What was COP27 and how will it influence our future?
Firstly, I just want to make a point of saying why it is that we have waited over a month since the start of COP27 to publish this blog. Even as someone who is working in Sustainability, I have found it incredibly hard to digest all of the information that is out there on COP27 and its outcomes! With the sheer number of articles, papers, and statements that have been released since the start of the conference, I wanted to take some time to gather my thoughts coherently on the subject and ensure that the information I tell you is fact not fiction. So, here’s my take on this year’s COP…
What is COP27?
Since its birth in 1995, countries from around the world have come together for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is a global summit called COP- ‘Conference of the Parties’. Representatives from each country engage in two weeks of debate and negotiations to determine the future global policies on tackling climate change.
COP27, this year’s 27th annual conference, was hosted in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6th November until Friday 18 November. The aims of COP27 were to:
Mitigation- Limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and work hard to keep the 1.5-degree target alive.
Adaptation– The Global Goal on Adaptation is a significant outcome of COP26. Urging all parties to demonstrate the necessary political will, and assess their progress towards enhancing resilience, COP27 aims to also assist the most vulnerable communities who are already experiencing the brunt of climate change.
Finance- Finally, it is crucial that countries put forth a significant and meaningful budget to contribute efficiently to mitigation and adaptation.
Collaboration- Governments, the private sector, and civil society need to work, in tandem, to transform the way in which we interact with our planet. We must introduce new solutions and innovations that help alleviate the adverse impacts of climate change. We also need to replicate and rapidly upscale all other climate-friendly solutions towards implementation in developing countries.
Climate Justice- This concept refers to equitable sharing of the burden caused by our changing climate. It is essential as we progress with tackling climate change.
So, what happened at the last COP?
COP26 was held in Glasgow in 2021, and the key outcomes were:
- Lowered temperature limits: The main goal of the Paris agreement (COP21) was to keep global temperature rise ‘well below 2C’. In Glasgow, updated scientific evidence resulted in a change to keep warming below 1.5C.
- Deforestation: 100 countries promised to end deforestation by 2030.
- Coal use: Coal is a fuel source which is responsible for 40% of yearly CO2 emissions, and this was the first time any clear reduction plan has been agreed to.
- Emissions: It was agreed that countries would meet again in 2022 (for COP27) to discuss further cuts to CO2 emissions.
- Fossil fuels: Although no deadlines were set, an agreement between world leaders to phase out fossil fuels was made.
- Methane: 100 countries agreed to a 30% reduction in methane emissions by 2030. Despite this, China, India, and Russia declined to agree.
- Financial: Pledges were made to support developing countries through monetary help for reducing their footprints and coping with the threats of climate change. However, the 2009 pledge of donating $100 billion by 2020 was never met, resulting in much speculation. In addition, financial organisations have agreed to back ‘clean’ technologies thanks to an initiative that involved private companies in net zero targets. Until the large fossil fuel companies commit to the same, sadly the desired outcomes are unlikely to be achieved.
Check out our COP26 blog from last year for more information.
What were the main outcomes from this year’s COP27?
Loss and Damage
Firstly, let’s begin with one of the most significant moments of this year’s conference- the ‘Loss and Damage’ fund agreement. What does this mean? Well, an agreement was signed to create a fund for developing countries who have experienced loss and damage as a result of severe weather events caused by climate change. Worsening weather events such as floods, droughts, heatwaves, and forest fires are increasingly experienced by countries across the world, with this year alone seeing flooding in Pakistan through to drought in east Africa having devastating impacts. These events are primarily the result of major emitters in the global north, who are continuing to burn fossil fuels with the knowledge that they are destroying our planet, and not caused by those who are suffering the devastating consequences. Therefore, this is a huge global injustice that requires significant action.
This “Loss and Damage” fund agreement has been made by developed countries signing to help developing countries and those who are vulnerable to the effects, such as South-East Asia, African states, and small islands to mitigate and manage the effects of climate change (CEDREC). Developed countries, development banks, NGOs and businesses are all “urged” to support this fund.
The final agreement text includes two references which mention helping developing countries that are “particularly vulnerable” to climate change. It has since been suggested that this language choice may pose a risk in future for problems such as who qualifies for this fund. I would agree with this statement when considering how it has the potential to be underfunded like many other climate finance funds are. However, I have hope that, overall, this is a huge step forwards for climate justice.
Here is some more information on this “Loss and Damage” fund.
Biodiversity and Deforestation
Moving onto biodiversity, and specifically deforestation, 145 world leaders made a commitment to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 in Glasgow. A year later, record levels of the practice are still being carried out.
On the other hand, the new president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won against the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and has since pledged to save the Amazon rainforest (much of this lying within Brazil) and to end deforestation there. As Bolsonaro appeared largely pro-deforestation, the new president’s goals display a huge sign of hope and change for our world.
