This year’s reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have made clear that climate change already causes widespread and devastating impacts on nature and people, and they are expected to get worse with every fraction of a degree of warming. The reports also emphasized that unless emissions are sharply reduced quickly across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5°C will become impossible – with catastrophic effects.
Africa, which will host COP27 in Egypt, is one of the most climate-vulnerable regions in the world. African countries, many of which are among the world’s least developed, have little capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change. At the same time, they generate less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
These facts combined makes clear why the focus of this COP is clearly on adaptation, implementation and finance as a means to low carbon development and effective adaptation to climate change.
Climate finance will continue to be a contentious issue at COP27. Broken promises have contributed to deteriorating trust between developing and developed countries. Not only did developed countries fall far short of the $100 billion goal in 2020, they also failed to deliver balanced support to adaptation, heavily favoring mitigation.
Vulnerable countries (especially least-developed countries and small island states) continue to face significant barriers to access funding. Developing countries question whether developed countries are over-counting their commitments. They have also expressed frustration over the rapid mobilization of funding for the Covid-19 response and now the war in Ukraine, wondering why developed countries are unable to muster a similar sense of urgency for climate change.
This deteriorating trust between parties imperils the Paris Agreement. The $100 billion goal was vital to bringing developing countries into the deal and the perceived lack of accountability for financial commitments undermines the agreement’s overall credibility. Furthermore, many national climate action plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are “conditional” on financial support. In other words, many developing countries cannot and will not reduce emissions without the promised support.
Given this distrust, what would a good outcome at COP look like? First, we would see progress in the technical discussions on the long-term goal (which will go into effect in 2025). Many hoped these discussions would help countries rebuild trust by focusing on development of a more “sophisticated” goal. Unfortunately, both developed and developing countries feel the process has yet to break new ground. A good outcome would show convergence on what the goal should look like (aside from a higher number).
Second, we would see follow-through on commitments from Glasgow. Developed countries demonstrating progress toward the $100 billion, and especially toward the commitment to double support for adaptation by 2025, would help restore some trust.
Finally, an emerging topic is the role of the UN in helping to align the overall financial system with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Countries committed to this in the Paris Agreement under Article 2.1(c), but there has been little discussion to date about what this means or how to do it. The EU is pushing to focus on this. The issue is particularly important in light of recent backsliding from the private sector on net-zero commitments made in Glasgow. A good outcome here would provide some clarity on the role of the UN in steering the private sector to reduce emissions and enable adaptation.
Climate change is already causing irreversible losses and damage, especially for the most vulnerable people and communities. UN climate negotiations have discussed the question of how to address these under the term “Loss and Damage” and the question of how to address Loss and Damage financially has become both more acute and more divisive as limits to climate adaptation are reached and losses and damages incurred.
The urgent call for funding the recovery and reconstruction of communities hit by climate change is set to dominate the agenda at COP27. At COP26 last year, developing countries pushed for the creation of a new financial facility that would serve this purpose, but the proposal was rejected by developed countries. Indeed, high-income countries are historically responsible for climate change, but have so far refused any arrangement that could hold them accountable for its long-term consequences.
However, the balance has started to shift. Scotland was the first country to commit finance for Loss and Damage, and has since been followed by the Belgian region of Wallonia and by Denmark. World leaders have recognized that they can no longer ignore the new IPCC findings that losses and damage resulting from climate change are already a reality, nor the devastating climate impacts around the world, such as record floods in Pakistan and drought-induced famine in the Horn of Africa.
Finance for loss and damage at COP27 will be a “make or break” for vulnerable countries since it boils down to a question of trust: can developing countries trust developed countries to support them and can they trust that global climate cooperation and multilateralism will address their needs? Negotiations on the topic should prioritize recipient ownership, protect human rights and ensure that finance is disseminated in an equitable way.
In a newly released report, SEI will present options and principles to inform how finance for Loss and Damage can be designed. First, small grants and unconditional cash transfers are effective tools to reach communities that are the most affected. They should target Indigenous People, women and children in particular, as well as religious, ethnic and queer minorities. Second, money is best utilized when recipients can decide how and where to spend it. Funders should ensure that finance is not reserved for the big player but can also be accessed by grassroots organisations in ways that promote local and bottom-up decision-making at all levels.
Finally, many victims of climate change live in conflict-affected and non-democratic areas. Loss and Damage finance is counterproductive if it ignores them or adds to their burdens. The right mix of approaches will vary with each country’s political, social and economic context and funders must be flexible enough to adapt. Small-scale piloting and inclusive learning processes can guide the early years of loss and damage finance and catalyze the shift of climate finance altogether towards practices better aligned with climate justice principles.
