Planet Earth, Africa, Egypt, Sharm El-Sheikh, COP27, November 18.

Temperature outside: 29ºC; temperature inside the pavilions: 10ºC (so much for energy efficiency...)

Following last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which focused on ambition, the 2022 COP27 was launched under the moto Together for Implementation, a great challenge particularly considering the present context the World is facing geopolitically, with a war in Europe, an energy crisis and soaring inflation.

Climate change is a global and a cross-cutting issue, impacting all the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, and it is worth remembering that during this COP humanity surpassed 8 billion people (and we will be 9bi in 2037 and 10bi in 2058, according to the UN’s estimates), so we will be facing increasing demographic pressure as years go by in a hostile context of climate change. Issues such as finance, youth and future generations, decarbonization, agriculture, food security, water, energy, biodiversity, gender, civil society and action for climate empowerment (ACE) were all addressed in this year’s COP featured events.

The facts are out there: countries are currently off track and falling well short on meeting the ambitions since Paris (COP21, 2015) and, particularly, since Glasgow (COP26, 2021). Lack of progress leaves the world on a path towards global warming well above the Paris Agreement goal of keeping it well below 2º C, preferably at the 1.5º C limit. The National Determined Contributions (NDC) to reduce emissions put forward by the countries so far, point to global warming levels of about 2.6º – a scenario which would change the world and humanity as we know it. The recent reports on mitigation and adaptation gaps show this boldly: Emissions Gap Report 2022, The Closing Window – Climate crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies and Adaptation Gap Report 2022, Too Little, Too Slow – Climate adaptation failure puts world at risk.

At the date I am writing, Friday November 18 – supposed to be COP’s closing day –, we know that negotiations will continue during (at least) Saturday, if not the whole weekend.

In the latest draft put forward for negotiation by the Egyptian Presidency, the 1.5º C limit to global warming is maintained and countries are invited to update their NDCs. The draft also underlines the urgency to rapidly transform energy systems to become more reliable and resilient, the need to accelerate clean and just transitions to renewable energy during this critical decade of action. It further encourages the continued efforts to accelerate measures towards the phasing down of unabated coal power and the phasing out and rationalization of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards just transitions.

The European Union announced an increase of the bloc’s 2030 emissions reduction target from 55% to 57% (considering 1990 levels) – which may seem modest but clearly reaffirms Europe’s refusal to let the current energy crisis stand in the way of existing commitments.

As regards fossil fuels, the EU defends that phasing out coal shouldn’t be delayed by putting all fossil fuels (such as gas which will take much more time to phase out) in the same plate. As to loss and damage, the European Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, stated that the EU supports the creation of a fund to assist the developing countries most affected by climate change, as long as this does not preclude the use of other already existing instruments (such as the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund). Timmermans stressed that putting in place a new multilateral mechanism will always require time, which we don’t have.

Still as regards loss and damage, the EU defends that the list of beneficiary countries must be updated: financial support should be pipelined to nations that are vulnerable in 2022, not to those classified as developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol, based on an obsolete 1992 perspective of a developed vs. developing world. An update of the list would mean that countries such as China, India or Saudi Arabia would switch from beneficiaries to contributors. A super-hot topic for the following hours of negotiations.

One of the most jaw-dropping moments in this COP was when Brazil’s president-elect Lula da Siva showed-up stating that “Brazil is back in business”, announcing a change in the country’s policy in respect to climate change and offering to organize COP30, in 2025, in the Amazon. The president-elect said the climate agenda would be prioritized in his future Government and that Brazil will adopt a zero-deforestation policy for the Amazon (while underlying that Brazil does not waive its sovereignty rights). He also announced the creation of a ministry for the indigenous peoples. Lula said he returned to collect the 100 billion per year that developed countries committed to inject in the Adaptation Fund and challenged the UN’s governance model, clearly referring to the fixed composition of the UN’s Security Council and considering it outdated. All very relevant topics to keep following.

Portugal woke up on the 14th to the news that it had jumped two positions (from #16 to #14 in a 63 entries’ ranking) in the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), an independent monitoring tool for tracking, on an annual basis, the climate protection performance. The Government announced the injection of an additional 1m euro into the Adaptation Fund, and having joined the Green Shipping Challenge (aimed at encouraging the maritime transportation value chain to put forward specific measures contributing to 1.5°C). It was also announced that Portugal will anticipate to 2026 its target of 80% of energy consumption coming from renewables.

We (impatiently) wait for this year’s negotiations to end. In Sharm El-Sheikh you can clearly sense edginess and concern. Two realities coexist which are somewhat conflicting: on the one side, the whole world’s civil society has high expectations and is attentively looking to what is happening at the COP, and on the other, multilateral negotiation and decision-making processes crawl to reach the unanimity required by International Law.

It is true we still have Paris and Glasgow’s final decision – we will not be orphans of an agreement if Sharm El-Sheikh fails –, and one can argue it is better not to agree at all than to be stuck in a bad agreement. However, if COP27 fails to deliver, we will lose at least one more year in this race against time, dangerously weakening the trust in our institutions, particularly in the UN, with all the risks this entails, not only to climate change policy. The street, important as it is to make the peoples’ voices heard and pressure leaders, is not the place to deal with climate change effectively and in an orderly and equitable fashion.

Two things remain certain:

First, the bigger the delay in mitigating emissions, the worse climate change consequences will be, and the losses and damages ever more expensive, building up pressure over developed and historical emitters to finance adaptation and loss and damage in developing countries.

Second is that with or without a common (new) commitment, with or without a signed text, we are all sailing in the same boat and the boat is sinking – or, in the words with which the UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, open COP27 on November 6, “We are in a highway to hell and still pressing the accelerator”.

Planet Earth, Europe, Portugal, Lisbon, November 20.

Today, an agreement was finally reached, creating a specific fund for loss and damage in vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters, but falling short on other urgent matters, mostly as regards mitigation.

The hard operational issues on how the loss and damage fund will function and exactly who will be the contributors are to be decided on next year’s COP28, in Dubai, following recommendations to be put forward by a transitional committee which was also created.

In a strong speech, Timmermans said the agreement doesn't block the path to 1.5º C, but puts unnecessary barriers in the way and allows Parties to hide from their responsibilities. The EU emphasizes that we need not only to address the consequences of climate change, but also adopt urgent actions to avoid and minimize loss and damage by rapidly reducing emissions.

So, for the EU the agreement “is not enough of a step forward for people and planet. It does not bring enough added efforts from major emitters to increase and accelerate their emissions cuts. It does not bring a higher degree of confidence that we will achieve the commitments made under the Paris Agreement and in Glasgow last year. It does not address the yawning gap between climate science, and our climate policies”.

Simon Stiell, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, stated that there is no room for backsliding, namely as regards the phasing down of all fossil fuels. The COP27 chapter was finally closed. In the words of its President, “despite the seemingly wide gaps and positions between Parties at times, we are all working for the same purpose, in different ways. What we need is more trust, more empathy and more understanding. Our world deserves this, this process deserves it.”

Have a great and impactful week!

Angela Lucas
Center for Responsible Business & Leadership 

This article refers to edition #165 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter and covers SDG 13 and 17.
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