I hope that more positive decisions are made on the topic of biodiversity at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) which began on 7th December and is estimated to end on 19th December. COP15 will bring countries from across the world together to discuss plans for tackling the biodiversity crisis. Keep an eye out for our blog on this!
At COP27, multi-country efforts to phase-out coal-fired power did not come in large numbers. As coal is the single largest driver of global temperature rise, this outcome is hugely disappointing. This is especially true when comparing to last year and how this was the first time any explicit reduction plan had been agreed to.
A fundamental issue with the outcome of this year’s COP is the failure to commit to net-zero. The Glasgow summit resulted in a huge increase in countries pledging to lower their emissions, yet 11% of global emissions are unaccounted for to this day. With no countries taking responsibility for these emissions, and slow implementation of real action on the move to net-zero, the fear that staying below the 1.5C is out of reach seems evermore real.
Here is a website which includes more outcomes from this year’s COP27.
Is there too much emphasis on COPs?
This year has sparked a lot of conversation about COPs and whether they are really doing enough. One figure in particular who released her thoughts on them is Greta Thunberg, a well-known public climate activist. Her accusation of COP27 being “greenwashing” raised a lot of attention, sparking the argument that leaders at the event are taking advantage of the opportunity as a way of promoting themselves rather than advocating for its true purpose of saving our planet. Do you agree with this? In particular, one of COP27’s event sponsors was Coca-Cola, the largest plastic producer in the world. This faced heavy criticism from many (understandably!) and resulted in a petition which called for the sponsorship to be cancelled. However, this still went ahead as planned.
To follow on from my previous point, another area that has resulted in a lot of discussion is who the representatives were at COP27, and their ties to fossil fuels. Global Witness carried out some research and found that over 600 people at COP27 have ties to fossil fuels. This is a 25% increase compared to those present at COP26. Some may argue that having representation from these fossil fuel corporations at COP27 provides an opportunity for progression and change within. However, lots of people see this as a huge issue, demonstrating our destructive reliance on fossil fuels to this day. With Shell having made a profit of £8.1 million, and BP having made a profit of £7.1 million between July and September 2022 alone, the outrage comes with no surprise. This also signifies how, as dangerous as it is, the oil and gas industry is clearly still the main energy source of our world. How do you feel about fossil fuel companies being at COP? Do you think they should be involved in these conversations?
One example of how the fossil fuel industry wields such a huge power from being present at COPs is from this year. At Glasgow, the agreement to the “Phase down of coal” was made, with the hope that progress would be made this year to change this to the “Phase out of coal”, or even the “Phase down of all fossil fuels”, as was suggested by India this year. However, backlash came from many countries, particularly those that are largely oil producing such as Saudi Arabia, which resulted in the agreement remaining the same as last year (to the “Phase down of coal” only).
Despite the above and the potential issues surrounding this, in my opinion this is a conference which is absolutely necessary every year as a bare minimum. Countries can’t solve the climate crisis alone, and this provides a platform for coalitions and collaborations to aid progress. As I stated, this is the bare minimum, so without the emphasis on COPs we would be even worse off.
In addition to the large-scale decisions and coalitions, these conferences also provide a great opportunity for countries to form smaller coalitions and discuss their progress and ideas with others. Civil services and countries are forced to consider their own individual climate action by bringing forward points.
Of course, skepticism about the level of progress is justified. Particularly as every country must sign onto an action for it to pass. However, hope needs to be maintained for change to happen, and even raising awareness during these COPs is playing a role by educating people.
No penalties for un-met pledges?
A significant issue with COPs is that the pledges and agreements made are not legally binding, and countries are not penalised if they don’t meet them. Of course, it can be argued that the embarrassment a country would face by not meeting their targets is a driver, but is this really enough?
On a positive note, in November 2008 the UK Climate Change Act became law, and is one of the earliest comprehensive framework laws on climate change globally. The Climate Change Act requires the UK Government to produce a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) every five years. This assesses the risks to and opportunities for the UK from climate change, both currently and in the future. This follows up on the target to significantly reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the path to get there. To read more on The Climate Change Act of 2008, I recommend starting here.
Despite this, do you think that the UK Government are doing enough?
How has Loughborough University been involved with COP27?
Loughborough University-led Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme led numerous sessions in the SDG 7 tent during COP27. The MECS session aimed to enhance global understanding of clean cooking, and position energy-efficient electric cooking devices as a game-changing critical climate and health solution. Expanding access to clean cooking improves health, empowers women and girls, protects the environment and bolsters livelihoods.
Finally, to bring things back to a local scale, Loughborough University’s physical geographer, Richard Hodgkins, has produced an infographic showing how negotiations made at the Conference of the Parties (COP) may impact weather and temperatures in the East Midlands:
This article is in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action. To read more click here.
Loughborough University Sustainability Blog