COP27 was a much-awaited climate summit as vulnerable developing countries and low-and middle-income countries were expecting definitive action to be taken in light of the growing visible impacts of climate change. Up until this year, COPs had a reputation of unkept promises and ambitions. But after the devastating impacts of climate change in the form of extreme weather events, the planet was awaiting real action by world leaders. COP27 was nicknamed the ‘implementation COP’ since the promises and expectations of yesteryear’s COPs were pending action. The Egyptian Presidency also termed it as ‘Africa COP’ in an attempt to bring the focus on Africa which is one of the worst-hit regions of climate change and therefore badly in need of implementation. So did COP27 deliver?
‘Loss and damage’ refers to the adverse impacts of climate change causing destruction to human health, property and environment. This is typically more common in developing countries since they lack the infrastructure to predict, prevent and mitigate natural disasters. Climate finance has always been a difficult topic in COPs since it requires the financial cooperation of developed countries. To meet this goal, enormous finances need to be pumped into developing countries to not only address loss and damage but also to ensure a just transition to clean energy. To address this, the developed countries pledged to contribute $100 billion each year to developing countries in Copenhagen in 2009. However, not for a single year since then, has this target been met. Currently, the world is far off track from the Paris target ((to keep global warming to under 1.5°C)) as the use of fossil fuels continues at the same pace. And now, to meet the Paris goal , clean energy investments need to be tripled by 2030 requiring more than $4 Trillion dollars. This can be achieved only if all developed countries pull their weight in climate finance; but this is not happening. In 2020, the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK contributed much below their targets while Germany, France, Japan and Netherlands paid billions of dollars more than their promised targets. While there are newer promises each year by developed countries, especially the USA, it seems to be unclear whether these new pledges are financed by pulling out of prior promises.
COP27 was a historic meeting since after 30 years of delay and inaction by the developed countries, the ‘Loss and Damage fund’ was finally set up. It is important that there is unanimous agreement and understanding that the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ is not a benevolent charitable act by the developed countries but rather reparations and compensation paid to the developing countries for the climate disasters they face due to the former’s dominating share of greenhouse gas emissions. The $100 billion pledge (the US’s promised contribution to the Adaptation Fund) should be independent and in addition to the ‘loss and damage’ fund and not considered to be a substitute. While acknowledging that the agreement of setting up a loss and damage fund is groundbreaking, it is not cause enough for celebration since the fund comes 30 years too late. There are also other important questions such as how to quantify ‘loss and damage’, who contributes how much, who gets first priority in disbursement and whether India and China should be eligible for compensation under this fund, which remain unanswered. Developed nations seek to push for financial contributions by India and China to the fund since they are two of the world’s top three GHG emitters. Without determining these operational questions, the loss and damage fund will remain an unfulfilled promise.
Another financial arrangement targeting loss and damage was the Global Shield against Climate Risks jointly launched by G7 and V20 countries at COP27. This will be supported by the Global Shield Financing Facility launched by the World Bank Group to better protect vulnerable nations against climate disasters by pre-arranging finance. The initiative will offer consolidated financial support to vulnerable countries before disasters occur and also complement adaptation investments. The Global Shield Financing initiative will also facilitate mobilising private finance solutions for climate disaster risk reduction. However, in the absence of adequate policy space and in light of the energy crisis in Europe exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict, private sector financiers remain unwilling to pause investments in fossil fuels.
COP27 also witnessed the operationalisation of the Santiago network (established at COP25 in Madrid) to facilitate just transition in developing countries by catalysing technical assistance, knowledge and resources. Apart from outcomes emanating from COP, more success in transitioning to clean energy can be found in side events such as Indonesia’s Just Energy Transition Partnership to phase out coal by 2030. Although bilateral deals struck outside COP show some promise and hope, they cannot and should not be used to artificially bolster COP’s multilateral outcomes. Since countries even smaller than Indonesia or Vietnam, like the small island nations, lack the leverage to deal with developed countries to strike fair bilateral agreements, they might be pushed into securing loans which ultimately end as a debt trap.
Adaptation to climate change and COP 27
Adaptation refers to ecological, social or economic adjustments in response to actual or expected climate change spurs and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to mitigate potential damages or benefit from climate change opportunities. In simple terms, countries and communities, primarily developing and vulnerable countries, need to develop adaptation solutions to combat climate change, and implement measures to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already happening. The ‘Climate Finance’ and ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ can be used for climate change adaptation, if implemented in letter and spirit. Climate Finance may help developing and vulnerable countries invest in renewable energy to reduce emissions, whereas the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ helps such countries to become resilient and restore themselves from unavoidable losses and permanent damage arising from climate change effects. This year’s devastating Pakistan floods have been assessed at roughly US$ 30 billion in losses and damages. In light of such and more significant financial loss due to extreme weather events, serious concerns were raised on the existing gap between current levels of adaptation and the need to respond to adverse climate change effects. It is important that countries’ ability to respond is brought in line with findings of Working Group II to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). As a gap-minimising exercise, developed countries were asked to urgently and significantly scale up their provision of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building for adaptation in order to respond to the needs of developing and vulnerable countries.