Around the world, people are adapting to the impacts of climate change, but such adaptation is uneven, incremental and small in scale. With increasing global warming, the planet will reach limits to adaptation and experience increasing losses and damages, the IPCC stated earlier this year. Adaptation needs to accelerate, the IPCC warned, but it also needs to move from being incremental to transformational. In other words, we need to step up levels of ambition and action on adaptation.
COP27 can address this by shifting the narrative on adaptation and recognizing that the impacts of climate change have knock-on effects across national borders and even local climate impacts can have regional or global repercussions. The floods in the South African provinces of KwaZulu Natal-and the Eastern Cape earlier this year were a case in point. When the Port of Durban had to suspend operations because floods washed trucks and containers across facilities, it disrupted exports of minerals and metals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to China and citrus fruits to Asia.
In a world interconnected through trade, finance, natural resources and people on the move, transboundary climate risks cascade across countries and even regions that are many thousands of miles apart. So far, climate policy has treated adaptation as a local challenge in contrast to climate mitigation, which is seen as a global concern.
While the Paris Agreement did in fact recognize adaptation as a global challenge, there has so far been little clarity as to what it means. The two-year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation that kicked off at COP26 offers an opportunity to gain greater clarity. The fourth of eight workshops will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh one day before COP27 officially begins. The Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme should recognize adaptation as the global challenge it is, rather than reflect the classic “one-risk in one-context approach”. In recognition of the complexity of climate risk, the work programme should also start a process of reinterpreting adaptation ambition and engage new actors, with new mandates in raising this ambition.
During COP27 itself, the parties will negotiate further guidance to inform the work programme in 2023, including the themes and sequence of the remaining four workshops and outputs of the work programme. One issue likely to be fiercely debated is if the work programme should result in a new set of targets to make the global goal on adaptation more concrete and if so, what these targets should be. We argue that the global goal on adaptation should strengthen transformational adaptation to transboundary and cascading climate risks through any objectives or targets that are agreed.
Climate risk is a shared reality; adaptation must now become a shared responsibility. If we reframe adaptation as a global challenge, what new forms of international cooperation and multilateral climate action await us?
In 2022, two different factors are building a strong case for accelerating a global wind-down of fossil fuels. First, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurred an unprecedented energy crisis and shed light on how countries’ continued dependence on oil and methane gas exposes them to geopolitical turbulences and global market manipulations. Second, there is a strong consensus in the latest mitigation scenarios compiled for the latest IPCC report on mitigation that global production and use of coal, oil and gas all need to decline substantially and rapidly between now and mid-century to limit warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. In these scenarios, other important mitigation levers, such as increasing the share of energy production from renewables and reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, occur alongside — and not instead of — reductions in fossil fuel supply and demand.
Consequently, while governments should do all they can to ensure affordable energy access for the public, the current energy crisis needs to be alleviated by accelerating the deployment of clean energy and energy efficiency measures and not by further locking in our fossil fuel dependence.
At the same time, we need to consider the complex ways in which marginalized communities, particularly in the Global South, may be locked into fossil fuel production and use. To safeguard equity, it is important that calls for the phase-out of fossil fuels simultaneously recognize the need to meet the development and energy needs of lower-income countries and the need for international support to enable them to achieve this transition.
COP26 marked the first time the words “coal” and “fossil fuel subsidies” appeared in a COP Agreement text, with calls for countries to “accelerat[e] efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” At COP27, governments should also explicitly recognize the need to wind down oil and methane gas production and use in line with climate goals and equity principles. For example, countries that are less dependent on fossil fuel production and have higher capacity would be best equipped to pursue a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuel production. Countries with limited financial and institutional capacity will need international support such as in the form of debt relief or financing for renewable energy development.
COP26 saw an impressive proliferation of new climate commitments from countries and non-state actors alike. If 2021 was the year when “net zero” became the dominant paradigm for climate ambition, 2022 was the year that paradigm took hold. On the verge of COP27, 137 countries have communicated net-zero targets. Meanwhile, a broad coalition of net-zero initiatives has joined the UN Race to Zero campaign, representing over 1000 cities, 67 regions, more than 5000 businesses, 441 investors and over 1000 educational institutions. Corporate net-zero pledges grow by the day.
While these declarations of ambition from so many actors are encouraging, the details of net-zero pledges still vary widely. Many gaps need filling, both in terms of how net-zero targets will be fulfilled – using what combination of direct reductions and offsetting, for example – and near-term planning and action. Initiatives like Race to Zero have continued to elaborate criteria for filling these gaps and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) supported by the UN Climate Champions has released a raft of publications articulating what net zero-aligned strategies must look like for the financial industry.
