The 27th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) is underway at Egypt’s sea-side city of Sharm el-Sheikh where, over two weeks, heads of government, diplomats, business heads, activists, journalists, and lobbyists will converge. The attempt is to inch ahead on a global rehaul of energy consumption to improve earth’s chances against catastrophic climate change. While every COP ends with a hard-bargain document, the essential principle remains constant: how to ensure that all countries contribute to paying for what it takes to avoid the consequences of global warming without compromising on economic development, while accounting for their historical responsibility in exacerbating the crisis. There are several countries, especially island nations, that stand to lose the most from global warming without having a role in causing it. Given that COP agreements are non-binding on the signatory member-states, and volte-faces not unusual — such as the United States unilaterally exiting the agreement only to join again — these meetings also serve as a forum for public posturing. Countries announce their commitment to lofty environmental goals but do little to execute the often-stringent measures that these entail because they potentially involve political blowback. However, COPs do serve as an effective nudge. Even a decade ago, the link between global warming and climate change had sizeable critics; now, no country challenges fundamental science. A fossil fuel-free future is the direction that the world is moving towards.
It is thus appropriate that COP27 is viewed as the so-called ‘implementation CoP’, to borrow a term from Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian Foreign Minister and President, COP27. Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable sources is expensive and the large developing countries (India, China, Brazil, South Africa) while committing to a carbon-free future also underline their right to rely on fossil fuels in the interim. While there is agreement that developed countries foot the bill, the bulk of the wrangling is over determining how the bill is paid. The ‘implementation COP’, India has said, must set out a transparent payment system and spell out how countries already reeling under climate disasters can be compensated. This will also mean greater transparency from recipient nations on how these investments measurably improve a transition away from polluting sources. Unlike Glasgow 2021, when ‘net zero’ or commitments to be carbon neutral were the flavour of the season, implementation COPs are unlikely to result in ambitious breakthroughs. Often, however, it is the unspoken and the subterranean that get the job done. COP27 must send the message, loud and clear, that be it war or peace, poverty or plenty, securing the world’s future comes at a price that only gets costlier every passing day.