A summary of major outcomes across our cause areas
25th November 2022
Loss and Damage Fund
Most headlines following from COP27 focused on one thing — the loss and damage fund, intended to bring climate justice to developing countries, including those impacted by droughts, floods and other disasters attributed to climate change. It’s still unclear what this will look like in action, with governments agreeing to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to recommend how to move forward in advance of COP28.
The idea of a loss and damage fund was introduced by small island nations over 30 years ago. As extreme climate events continue to wreak havoc on developing nations, such as the flooding in Pakistan this year which killed nearly 2,000 people, it seemed the time had finally come for the idea to be taken seriously on the international stage.
The subject was contentious and narrowly failed last year in Glasgow after developed countries including the US and EU opposed a loss and damage finance facility. Wealthy, western countries argue they should not be forced to pay compensation even if they have an oversized share of global historical emissions. The Egyptian presidency emphasised that the COP27 outcome is based on cooperation and facilitation, rather than ‘liability of compensation’, making it more amenable to these arguments.
The EU, US, and UK never wanted a new fund, and preferred a ‘mosaic’ approach that would use pre-existing instruments such as the World Bank, other development banks and existing climate funds. They argued such an approach would be more efficient. Still, the deal was pushed through, on the condition that countries that were technically still ‘developing’ (per the UNFCCC rules of 1992) but had large economies and big emissions would be excluded as recipients and included as donors. The final agreement made it a voluntary commitment to ‘the vulnerable’. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, said that while the fund would not be enough by itself, it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust.
A key result from COP27 was the development of a Maritime Trading Route deal between the UK, US, Norway and the Netherlands. The global shipping industry is responsible for almost 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so developing models for sustainable shipping is vital. The pledge will roll out end-to-end decarbonised shipping routes, using zero-emission fuel or electricity and extensive recharging or refuelling infrastructure. The agreement also contains a separate commitment between the UK and US to launch a ‘Green Shipping Corridor Task Force’ – a collaborative research and development effort.
The UK’s key achievement a year ago in Glasgow was to keep 1.5c alive. Scientists agree that limiting global temperature rises to 1.5c above pre-industrial levels is vital to prevent irreversible changes to the climate. The ‘cover decision’ (known as the Sharm El Sheikh implementation plan) reuses language about 1.5c and phasing down coal. It ‘requests’ countries to revisit and strengthen their 2030 climate targets. This is a relief given that some thought COP27 might try to row back from the 1.5c push, but is it enough?
Carbon markets featured heavily on the COP27 agenda. One of the issues of market based approaches, including those which emphasise carbon offsetting, is that the accounting required for these markets is still quite underdeveloped. Until the industry is regulated and accounting standardised, there are concerns that countries might, cynically, pay their way to net zero without reducing their own emissions.
Alok Sharma, the president of last year’s COP26 talks in Glasgow, was scathing in his review of the conference outcomes and omissions. Sharma delivered a powerful speech lamenting the conference’s failure to adopt measures to reduce emissions. These included ‘clear follow through on the phase down of coal’, ‘clear commitments to phase out all fossil fuels’, and something stronger than 1.5c. ‘All of us need to look ourselves in the mirror and consider if we have fully risen to the challenge.’
It’s important to note that there is a separate COP for biodiversity – the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) starts on 7 December in Montreal. However climate change is one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss, and the razing of rainforests and other carbon stores threatens carbon goals. Last year at COP26 in Glasgow, delegates signed the Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in order to protect nature’s ability to sequester carbon.
COP27 was the first time a COP decision included reference to ‘nature-based solutions’, and had a dedicated section on forests. This choice reflects the growing recognition of the importance of different ecosystems, including forests, the ocean and the cryosphere, for preserving biodiversity and storing carbon. Previously, a reference to ‘nature-based solutions’ was rejected at COP26 in Glasgow. Critics argue the inclusion is only a partial victory because it merely encourages signatories to consider such solutions, rather than compelling them.
The final COP27 text also referenced Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) - a new mechanism for sustainable forest management in developing countries. The COP27 text enables developing countries to sell ‘vetted sovereign carbon credits’, making it more profitable to preserve ecosystems rather than extract and destroy them for timber, minerals, or agriculture. REDD+ was a major point of contention for delegates. Some are concerned that developing countries might be trapped into commitments they can’t stick to, and some academic research has shown dubious results.
World Leaders also launched a Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) at the inaugural Forest and Climate Leaders Summit at COP27. The partnership is designed to help deliver the COP26 commitment to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, all while fostering sustainable development and inclusive rural transformation.
Even if the 1.5c limit is kept, more than 90% of worldwide reefs will be destroyed by severe aquatic heatwaves. A 2c rise is likely to erode all coral reefs. At COP27, the US Agency for International Development delivered €15 million to protect Egypt’s coral reefs, a key feature of the Sharm El Sheikh backdrop. This is part of the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR), which has mobilised over €187m since its launch in September 2020.The fate of coral reefs is seen as one of the major tipping points that could push us into climate catastrophe. Coral refugia reefs protect ecosystems, act as seed banks and are hosts of immense biodiversity. They also encourage significant tourism and investment for countries like Egypt. The funding under the GFCR is intended to ‘incubate and scale’ business models that address and overcome local forms of coral reef degradation, such as over-tourism, as well as helping local communities become more resilient.
Food & Agriculture
COP27 was the first time the importance of food and food systems featured in a cover decision. The text referenced ‘the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending food hunger’, and the urgent need to address ‘the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss in the broader context of the Sustainable Development Goals.’ This is especially important in anticipation of COP28 in the UAE, which is primarily dependent on food imports.
One critique is that small-scale farmers have largely been ignored by the deals struck at COP27. Small-scale farmers from developing countries produce one third of the world’s food, yet they only receive 1.7% of climate finance even as they are left to cope with droughts, floods, cyclones and other disasters. A Somali delegate argued that as trillions of dollars were made available to tackle COVID19, a similar amount should be provided for sustainable agricultural support. While this featured prominently, no clear operational steps were taken.
Supply vs systemic solutions
Critics such as Tim Benton of Chatham House argued that COP27 placed too much emphasis on ‘supply-side solutions’. Benton recognised that there is ‘significant political resistance’ to more systems-wide approaches, such as encouraging plant-based diets and radically reducing food waste.
This emphasis may reflect the large delegation of agribusiness attendees and negotiators at the conference. IPES-Food argued that this delegation skewed the results of negotiations, and that current provisions in the COP plan fail to provide the support and climate finance required for diverse and resilient agro-ecological food systems to help adapt to the floods and droughts small-scale farmers are facing.
Hope still prevails as world leaders were given a new mandate for four years of work on agriculture and food security, which could lead towards a more ambitious systems-wide overhaul of the food and agriculture industries.
Education & Advocacy
Lobbyists played a key role in Sharm El Sheikh. There were an estimated 636 fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance in Egypt, of whom 70 have been linked to oil and gas companies from the UAE, the host of next year’s conference. This number is a rise of more than 25% on the previous year, outnumbering any frontline community affected by the climate crisis. The group Kick Big Polluters Out argued that delegations from African countries and Indigenous communities had their voices drowned out by corporate interests. Others argue that it can be beneficial to bring private interests to the negotiating table to help develop sustainable economic solutions that engage both public and private actors.
As the UAE prepares to host next year’s conference, some are concerned about the extent to which wealthy industry actors are influencing the decision-making and the lack of restrictions on this access. Laura Clarke, new CEO of ClientEarth, suggested that litigation risks were likely to increase, with a higher number of claims against governments, fossil fuel companies, food and agriculture, transport, plastics and finance groups.
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