In the midst of a global energy and price crisis, with a war in the heart of Europe and with international attention away from the climate emergency, the representatives of the almost 200 nations that have participated in the Sharm el Sheikh summit, COP27 , have closed an agreement in the early hours of this Sunday that could be decisive for the future of the countries most vulnerable to global warming. After more than two weeks of complicated negotiations, this Egyptian city leaves the commitment to create a fund for the most exposed nations so that they can face the losses and damages that climate change generates and will generate. However, at the summit, the call that some countries and environmental organizations wanted to progressively eliminate the use of all fossil fuels, the main causes of global warming, did not go ahead.
This meeting had been proposed by his presidency —in the hands of Egypt—, by developing countries and by the UN Secretary General himself, António Guterres, as the COP of losses and damages. This expression includes the irreversible damage that the climate crisis is already causing and that it will cause with more intensity in the future. For example, the islands that will disappear due to the rise in sea level. Or the impacts generated in the poorest States by meteorological phenomena, which are increasingly intense and frequent, such as the floods that Pakistan suffered this year and which flooded 10% of its territory and caused 30,000 million dollars (an amount equivalent in euros) of losses.
The debate on loss and damage has always been the main topic postponed in the climate summits that have been held since 1995. But the increase in extreme events —which go faster than had been predicted years ago— and the Pressure from the most vulnerable nations —which are at the same time the least responsible for the problem— have put these impacts at the center of the climate agenda for the first time. The creation of a fund has been achieved, something that at the beginning of the summit seemed impossible due to the rejection of the richest powers, such as the United States, the European Union and Japan, who fear that with this the melon of compensations could be opened and the multi-million dollar claims they could have in the future.
Most nations came together during the summit to demand “climate justice” and that OECD members commit to putting that mechanism in place. The European Union ended up giving in and proposed the creation of a fund, although intended for especially vulnerable nations and not for all developing countries, which is the proposal that has finally gone ahead. Who will or will not be in that very vulnerable category will have to be decided in the next meetings. It also remains to be determined how the fund will be financed.
The contributions to this mechanism was another of the keys to this matter, because the developed nations did not want to be the only financiers and they asked that other States with a major weight in emissions, such as China, also collaborate. Finally, the final wording of the agreement to create the fund is so open —it includes, for example, explicit mentions of the World Bank and the IMF and the search for other forms of financing— that it does not exclusively bind any bloc, neither the developed nor the to the rest. How this mechanism will be formed is something that will have to be decided in the coming months. The idea is that it can come into operation from 2023.
“A new stage is beginning that advances in terms of solidarity”, has summed up the Spanish vice-president for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, who has maintained a very active role during the negotiations. “A mission that has been in the making for 30 years has been accomplished,” said the Minister of the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, Molwyn Joseph, on behalf of AOSIS, an alliance that represents the interests of the 39 small island states and developing countries that are threatened by climate change. “Today, the international community has restored global faith in this critical process dedicated to ensuring that no one is left behind. The agreements reached at COP27 are a victory for our entire world”, she added.
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As a counterpart to the creation of the fund, the EU had put on the table its demand to start a greater commitment in the cuts of greenhouse gas emissions, with an eye once again set on China, which is currently the world’s leading emitter , with almost 30% of the planetary total. Finally, this matter has been the one that has delayed the closure of the summit the most, which officially should have concluded on Friday, but which has lasted until early Sunday morning. The EU has not been able to get its demands accepted, which sought more ambition in mitigation, that is, in emission cuts. Ribera has defined the result in this section as “manifestly improvable”.
The fear of European countries and other nations, such as the United Kingdom, was that the final declaration would mean giving up the goal of global warming not exceeding 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. At the moment we are at 1.1 degrees, and the cut plans that all the signatories of the Paris Agreement have on the table would lead to a warming of about 2.5 degrees, in the best of cases. That is why national plans need to be hardened. At last year’s summit in Glasgow, a call was made for nations to strengthen these roadmaps any time, every year if necessary.
The final declaration of the Sharm el Sheikh summit does not go back on Glasgow, but it does not take the steps forward that the community club and an important block of countries that always push for more robust results in these appointments demanded. The pressure from the oil and gas producing countries has weighed heavily.
Last year in Glasgow, the final declaration called for phasing out the use of coal for power generation and also for phasing out government support for fossil fuels. In this COP27 it was intended to go a step further and also include a reference to the reduction of gas and oil, but it has not been possible to find a consensus for this. Decisions at these summits are made unanimously, meaning that only one of the nearly 200 countries participating in these talks can block an issue. And in this matter there are quite a few countries that would be affected, such as the oil nations of the Persian Gulf or Russia. On the other side, in favor of this mention of all fossil fuels, there were “more than 80 countries”, recalled the Spanish Minister for the Ecological Transition.
In the final phase of the negotiations, the EU has even gone so far as to threaten to withdraw from COP27, because it understood that the drafts that the summit presidency was distributing implied going back on what was agreed in Glasgow and jeopardized the goal of the 1.5 degrees.
Science states that to achieve the 1.5 target, several things are needed. For example, that global greenhouse gas emissions, which continue to grow year after year, reach their ceiling in 2025 and then fall drastically. In 2030, they should have been reduced by 45% compared to those of 2010. But current plans now lead to a decrease of between 5% and 10%.
That is why it is necessary to speed up the cuts and for countries to commit more. Both the US and the EU defend that their national programs are aligned with that 45% cut. For this reason, when people talk about increasing ambition, they usually look at China, which is now the nation that expels the most gases in the world. This country aims to reach the peak of its carbon dioxide emissions, the main greenhouse gas, before 2030 and reduce them from there, something much less ambitious than what the Americans and the members of the community club foresee.
Although the final declaration of COP27 generally advocates continuing with the increase in cut plans, that call is less forceful than what the EU intended. In addition, several countries hoped that this text would establish that in 2025 the ceiling of world emissions must be reached and then drop drastically, but this claim has not garnered sufficient support at the summit either, which leaves a bittersweet taste.
“An important step towards justice”
The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, applauded this Sunday the agreement reached at COP27 on loss and damage, which he described as “an important step towards justice”. “Clearly this will not be enough, but it is a much-needed political signal to rebuild broken trust,” he added, referring to earlier pledges by developed countries to mobilize climate finance for developing nations.
But Guterres has also criticized the other large part of the agreement with which the summit has been closed, mitigation: “A fund for losses and damages is essential, but it is not an answer if the climate crisis wipes out a small island state or turn an entire African country into a desert.” “The world still needs a big leap in climate ambition,” he added. Unlike the final declaration of COP27, Guterres has made it clear that the world must break its “addiction to fossil fuels”.
Guterres, who has placed climate change at the center of his action at the head of the UN, has been involved in the last part of COP27 to help unblock the negotiations to the Egyptian presidency, whose management of these talks has been branded as authoritative by some delegations. In fact, the atmosphere at the end of the summit in plenary was really gloomy.
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