While diplomats and activists at the summit, known as COP27, applauded the creation of a fund to support vulnerable countries after disasters, many worried that nations’ reluctance to adopt more ambitious climate plans had left the planet on a dangerous warming path.
“Too many parties are not ready to make more progress today in the fight against the climate crisis,” European Union climate chief Frans Timmermans told tired negotiators on Sunday morning. “What we have before us is not enough of a step forward for people and the planet.”
The ambiguous agreement reached after a year of record climate disasters and weeks of negotiations in Egypt underscores the challenge of getting the world to agree on swift climate action as many powerful countries and organizations continue to invest in the current energy system.
UN negotiators have reached an agreement to help vulnerable countries in climate disasters
Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, said it was inevitable that the world would exceed what scientists consider a safe warming threshold. The only question is how much and how many people will suffer as a result.
A study released midway through COP27 has found that few countries have met last year’s conference call to step up their emissions reduction commitments, and the world is on the brink of burning more carbon than it can afford – pushing the planet over the edge. a threshold that scientists say will lead to the collapse of ecosystems, escalation of extreme weather and widespread hunger and disease.
Jackson blamed entrenched interests, as well as short-sighted political leaders and general human apathy, for delaying action toward the most ambitious goal set in Paris in 2015, which is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
“It’s not just COP27, it’s the lack of action at every other COP since the Paris Agreement,” he said. “We’ve been bleeding for years.
This year’s conference took place under unfavorable circumstances. The ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have sparked a global economic crisis, forcing governments to scramble to provide energy and food for their citizens. The world’s two biggest emitters – the United States and China – were not on speaking terms.
Developed countries still failed to provide financial support to developing countries, which was already several years behind schedule, undermining the collective trust needed to secure a meaningful agreement.
Civil society activists, who usually serve as the moral compass of UN proceedings, have also faced unprecedented restrictions on their ability to protest due to the host country’s strict restrictions on public assemblies. Press conferences highlighting the link between human rights and the climate crisis were marred by cries of struggle over Egypt’s imprisonment of political prisoners.
Meanwhile, several world leaders, including the Egyptian hosts of the conference, used the event to promote their fossil fuel supplies and forge new energy deals. COP27 President Sameh Shoukry called natural gas a “transitional energy source” that could facilitate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
A private meeting of African leaders during the conference showed how difficult it is for developing countries to abandon the use of lucrative fossil fuel reserves, especially as they struggle to attract investors for other, more sustainable projects.
“Africa needs gas,” African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina said as the room erupted in applause. “We want to make sure we have access to electricity. We don’t want to become a museum of poverty in the world.”
But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said this year that if the world is to have any hope of meeting the 1.5 degree warming target, it cannot build any new fossil fuel infrastructure. Although burning natural gas produces fewer emissions than burning coal, the production and transportation process can lead to releases of methane, a powerful climate pollutant.
In the closed-door consultations, diplomats from Saudi Arabia and other oil and gas-producing countries shied away from language that called for a phase-out of all polluting fossil fuels, according to multiple people with knowledge of the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity. discuss private dealings. Many of the same countries also opposed the proposal, which would have opened the door for countries to set more frequent and ambitious emission reduction targets for specific industries and across their economies.
“We went to a mitigation workshop and it was five hours of trench warfare,” New Zealand’s climate minister James Shaw said. “It was hard work just holding the line.
Although an unprecedented number of countries – including India, the United States and the European Union – demanded that the COP decision reflect the need to phase out polluting oil, natural gas and coal, the umbrella agreement merely reiterated last year’s Glasgow Pact on the need to “phase out undiluted coal power”.
“It’s a consensus process,” said Shaw, whose country also supported fossil fuel phase-out language. “If there’s a group of countries that are similar, we’re not going to stand for it, it’s very hard to do that.”
China, the world’s largest annual contributor to global warming emissions, remained in the background for most of the conference. The country has not joined a coalition of more than 150 countries pledging to curb methane, which is roughly 80 times more polluting than carbon dioxide, in the near future. Its diplomats have also balked at suggestions that the Chinese government should join developed countries in providing financial support to more vulnerable countries.
Delegates also rejected a proposal by the EU and its allies that would have required all countries to start cutting their global warming emissions by 2025.
Outside the meeting room, an analysis by advocacy group Global Witness showed a record number of fossil fuel lobbyists among attendees at this year’s meeting. Climate justice activist Asad Rehman recalled meeting an industry executive on one of the conference shuttle buses who told him the COP was the best place to make deals.
“People think we come to these meetings and talk about climate. We are not,” said Rehman, executive director of the anti-poverty nonprofit War on Want, which has called on the United Nations to introduce a conflict of interest policy at climate conferences.
“The reality is that these climate negotiations speak to the political economy of the future,” he said. “Who will benefit and who will not? Who will survive and who won’t?”
The world has nine years to avert catastrophic warming, study shows
But the historic agreement on the Irreversible Climate Damage Fund – known in UN parlance as “losses and damages” – also showed how the COP process can empower the world’s smallest and most vulnerable countries.
Many observers believed that the United States and other industrialized nations would never make such a financial commitment for fear of being liable for the trillions of dollars worth of damage that climate change would cause.
But after catastrophic floods this year left a third of Pakistan under water, diplomats there led a negotiating bloc of more than 130 developing countries to demand that “loss and damage financing arrangements” be added to the agenda.
“If there is any sense of morality and justice in international affairs … then there should be solidarity with the people of Pakistan and the people who are affected by the climate crisis,” Pakistani negotiator Munir Akram said in the early days of the conference. “This is a climate justice issue.
Resistance from rich countries began to wane as leaders of developing countries made it clear they would not walk away without a loss and damage fund. As talks dragged into an extension on Saturday, diplomats from the small island states met with EU negotiators to broker a deal that the nations eventually agreed to.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, said the success of the effort gave her optimism that countries could also do more to prevent future warming — something necessary to keep her small Pacific nation from disappearing into rising of the seas.
“We’ve shown with the loss and damage fund that we can do the impossible,” she said, “so we know we can come back next year and get off fossil fuels once and for all.”
Harjeet Singh, head of global policy strategy at Climate Action Network International, saw another benefit of requiring payment for climate damage: It might be what finally convinces major emitters to stop making the problem worse.
“COP27 sent a warning shot to polluters that they can no longer get away with destroying the climate,” he said.
And while many doubted whether Sunday’s deal would change the overall trajectory of warming, U.S. special climate envoy John F. Kerry — who worked to reach a final deal even as he was forced into self-isolation after contracting Covid-19 in Sharm el-Sheikh — predicted that it will
“Every tenth of a degree of warming averted means less drought, less flooding, less sea level rise, less extreme weather,” Kerry said. “It means lives saved and losses prevented.”
Timothy Puko and Evan Halper in Sharm el-Sheikh and Brady Dennis and Michael Birnbaum in Washington contributed to this report.
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