protect nations on the frontlines of climate change.

European Commission climate chief Frans Timmermans also held the line, supporting the loss and damage fund in exchange for a higher bar on emissions reductions, and threatening to walk out of the meetings if his colleagues didn’t agree.

But disaster was adverted, and “a mission thirty years in the making was accomplished,” according to Molwyn Joseph, Antigua and Barbuda Minister and chair of AOSIS. 

Perhaps as important as the money itself was the message that developed nations sent to smaller ones: no one will be left behind in the climate fight.

Despite the victory on the loss and damage fund front, the final COP27 agreement fell short in other areas.  Much to the dismay of climate activists, the final agreement didn’t include a commitment to phase down all kinds of fossil fuels (it only referenced coal), and it lacked a mandate to reach peak global emissions by 2025—likely due to the fact that a record 636 fossil-fuel lobbyists showed up to protect their interests. 

Furthermore, oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were given license to exert an unprecedented amount of influence over the meetings as European countries lean on them to meet their energy needs in the face of Putin’s war.  While the Saudi Arabia and UAE have both committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2060 and 2050 respectively and are investing billions of dollars in renewable energy, they do not plan to reduce oil production.

Many of the delegates left the meetings feeling like they had been stonewalled by oil-rich nations, expressing extreme pessimism about the realistic ability to meet the targets set under the Paris Agreement. “What we have in front of us is not enough of a step forward,” reflected Timmermans in the closing session on Sunday.  

Fear of continued setbacks to a global climate agenda is mounting in the face of increasing influence by the fossil-fuel industry.  Next year’s COP meetings will be hosted in Dubai, and the UAE has made its view perfectly clear that oil and gas are central to the future of energy, an agenda that is clearly in conflict with the need to keep global warming at the critical threshold of 1.5C.

“Global emissions need to start a downward trajectory by 2025, that’s only two years away,” Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, reminds us. “The cost of inaction is far, far greater than the cost of action.” 

The shortfalls of final agreement notwithstanding, there were some bright spots from COP27, beginning with a renewed collaboration between the U.S. and China to tackle climate issues (the collaboration had been suspended after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this year.) 

Other highlights included:

  • More than 150 countries have joined a global pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
  • Vietnam, Indonesia, and South Africa will receive substantial funding to phase out coal production.
  • Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has made a bold and important commitment to stop the rampant deforestation of the Amazon by 2030.
  • The U.S. government, in conjunction with The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund, announced the creation of the Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA), a public-private partnership designed to “catalyze private capital to accelerate the clean energy transition in developing countries.” Chile and Nigeria are poised to be two of the first countries to receive investment for renewable energy infrastructure.

Even with the incremental victories, I can’t help but wonder—are these annual climate meetings working?  Have they become overly bloated to a point of making them flaccid, with outcomes that are heavy on words but light on action?  Are they merely pretty photo opps for presidents and ministers who want the world to think that they care about climate change?

Doesn't our climate emergency demand more frequent meetings with more impactful action?  Perhaps smaller gatherings that are micro-focused on key issues like energy, transportation, buildings, agriculture, and ecosystem protection? And, at the end of the day, despite all of the pledges and commitments, all of the pomp and circumstance, are we any nearer to keeping warming under 1.5C? 

With our future in the balance, wouldn’t it make sense to finance an “always-on” team of collaborators that could make progress at a pace and scale that meets the urgency of the moment?

Countries which emit the most carbon dioxide

While China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses and the second-largest economy in the world, it is still classified by the United Nations as a developing country.  Questions abound about whether China will be required to contribute to the loss and damage fund or if it will be eligible to receive funding.