Justice and ambition. These, for the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gutierres, were the two essential themes of the 27th UN Conference of the Parties (COP27) on Climate Change. He pointed this out in his final assessment when, after three weeks of negotiations, the definitive agreement of the summit was published. An agreement which indeed failed in terms of ambition to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5 ºC, but did progress on climate justice thanks to an important deal on compensating the losses and damages which the most vulnerable countries have been reclaiming since 1992.
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CO2 emissions reach record levels in 2022
The two big themes of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh were fossil fuels and compensation for the losses and damages suffered due to the increase in global temperature. The event, held between 6 and 18 November in Egypt, was marked by the energy crisis caused by war in Ukraine, the proliferation of extreme climate events, and the increase in carbon emissions, which have reached record levels this year.
Analysis conducted by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) found that CO2 related to fossil fuels is on the way to increase by 1% to 36.6 billion tonnes, the highest on record. An outcome that shows how far we are from undertaking the necessary reductions to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 ºC by 2030 – considering we have already reached an increase of 1.1 ºC – in order to avoid the most devastating effects of the climate crisis.
“CO2 related to fossil fuels is on the way to increase by 1% to 36.6 billion tonnes, the highest on record”
Since COP26 in Glasgow, just 26 countries had reviewed their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in time for COP27. During the summit, the biggest commitment was made by the European Union, which increased its 55% emissions reduction target to 57% by 2030. Now the countries have until 2023, when the first Paris Agreement compliance check will be performed, to review their ambitions.
Fossil fuels at COP27
The final declaration avoided mention of the “progressive elimination” of fossil fuels in the face of objections from several countries. Some of them, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, warned that any reference to gas and oil would be a red line for them. Under Article 6, however, the countries have defined gas as a “transition technology”, which ultimately opens the door to the possible prohibition of its use.
Finally, the Sharm El-Sheikh declaration urged the countries to reduce energy generation from coal progressively and gradually abandon inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
At the closing ceremony, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the outcome was “not enough of a step forward for people and planet”. He also thought present efforts would not achieve an increase or acceleration of efforts to reduce emissions and limit the temperature rise to that stated in the Paris Agreement.
The tension brought about by this loss of momentum, with respect to commitments, was such that, during the final Saturday, the European Union threatened to abandon the negotiations in the face of the pressure to dilute the 1.5 ºC objective.
Although significant progress toward decarbonization and emissions reduction is being made by some sectors and countries, especially in electricity generation from renewables, the global effort on climate change mitigation is not enough.
Responsibility for “loss and damage” part of climate debate
The big win in the final COP27 text was loss-and-damage compensation: a fund that aims to help vulnerable countries already suffering from the effects of the temperature increases, through drought, flooding and other extreme weather phenomena.
During the summit, the debate focused on whether the highly industrialized nations that most contribute to the cause of the problem should compensate the losses and damages the climate crisis provokes in poor countries that least affect climate change. One of the examples cited during the Summit was that of Africa, whose contribution to CO2 emissions is less than 2%, yet which is one of the continents most lashed by the climate crisis.
“The loss-and-damage fund aims to help vulnerable countries already suffering from the effects of temperature increases”
Disasters like flooding, drought, hurricanes, landslides and forest fires are increasingly frequent and intense as a result of climate change and the most affected countries have spent years asking for financial help to manage the consequences.
Several countries emphasized that the fund should be destined to help those in the front line of the climate crisis and not countries with significant economic resources and, often, high revenues as gas and oil exporters, and which have higher levels of development and high emissions (e.g. China).
Despite the importance of the fund – the financing and scope of which was not established – it serves little to pay the consequences of climate change without tackling its causes. Our planet is rapidly nearing turning points that will render the climate chaos irreversible. COP27 in Egypt marks a small step toward climate justice, but the planet needs much more.