For his part, UN Secretary-General António Guterres followed through on his announcement at COP26 to form a “High-Level Expert Group on Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities” (HLEG). The HLEG has consulted with numerous stakeholders and will issue a report on how to strengthen standards for and speed the implementation of voluntary net-zero pledges by businesses, investors, cities and regions. A key element of those recommendations will be a roadmap for translating net-zero standards and criteria into international and national regulations in service of a just transition to global net zero.
The HLEG report is not due until the end of the year, but conversations at COP27 should continue to emphasize the need to both encourage and ensure accountability for net-zero commitments at all levels. Governments must continue to explore regulatory pathways that connect non-state commitments to national and international policy goals and build their capacity to make good on these commitments, especially in the Global South. As we reach the midpoint of the first Global Stocktake, greater specificity and improved accountability for achieving net-zero targets should be squarely on the agenda.
COP27 has been termed the African COP and as such, it should deliver on African priorities. These have to do with recognizing Africa’s special circumstances as a continent that has historically contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions, a continent that is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and with a long way ahead on many development indicators.
At the same time, this African COP provides an opportunity for African leaders to step up their climate leadership and advance the continent’s sustainable development at the same time. A new Integrated Assessment of Air Pollution and Climate Change for Sustainable Development in African, developed by African and international scientists in a process led by SEI will be launched at COP by the African Union Commission, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It shows how African leaders can act quickly across five key areas to develop sustainably in a low-carbon economy.
These areas are transport, residential buildings, energy, agriculture and waste management, and the measures the assessment recommends are tested and proven. They include shifting from importing used fossil-driven vehicles to investing in electric vehicle production on the continent, as well as enabling safe cycling and walking. They also include clean cooking, moving away from burning agricultural and urban waste and investing in Africa’s enormous solar power potential. All these measures would help Africa on two counts: developing in a climate-friendly way and reducing air pollution to the benefit of African’s human and environment health.
This African COP focuses on implementation and finance as the means to enabling countries to implement climate action. African countries are showing that they are ready to step up their climate leadership through NDC development and the signing of the Global Methane Pledge and deserve to get the attention and interest of donors to support the continent in implementing established measures that have multiple benefits for human health, crop yields and climate change.
The world is reeling from continuous overlapping and intersecting crises – the pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine, food and energy insecurity, rising cost-of-living crises and of course the climate crisis. Poor and vulnerable countries and populations all over the world have borne and continue to bear the brunt of these crises. As a result, inequality between and within nations has risen.
The UNFCCC process is not immune to these impacts. Our own research showed that at COP26, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing financial and technical capacity gaps between the Global North and Global South. The travel restrictions and quarantine requirements introduced by the pandemic presented a much more serious barrier to Global South participation given existing visa barriers and vaccine apartheid. While the UNFCCC has taken several steps to shield the process from global inequalities, it does little to actively shift power dynamics within or between countries, nor does it have a mandate to address national inequalities. This has left the process open to criticism that the climate action resulting from it does not adequately reflect the needs of the most vulnerable communities on the ground.
COP27 is called the “Implementation COP”. In order to ensure that implementation solutions coming out of these processes are in line with the needs of the most vulnerable, it is vital that equity and inclusiveness are at the heart of the COP process. Unfortunately, while the Egyptian government has stated that it is “working tirelessly to ensure adequate representation and participation from all relevant stakeholders in COP27 especially vulnerable communities”, in reality, exorbitant hotel prices at Sharm El-Sheikh present a major barrier to any real inclusivity. Many financially strapped civil society organizations have pared down the size of their delegations or put up their existing delegations at Dahab, forcing these attendees to commute from over an hour away every day.
The current regime in Egypt has also been accused of using COP27 to “greenwash” a police state: running a PR campaign on sustainability and youth activism in Egypt while the state restricts climate research and Egypt’s actual civil society activists have been harassed, spied on, imprisoned and tortured. All of Egypt’s civil society attendees have been vetted and approved by the state.
Climate change and equity are inextricably linked. Global and national power inequalities are not just exacerbated by the climate crisis, but also the cause of it. At COP27, it is vital to look at how the true leaders of climate action – representatives from the most vulnerable and oppressed countries and communities, indigenous leaders and youth activists to name but a few – overcome inclusivity barriers and exert their own agency on the process so that the process amplifies their voices next time rather than presents them with new challenges.