Also, the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (aka CMA 4), recognised that the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) would contribute to reducing the risk of climate change. The GGA aims at enhancing adaptive capacity and resilience to reduce vulnerability and contribute to sustainable development. It requires all Parties to engage in and communicate their efforts to plan and implement climate change adaptation. Further, CMA 4 reiterated the significance of the role of the Adaptation Fund, which finances projects and programmes that help vulnerable communities in developing countries, in climate finance architecture. Though new financial pledges made at COP 27 are a step forward, CMA 4 urged all contributors to fulfil their commitments on time and ensure the sustainability of the resources of the Fund.
Report of the Adaptation Committee
The Adaptation Committee is the overall advisory body under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for assisting the consistent implementation of action on climate adaptation. To keep track of the adaptation mechanism, the Committee presented a draft supplementary guidance for voluntary use by Parties. Also, a technical paper consisting of methodologies for assessing adaptation needs and their application and related gaps and lessons learned were presented. During Committee deliberations, certain Parties felt the need to involve the IPCC expertise in measuring adaptation mechanisms, while some disagreed, citing that the IPCC already has a full workload considering the seventh assessment report (AR7) cycle. Several developing countries disagreed, underscoring that the IPCC’s engagement to this date has been general and limited. They observed specific substantive action is needed for adaptation-related matters, particularly considering the utilisation of the best available science. Unfortunately, no decisions were made by the Parties in this regard. As science-based action is the critical component of climate change adaptation, the expertise of the IPCC should be utilised to strengthen the initiatives of the Adaptation Committee. Hopefully, future deliberations will move towards embracing science for climate change adaptation.
Climate change mitigation fundamentally involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet. Mitigation strategies include adopting renewable energy sources like solar, wind, etc, retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient, developing sustainable transport and promoting sustainable use of land and forests.
On the mitigation front, a work programme was launched which is to be implemented immediately after COP27 and is proposed to continue till 2026 when a decision on its extension will be discussed. The main agenda of this program will be the urgent scaling up of mitigation ambition and implementation. The decision text urges rapid transformation of energy systems to a more secure, reliable and resilient one. It emphasises the acceleration of clean and just energy transition. It was also decided that a global stocktake will be done in the next COP in Dubai where governments will revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as well as expedite efforts to phasedown unabated coal power and phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.
Though the intent of the work programme is in good faith, the final decision text on mitigation measures has hardly any mention of a benchmark needed to restrict temperature to 1.5 °C. UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 has found that policies currently in place point to an alarming 2.8°C scenario rise by the end of the century. Unless the world cuts its emissions by a good 45 per cent, this spells catastrophic consequences for our planet which is already reeling from the ill effects of climate disasters. Yet there is no significant decision on this issue and this is a serious cause of concern. Furthermore, there is no mention in the text about peaking emissions by 2025 which is deemed necessary by science beyond which countries are required to drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This is as per the recommendations of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report which recommends that in order to limit global warming to less than 1.5 °C, global greenhouse gas emissions should peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030. In general COPs have an infamous reputation wherein such decision texts tend to get submerged in a labyrinth of inconsequential jargon rather than any specific commitments towards enabling climatic action.
Another worrying factor is the status quo regarding the deep divide and lack of consensus between the global north and the global south. The Egypt COP saw both these sides spending a lot of time cutting down each other's proposal and watering down each other's texts. India highlighted the disproportionate use of the carbon budget and the need for equity under the basic principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) based on the differences in levels of economic development between countries under the Paris Agreement.
India also tried to push the phasedown of all fossil fuels, not just coal which was turned down by quite a few developed countries. The controversy surrounding the promotion of “low-emission” energy along with renewables which could be interpreted as oil and gas as fossil fuels that are less polluting when burned than coal seems more favourable to the developed countries whose energy mix is dominated by these fuels. On the other hand, India, being a developing country, is still not in a position to cut out coal from its energy mix entirely. According to India, selective singling out of emission sources and branding them as either harmful or green and sustainable cannot be scientifically valid as all of these are sources of greenhouse gases and hence it is unjust to single out coal, a fuel developing countries are greatly dependent on.
COP27 opened up to a lot of expectations and hope, and it has finally ended with not-so-promising conclusions. . The outcomes did not live up to COP's slogan this year which was “Together for implementation”. It was anything but that with no consensus among nations on a number of issues including the all-important proposal to phase out all fossil fuels, not just coal, which India tried really hard to push. What came as a saving grace to this COP is the momentous and historic Loss and Damage fund. The fund was finally established after nearly three decades of to and fro and agreed upon during the wee hours of the conference which ran a good two days beyond the deadline. The next few months are allocated to chalk out the details of how the mechanism will work and how much will rich countries contribute and who the exact recipients will be. This will then be taken up at the COP28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) next year. With the UAE being a major hydrocarbon producer and a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, environmentalists fear that the host country could take a soft stance on fossil fuels.
Our planet is in the “emergency room”. Governments and corporations should set aside their personal goals of growth and profit maximisation and work together for the sake of our planet and people. For this to happen, the phase-down of fossil fuels should happen at an unprecedented pace and the greenwashing of false solutions must end. We are running out of time and any tactics employed to delay a just and inclusive transition will prove catastrophic.